We always like to show off our latest work, but our most recent project feels like a particularly timely one to talk about. Last week we launched a new website for our longstanding clients The Boundary, a pioneering agency who create beautiful 3D representations of architectural projects before they're even built. This latest project, The Boundary Explore, takes their existing 3D modelling work to a whole new level, allowing users to "tour" a virtual rendering of an apartment in real time — with just an ordinary internet connection.
As part of the experience, users can step through each room of the apartment, stop to look around in 360 degrees, and even switch between daytime and nighttime lighting to get a full experience of the space. The model also takes account of furniture, so that you'll never see a view that would require you to stand in the middle of a kitchen counter or on top of a bed. (Though of course in real life you might quite like jumping on beds.)
We built The Boundary Explore website using the existing design framework of the main Boundary site, to ensure a consistent user experience between domains. The viewer technology itself is supplied via a third-party iframe, which we embed to ensure it always fills the browser window and adjusts to screen size to provide the most immersive possible experience. Meanwhile we overlay the Boundary's own controls to make the tool feel like a seamless part of their own site.
This is a niche piece of technology for the high end of the sector, so it's not likely you'll be touring your Gumtree listings online anytime soon. But we're excited to have contributed to a project that lets businesses carry on catering to their international clients while reducing the need for long-haul air travel — or, these days, for any in-person contact at all.
The Boundary Explore builds on our earlier work for the Boundary, creating their Boundary Live tool for easy remote collaboration within the team and with external clients. Similar to other online design tools you may have heard of, like Figma, the Boundary Live system creates an online "paper trail" as a project progresses, storing all versions as each incremental change is made. It's easy to review past iterations, when they were created, and by who, and team members and clients alike can comment directly on each version to keep all feedback and decisions in the same place. In that respect it's also a little bit like Slack, another company you've probably been reading a lot about lately.
But because we built the Boundary Live just for them, it's precisely tailored to the needs of their work flow — far more than an off-the-shelf product like Figma or Slack could ever be. It's also not a SaaS product, so it doesn't come with monthly fees per user. That isn't to talk down off-the-shelf tools, by the way. We use Figma and Slack and love them both. But we've also built bespoke online collaboration tools for enough companies to know that they always work better, by cutting out unnecessary features and adding in ultra-niche ones.
Another example is the "grid" tool we built for Casarotto Ramsay & Associates, the talent agency, which allows their staff to keep track of exactly what stage each project is at, who it's been shared with, and who's working on it. It's become more important than ever during the current situation:
The future of remote work — and remote everything
There will always be a place for off-the-shelf SaaS products, and for small business with diverse workflows they're often the better solution. But if you're a company that does one very specific thing a lot, the chances are there's not an off-the-shelf tool that will get it exactly right for you.
You can't control the upgrade roadmap for off-the-shelf products, either; if you've never had a much-used piece of software updated on you in a way you hate, you're lucky but you're probably also in the minority. Again, what works best for you might not work best for the majority of other users.
That's why, even before coronavirus forced many people to start working remotely, we expected that bespoke tools for online collaboration were going to get more and more common. Now that businesses are having to grapple directly with remote work, sometimes for the first time — and to realise that having the ability to do efficient work remotely is increasingly common sense — it seems inevitable that the use of bespoke remote tools will grow rapidly. Companies need to know that their workflows can carry on uninterrupted online if circumstances dictate.
In this new reality, paying a monthly fee for SaaS just in case you need to work remotely every now and then might make less financial sense for some businesses than just paying a one-off fee to have a tool that meets your needs exactly 100% of the time, and also allows for efficient remote collaboration the 1% of the time you need it to.
So once the coronavirus situation settles down and people are able to start planning long-term again, we're excited to see what other ideas businesses come up with for streamlining their workflows. If we're lucky, we'll even get to build a few of them ourselves.
Designing for ultra niche audiences — a look at our behind-the-scenes projects
Most of the time it’s easy to publicise our work — we just send out a link and say “we did this”.