Vectorform: Quietly Developing Software for Some of the World’s Largest Brands

5/6/13Follow @XconomyDET

The news hit the blogosphere two weeks ago that Michigan Gov. Rick Syder’s administration was supposedly holding secret meetings with tech companies in an effort to develop “value schools” that relied on IT and a voucher-like funding mechanism to reduce costs. The Detroit News broke the story about the group, which called itself “skunk works” and allegedly included a host of major Michigan tech players such as Billhighway.com, InfoReady, and a Royal Oak, MI-based company called Vectorform.

If the name Vectorform doesn’t sound familiar, that’s because it’s a technology and design company that has flown mostly under the radar until this recent appearance in the political arena. But with offices in Munich, Seattle, New York, and Hyderabad, India, Vectorform is creating “digital experiences” for some of the world’s largest brands. Microsoft, Disney, Chrysler, and Volkswagen are all clients, and president and co-founder Kurt Steckling says the company is now gaining a major foothold in India, which happened almost by accident. (More on that in a minute.)

Vectorform was established using the co-founders’ credit cards 13 years ago as a website development company. Back then, Steckling points out, companies didn’t have the web presence they do now, so Vectorform created websites for small and medium companies. “As we worked our way up, we saw big agencies taking over web development,” he recalls. “We differentiated by doing whatever was around the corner. Back then, it was high-end user interface. We also embraced Flash and Flex early on.”

Vectorform caught the eye of the larger corporate community after it automated the ordering process for the company that makes Goretex. “It seems simple now, but back then it was very advanced,” Steckling says.

In 2008, Microsoft hired Vectorform to help develop the first version of a multi-touch application called Microsoft Surface. In those days, it was a tabletop multi-touch computer platform designed for group interactions. Vectorform even did an app for Coldwell Banker that allowed realtors and clients to collaborate and shop together at a table instead of sitting around at separate laptops.

Though, ultimately, Surface morphed into the tablet that it is today, Steckling says Vectorform’s work on the project stirred something up in the company. “We realized we didn’t just have to build websites, that we could develop software too. We could pitch anything and then build it and sell it.”

And that’s what Vectorform did, and still does. The company did a lot of work on Chrysler’s in-vehicle touch screens, a therapy tool for austistic kids for Kaiser Permanente, user interface designs for exercise equipment, and some of the initial work on Xbox Kinect, back when it was referred to as Project Natal.

“Our engagements range from design discovery, light research, and testing or information architecture to building a $4 million prototype,” Steckling notes. “We average about 40 active projects across the company on any given month, from the mundane to the really groundbreaking.”

Operating with about 50 employees from a nondescript building in Royal Oak, Vectorform has been able to build its business through the years entirely through “organic, serendipitious growth.” Steckling adds that the company has never mounted a serious advertising or public relations campaign, but owes much of its success to an extensive and multidimensional relationship with Microsoft. Not only is … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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