By Liam Bush •

Parallax Celebrates 9 Years of Digital Innovation!

This week Parallax is marking nine years as a digital agency. Looking back, it’s been an incredibly eventful 12 months since our last birthday, working closely with clients old and new, welcoming people to our growing team and experimenting more and more with cutting-edge technologies.

In the past year we’ve moved to a brand new office, climbed 11 places in Prolific North’s Top 50 Digital Agencies and found ourselves in the Northern Tech 100 fastest growing tech companies for the third year in a row. We landed exciting big name brands like Dr. Martens and Unilever, added more web design and development accolades to our virtual trophy cabinet, and pushed ever deeper into the worlds of cloud computing and the Internet-of-Things.

Leading the way with beautiful websites and apps

We’d like to think we’ve delivered some of our most exciting and refined work this year. One of our major highlights was the launch of a brand new website for Leeds Bradford Airport – it was such a privilege to team up with our city’s international airport. With around 3.6 million passengers passing through their terminal each year, it provides over 2,000 jobs and an estimated £336m to the local economy.

As the airport embarks on a decade-long plan of growth and transformation, Parallax were brought on board to reinvent their entire digital identity. This included a highly responsive user-friendly website alongside all-new branding, giving them a rock-solid foundation to service passengers, inspire travel and continue their future evolution. The website picked up recognition from Awwwards and the CSS Design Awards, and was covered by Prolific North, Business Leader and Business Up North.

That wasn’t our only highlight. At Parallax, we have a long history of working with sports teams and events, including the Professional Squash Association, Yorkshire County Cricket Club and Sportswomen of the Year. It’s something we’re really passionate about – we even picked up a mobile development award for our work with Love Golf Memberships. Plus, over the years, we’ve regularly teamed up with sport streaming service DAZN to deliver work for renowned sporting organisations, including a competition microsite for Chelsea FC and the infinitely scalable serverless recording technology for David Guetta’s UEFA 2016 single.

Keeping the sporting dream alive, this year saw us team up with DAZN once again to deliver a number of exciting projects for Goal.com, kicking off with the technology behind the launch of Goal’s football channel on Apple News. This was shortly followed by Goal 50 – an interactive WebGL experience presenting stats, insights and other information on the top fifty football players across the world. This in turn inspired another dazzling WebGL site for Goal – this time called NXGN – which featured an 1980s-inspired neon landscape. Marrying style and substance in slick retro style, it was officially honoured by the prestigious Awwwards.

Aside from sport, we also have a history of applying our skills to the FMCG sector. This past year saw us launch a brand new website for vegan and vegetarian food brand, Cauldron. Having shepherded and shaped their digital marketing output for the last few years, our in-depth knowledge of their specific needs allowed us to team up with packaging designers Something More to deliver a modern website that did justice to their exciting new look.

Another long-standing client of ours is CitiPark. Since 2012, we’ve worked with them on a number of technology-driven marketing campaigns, including QR-powered free parking for the launch of the Victoria Gate shopping centre, the development of a customer service team known as CitiPark Heroes, and, perhaps most famously, Bonkers For Conkers – a widely-reported initiative that let customers pay for parking with conkers. We also delivered a spoof April Fool’s Day video announcing the launch of left-handed ticket barriers.

In the last couple of months we designed, built and launched a mobile parking app for CitiPark, now available on iOS and Android. Developed in close collaboration with their in-house team, the app removes the need for people to visit a paystation, streamlining their entire parking process. Customers can either scan the QR code on their ticket or enter their vehicle registration, then pay without friction. The app also features an intuitive pre-booking system, enabling people to reserve a space in advance at any CitiPark location across the UK.

Elsewhere, in the realm of student accommodation and aparthotels, we received recognition from Awwwards for our Roomzzz website and our IconInc website, the latter of which also picked up Website of the Day. Other site launches this past year include a brochure website for automotive data experts Audatex, an interactive QualityWatch report for the Nuffield Trust, an online refresh for industrial lubricant suppliers ROCOL and a website for entrepreneurial drinks start-up Distill Ventures.

Broadening our marketing, digital PR and search capabilities

As we’ve continued to grow as an agency, we’ve made a special effort to expand our digital marketing services. One of our recent content marketing campaigns was an interactive quiz for leading dog treat brand Good Boy. ‘All Dogs New Tricks’ was designed to showcase the very best elements of the brand, asking dog owners to see how their pets stacked up in the tricks department through a beautifully illustrated scrolling site.

To support the quiz we ran a multi-pronged social media campaign to raise awareness, increase engagement, drive traffic to the website and capture data for future communications. The campaign saw almost 4 million impressions and had around 10,000 engagements. It also generated a ton of user-generated content, picked up over 1000 email subscribers and snagged several pieces of online press coverage. Thousands of dog owners took the quiz and shared their results – not only did the campaign raise awareness of the brand, it also drove an uptick in sales.

