In a world where the internet is the go-to place to learn about people, places and products, having a digital presence is more important than ever. And no one understands that better than Houston’s thriving design, data and tech community.
To tap into that creativity, the city held its first Digital Design Challenge, inviting creative and technical people to submit their visions for the city’s digital presence and website user experience.
“We have one of the strongest civic technology communities in the country,” Jesse Bounds, director of the Mayor’s Office of Innovation, said. “They have really good ideas and are very creative.”
Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the challenge in October, calling on innovative Houstonians to submit a 500-word vision statement for the city’s digital presence, a 500-word vision statement for the city’s website user experience, and supporting materials.
“Houston is full of talented artists, designers, and technologists, and we want to engage them as we work to modernize our online image,” Turner said.
Brand Ranch Media, Think Thank Ideas and Don Suttajit were the top three winners announced this month. Each of the finalists was awarded $1,000 and given the opportunity to present their vision to Mayor Turner.
Along with engaging the community, Bounds hopes to keep the lines of communication open with the winners to incorporate some of their recommendations into the city’s website redesign, expected to launch in January 2018.
“I’m just in awe, honored and humbled to be a part of this journey” said Suttajit, who works as a graphic designer for the Center for Hearing and Speech in Houston. “It means a lot to me because I am a Houstonian and I want to see the city do well.”
Suttajit, who has 10 years of experience in graphic design, is happy to help boost the city’s digital presence.
“Houston should be up there competing with all the other big cities,” he said.
James Fogarty, Brand Ranch Media’s chief executive officer, agrees.
“After the year we’ve had, I think this is needed,” Fogarty said. “Increasing our digital presence and digital brand could do nothing but help our city, recruit people, and help them find the resources they need.”
“It was really exciting for us meet the team and present to the mayor,” said Amanda J. David, chief executive officer for BRM.
A family business, BRM is a full-service boutique advertising agency with clients all over the country. Both Fogarty and Davis have strong ties to the community.
“We grew up in this city,” said Fogarty, who founded BRM in 2015. “If we can use our creative abilities and help our city with their digital landscape, I think that’s great.”
“For me, it is exciting to think about being involved in something that has the far-reaching effects and makes things more intuitive and easier,” said Roberts, Kumar’s business partner.
Founded in 2016, Think Thank Ideas is a local creative IT consultancy that works with small and large businesses. Kumar and Roberts believe they can further assist the city through usability testing of the redesigned website. Is the company name Think Thank Ideas, or Think Thank? You have it two ways in the article.
“We want to make sure what is being put out there is helpful, low cost and makes sense,” Kumar said of city’s website.
Bounds and his team see the challenge as an opportunity to get feedback from the community.
“We’re trying to be mindful of the fact they were are citizen-serving and we want citizen input,” said Annie Pope, policy advisor for the Office of Innovation.
“I think it was a cool first time where we’re running something like this, where were asking citizens for their input and ideas,” Pope said of the challenge. “It’s something we’d like to do more of.”
Bounds credits Houston’s civic technology community and city employees in their efforts to reimagine the city’s digital presence and website user experience.
“We wouldn’t be as successful as we are with these kinds of things without the talented community that’s eager to volunteer and also a city workforce that’s open to ideas and that’s wanting to do better for the city,” Bounds said. “It’s definitely a team effort.”
Along with the Design Challenge, the Office of Innovation hosts the Houston Hackathon in the spring.
“It’s the signature way we engage with residents,” Pope said of the 24-hour civic hackathon, where city employees and residents come together to solve problems that affect the greater public.
For Pope, it’s all about solving problems. And she encourages all city employees to submit ideas to increase efficiencies, including outsourcing solutions.
“We’d love to know about that and try to find ways with external partners to create those solutions,” Pope said.
Follow @InnovateHouston to stay up to date about Office of Innovation projects. To learn more about the winners, check out our Winners of City Design Challenge sidebar.