Zurb: The Boutique Interaction Design Firm That’s Really About Business

8/30/11Follow @wroush

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trying to figure out the core value. The first step in any engagement, if the business hasn’t gotten going yet, is identifying that core nucleus. And if they’re already rocking and rolling and have a revenue stream, then the question is what layers are adding value and what is getting in the way. You might have a genius idea, but it might not be resonating as well as it could. A big part of our role is editing.”

A growing part of Zurb’s business, however, doesn’t involve any hands-on work at all. The company has gradually been developing a set of Web-based software tools that are designed to help companies create better websites without any consulting help. The first and best-known tool is called Notable, which lets designers attach notes to their screen shots, sketches, or website wireframes, so that they can share feedback and suggestions with one another remotely. Then there’s Verify, which helps designers quickly create test versions of websites to gather user feedback about proposed design changes; Bounce, a sort of lightweight version of Notable that works with any Web page; Resolve and Strike, a pair of task list managers; Clue, which lets designers test what people remember about their sites; and Chop, which programmers can use to share annotated snippets of code.

Several more apps are in the works, including a storyboarding tool and a presentation tool, according to Dragilev, who runs the company’s marketing and outreach activities. “The product suite is really growing,” he says. Some of the apps are free, while others require a monthly subscription; Dragilev says the company will eventually introduce a plan that offers access to all the tools for a single subscription price.

On top of the apps, Zurb has introduced a lecture series called Zurb Soapbox, with podcasts of each lecture posted online. Speakers so far have included WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg, Second Life founder Philip Rosedale, self-help guru Tim Ferriss, and Google user experience head Irene Au. And to wrap everything else together, the firm has a publishing operation that includes the Soapbox podcasts, a blog, and a “playground” site showcasing tutorials, design resources, and experimental apps such as FlickrBomb, which can quickly fill a prototype website with appropriate images from Flickr. “It’s really exciting to see all of these pieces are finally coming together in 2011,” says Dragilev. While consulting is still Zurb’s main source if income, “the big bet is that the products will help with the revenue,” he says.

“When it really comes down to it, we are trying to figure out how to design for people, and part of that is the tools and education component,” Zmijewski sums up. “I look at our business as a hybrid. I can’t say we want to be a product company, but I would say we are trying to be the world’s best at taking the design knowledge we have and showing people how to do things.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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