This wasn’t without precedent. Last year we created a brand for domestic energy company Yorkshire Energy. Running a series of workshops allowed us to develop a full set of brand guidelines, core values and tone of voice. After launching their B2C website with all-new content, we executed a marketing launch plan across social media to land them over 1,000 new customers in the first three weeks.

Wanting to be known as one of the best energy companies rather than one of the biggest, Yorkshire Energy pride themselves on fair and sustainable prices for gas and electricity. They needed to quickly establish themselves as trustworthy, make sales and challenge the big energy providers, who for years have been making massive profits and neglecting their customers. With our support – including a keyword-driven blog strategy and digital PR – customer growth has continued at an impressive rate, now well into the tens of thousands.

The last few months also saw us expand out their remit, with a new page for their partnerships offer and a brand new B2B website. In the background, we’ve also been working away on a bespoke customer portal – now in the testing phase, it’s due to launch very soon. Along the way we’ve continued to advise on the direction of their brand – most recently, our work has been featured in the latest print edition of the Waitrose magazine and the accompanying app.

Another one of our big marketing clients is Cauldron. Not only did we help usher in their new brand, we supported the launch of new products into brand new categories, developed rich video content, ran multi-channel campaigns such as Masters of Tofu and #LoveFalafel, and cultivated a thriving online community of vegan and vegetarian influencers. From when we started looking after their digital marketing at the start of 2017, we’ve taken their combined social media following from less than 20,000 to almost 100,000 people.

In 2018 alone, we helped attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Cauldron website – an average of 50,000 users per month. We drove people to the site organically through keyword-driven recipes and blog posts, and pushed monthly email subscribers to over 50,000. Across Facebook and Instagram we reached over 7.5 million individual people and netted somewhere in the region of 125 million impressions.

The brand has seen unprecedented growth, with a Cauldron product now being sold on average every two seconds. It was recently crowned number one amongst chilled plant-based brands – a category with a market worth of over £130 million – with their organic tofu block officially named the nation’s favourite. From having a very small digital footprint to becoming one of the most impactful forces in the sector, we couldn’t be prouder of how much we’ve helped them continue to grow and evolve.

Finally, when it comes to digital PR and SEO, we don’t just talk the talk. Only last week did we jump on the story about Boris Johnson painting model buses, putting forward our theory he could have made the comments in order to skew Google search results. This quickly led to coverage in the Daily Mail, The Times, The Spectator and Gizmodo – not to mention a live interview on BBC Radio Scotland – each positioning us as “tech experts”. We gained not only a handful of high authority links to our website, but also tweets from industry leaders and MPs. The experience taught us it’s eminently possible to join the national conversation, as long as you stay agile and have something relevant to say.

Remaining an integral part of the digital scene

Aside from gaining credentials as a fast-growing agency, one of our founders and directors was officially entered into the BIMA 100 Class of 2019. Recognised for his work with emerging technologies, our lead developer James Hall was named an influential industry leader and a trailblazer of tech. This came hot on the heels of his talk at the AWS Summit in Manchester – as host of the Leeds AWS User Group and an AWS Community Hero, he spoke at length about the technology behind LED billboards, mobile car unlocking and intelligent street lighting.

James wasn’t the only member of Parallax in the limelight this year – our front-end developer Bradley Cornes took the city by storm by snagging the top spot at Code in the Dark 2019. Competing against dozens of other elite developers, he was challenged to reproduce web pages against the clock without the luxury of a browser preview. Brad progressed his way steadily through the rounds and walked away with the winner’s trophy.

Frazer Sparham – one of our talented digital designers – gave a talk at Leeds Digital Festival. Known for being a regular contributor to Glug Leeds, Frazer shared his favourite pieces of advice and told the story of how he first approached Parallax about becoming an intern, which in turn led to the permanent position he holds today. Last but not least, our very own Gareth Battensby headlined the most recent Glug Leeds, offering up his thoughts on the future of interactive web experiences. An expert in Canvas and WebGL, he also talked about how hack days are a fantastic way to encourage creativity in tech.

Pushing the limits of technological innovation

We’ve never been strangers to innovation. Having previously worked on digital signage for British Airways, PDF compression for NASA and experiential in-store touchscreens for adidas, this year we’ve started experimenting with 3D holographic design. We’ve also started to explore AR apps and websites, dipping our toes into the worlds of virtual and augmented reality – we even built a tool called ARexport to help other developers make their own.

But one of our biggest undertakings of the past couple of years was developing Ki – a next-generation IoT platform designed to turn street lighting infrastructure into an open ecosystem for smarter, greener and more responsive cities. We designed and built the platform for Lucy Zodion, a firm specialising in energy-efficient street lighting. Thanks to their long history, over 90% of street lights in the UK use their technology.

