NEW MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON DEEPEND - Demise of Deepend leaves a legacy of classic, cool design. Deepend's wealth of talent may have been its Achilles heel, Alasdair Reid writes

The Deepend website was a design classic. You'll have to take that

on trust because it's no longer there. Where it used to be, there's just

a plain notice informing you that the digital communications company

Deepgroup was put into liquidation with the loss of 180 jobs on 24

September.



Still, there are many other examples of the agency's award-winning work

that will be around for the foreseeable future - conran.co.uk is a

pretty good example.



Most people in the industry were genuinely shocked at Deepend's demise

because during its relatively short life, it set such influential

creative standards. John Bains, the chairman of Lateral, says: "It's

more than a shock. It's depressing for all of us who are grade A

creatively, but who aren't the biggest agencies in the world. Some of

the work it produced is among the best there has ever been."



Most websites are remorselessly hierarchical. A menu of menus, lists

within lists. And the deeper you go into the structure, the more likely

it is that you'll arrive at something that looks very like a mail order

catalogue, a newspaper column or a page from a company report - some

plonky text wrapped around a plonky picture of the chairman. Most

designers try to distract attention from structure with loads of garish

graphics and logos - the cyberspace equivalent of brass bands and

bunting.



Deepend's great vision was to march in the opposite direction. It made a

virtue of structure. It played cute games, fusing form and content by

animating the raw typographic materials of lists. For instance, the use

of microscopically tiny text that warps and expands as the cursor passes

over it, or letters and numbers that spin and rise to the top of the

screen and settle, bobbing like bubbles, when they get there.



And at the bottom of the structural hierarchy you'll find the

information you want - but no frills. Deepend never felt compelled to

over-elaborate.



It waged a single-minded campaign against clutter. Some found it

intellectually austere, while others celebrated its 21st century

minimalist cool.



So what does Deepend's demise tell us about the industry? There are all

sorts of conspiracy theories floating around as to the "true story"

behind Deepend's downfall. Tales of duplicity and treachery, whispers of

a deal with WPP that was due to be signed on 11 September, but which

didn't materialise for obvious reasons. And, of course, the implication

behind all these stories is that the whole collapse was a tragedy that

needn't, and shouldn't, have happened.



That's not an entirely unanimous view, of course. Deepend was an

integral part of the "cool Shoreditch" scene. The boardroom table was

the wing of an aeroplane, whose tailplane section was to be found in

reception. The offices also housed a computer museum.



The whole Shoreditch circus is widely derided now - but Deepend will be

remembered with much greater affection than, say, Razorfish. And it will

leave a more important legacy. Won't it?



Nick Suckley, the managing director of Beyond Interactive, agrees. He

worked alongside Deepend in the early days and was instrumental in the

launch of its Gluemedia unit. He states: "What Deepend did was cool but

it was never too cool. It was regarded by clients as accessible and I

think it had a great work ethic. The founders (Gary Lockton, who last

week found a new home at North Creative, Simon Waterfall and David

"Gravy" Streek) retained their connections with the Royal College of

Art, where they'd met, and that helped them to get very keen and

motivated graduate talent. But one of the things that allowed them to

keep attracting talent was the fact that when they joined Deepend they

knew they were joining a family. I know that sounds naff. But people

would spend all their time there. They'd hang out there. And while you

were there, you'd be able to work on your own outside projects."



Cool. Undeniably cool. But doesn't this at least hint at the reasons for

Deepend's demise - too much larking about and not enough hard results?

Some admit there could be something in that.



One source says: "The only possible criticism is that it was so

creatively led that it wasn't sufficiently client-focused. Deepend would

tell clients it was now going into a creative phase and that it could

take anything from five minutes to five months - it couldn't say - and

it couldn't give any indication about what would come out at the other

end. Deepend would always go for the guru approach and, for some briefs,

that was like using a shotgun to kill a mosquito.



"Work needs to be good, it needs to be creative, but it also needs to be

effective. Sometimes they got stuck in design for design's sake - but

haven't we all? When you're working for consumer brands, the idea is to

get across the brand, not yourself. If it looks like a Deepend site,

they've failed. Almost all its sites look like Deepend sites."



Some observers say that's nonsense and point to sites such as

www.cartoon-network.co.uk. Deepend, as a group, wasn't just about web

design. It took enthusiastically to each new digital platform as it

evolved - for instance, the interactive TV production operation,

Sleeper, formed as a joint venture with Blink. Sleeper will now be wound

up but Mark Iremonger, Blink's managing director, argues that the

Deepend heritage won't be lost to the industry - its influence might

even be felt more broadly as Deepend's talent is snapped up

elsewhere.



Iremonger concludes: "In the early days of the web industry, there were

a lot of technically focused people involved. Deepend was the first to

bring a real design focus to the web, with distinctive, visually

compelling content. It was really the first to make this area sexy."



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