The Ki Platform offers remote, wireless control of street lighting networks with real-time updates and monitoring. It opens the door to managing vast fleets of assets, harnessing valuable data and – ultimately – saving money through actionable insights. Going beyond energy efficiency and adaptive lighting, this includes reducing noise pollution, improving air quality, increasing safety, monitoring traffic flow and pre-empting weather conditions.

Just recently, Aberdeen City Council kickstarted their intelligent street lighting initiative using the Ki Platform, replacing 3,500 traditional street lights with smart, energy-efficient ones. The initiative is set to help Aberdeen reduce its annual energy costs from £2 million to less than £800,000 per year. As more and more locations get prepared for smart city applications, it’s estimated that Ki could create between 30% and 60% energy savings for local authorities right across the country. We couldn’t be more excited to be working at the frontier of this revolutionary technology.

Continuing to invest in talented people

We’re always on the lookout for talented designers, web developers and marketers. We’ve continued to welcome new people to the agency across all our departments, but the area that has grown most dramatically is our client services team. We now have a full complement of dedicated account managers and project managers to liaise with our customers and keep projects running smoothly.

Having a reputation for creating high quality digital projects has enabled us to attract some incredibly talented people. Most recently, we teamed up with renowned interactive designer and Experimental Site of the Year winner Bryan James, who worked with us on exciting digital projects for Unilever and shopper marketing agency FPP. We’ve also continued to hire highly skilled social media managers, content marketing strategists, front-end developers and back-end experts.

Work experience, internships and apprenticeships are other areas we’ve continued to invest time in. In the past few months alone, we’ve taken on 24 work experience students from local schools and colleges. We also pay visits to education centres, running talks on how to kick-start your career in the digital industry and what it’s like to work at an agency.

Along the way, we’ve continued to offer our team as many perks and benefits as possible. This includes everything you’d expect from a modern digital agency, including afternoon video game breaks, team lunches, staff nights out, a snack table, a fully stocked beer fridge and ‘spin the wheel’ for birthdays and work anniversaries. We also have subscriptions to Perkbox, Skillshare, Audible and Headspace.

We’ve also continued to run regular ‘Hack Days’ – the most recent of which saw us create a global search tool, a custom map, a set of WebGL debugging tools, a new check-in system, staff on-boarding documentation and a concept for a microsite that raises awareness of coeliac disease. We’ve found hack days are always a great opportunity to turn your mind to something other than regular client work, leaving people feeling fully refreshed and ready to dive back in with new ideas the following day.

On the topic of refreshment, we also like to let our hair down from time to time. December’s Christmas party saw us jump on a bus to The Priory for a night of drinking and dancing inside a beautiful converted barn. And last week’s summer party saw us enjoying a rooftop barbecue over at East Parade Social, playing giant Jenga until the sun went down. Most of the above wouldn’t have been possible without our amazing office manager Katie Miles – as she prepares to go on maternity leave, we’re wishing her all the best and doing everything we can to support her!

Throughout all this, we’ve continued to grow our online audience and share our knowledge wherever and whenever we can, putting together online guides for building high authority links, monitoring your backlinks and refining your UX discovery process, all in the service of designing great looking websites that people can find online. We also pulled together our favourite music for coding to!

Meeting our charitable goals

We try our best to make time for things beyond the regular scope of client work. This includes our annual team-up with St. George’s Crypt, raising money at Christmas for food and clothing and volunteering our time to cook a three course dinner for those who need it most. This year we also set up a food bank box in our kitchen, giving staff the chance to donate requested or surplus items, which are then delivered to the Leeds South & East Food Bank each month.

We’re also extremely proud of our new partnership with homeless charity Simon on the Streets – we’re offering our time and skills to update their online presence as a way of expressing our gratitude for all the great work they do; a big ‘thank you’ to their hard-working staff, supporters and fundraisers. Finally, Leeds SOUP has continued to go from strength to strength – an experiment in micro-funding set up by a bunch of Parallax team members, it’s raised over £15,000 for local causes since it was founded in 2015.

Looking ahead to ten years and beyond!

It’s an exciting time for us as an agency – we’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time. We’re expanding in every direction, whilst continuing to refine our skills along the way. It’s been almost a decade since four young lads started making websites out of their bedrooms in York – they would have found the agency as it stands today on the top floor of a Leeds city centre building completely mind-blowing.

On the horizon we have projects for Backstage Academy, SmartSearch and Bricks Capital. We’re continuing our work for existing clients such as ROCOL, Tilsatec and CPD. And we have some exciting plans to team up with an insurance company and a much-loved bread brand. We’re also looking to recreate the success of Topple Trump! and Viva Le Velo with an all-new content marketing piece, this time seeing how different travel agencies stack up against each other. That’s all we can say for now – so watch this space!