The Cohesion of Design + Development – Alex Olivero

guest: Alex Olivero
company: Curio Digital

This episode of Mind Your Own Marketing Business features Alex Olivero, founder and owner of Curio Digital, a digital agency specializing in Webflow development and design. The conversation explores Alex’s career path, his agency’s unique offerings, and his predictions for the future of design and development and how cohesive it has become.

Episode Transcript

Thanks for joining us on the mind your own marketing business podcast. I’m Joe Barsanis from web and software development team Fjorge. And today on our show, we’ll be talking with Alex Olivero from Curio Digital. Welcome to the show, Alex. Hey, Joe. I’m really excited to talk to you today. All right. Yeah, I know we have, uh, known each other for.

Uh, I don’t know, six or seven years, maybe even longer. Um, yeah, I was, uh, I was a young guy, uh, when we first met. I think I’m still kind of young. I think you are. Um, yeah, we went to a coffee shop. I remember it like it was yesterday. And, uh, we talked about development as I just became a, I think I was maybe a junior digital art director.

And I was the only digital person at the agency I was currently working at, so I was the only one you could have talked to. Well, that makes it, I mean, those are the people I want to talk to. So, it was the right fit. And I know we didn’t, uh, stay connected, that organization, but we have over the years.

Different things through your career and, and all of that, that’s had a positive impact on, on both of us. So, um, super excited to, to get back in touch with you and talk about your, your latest and, and greatest and, and all the things you’ve done. But let’s take it back to even a little bit further than that.

Like. How, was this a path, this path to digital agency type ownership and management? Was this where you thought you would be? What were your goals when you were thinking about school and beyond and jobs and all of that? So how did all this come about? Yeah, uh, it’s been a somewhat unconventional route, um, to say the least.

I think a lot of people, maybe about ten years ago, kind of going into school, I don’t think a lot of them were focused on kind of digital design as much. Maybe they were. I was a little bit more focused on doing illustration when I went into college. Um, and then I had a professor tell me, Hey, you talk too much, uh, maybe go into marketing.

And so when he told me that I kind of made a shift and went into art direction. Uh, I went to Columbia college, Chicago, went into art direction and had a professor that ended up getting me a job in, uh, art direction. So I was a intern for them and they just didn’t have anyone who did digital. Um, so every time we got a digital project, it was kind of thrown up in the air.

And as an intern, I was like, I’ll do it. And so I just started to take it and I loved it instantly. I was, I was hooked. I loved the process of doing kind of digital work. I love the freedom of it. I love that. I love that I could make a mistake and it wouldn’t be enshrined forever in print. I could always edit it after the fact.

Um, so that was, that was a big, big deal for me. And I love that you could track results. Um, you could see your work and you could update things and you can do things in real time that affected what the output was. So just loved it right off the gate. Started as an intern, grew to junior and then senior.

And because there was no one I could move quickly. Um, so kind of moved up into that senior digital position and. Then decided to go off on my own and do freelance work. I wanted to explore a bunch of different avenues. Um, and so in doing so, I decided let’s do some freelance, just see how it goes. Went well, went with a partner, kind of did some good stuff, learned development, and I was able to, um, take that and basically turn it into a career that I got to do both the things I loved, which was kind of development and design.

And so now we’re here today where I’m running an agency and doing neither of which and managing a bunch of people who do both. So, yeah, that’s awesome. And I thought for sure you were, well, at least I was jealous. When I first met you, I’m pretty sure your projects were for some very high profile car brands.

Yeah, um, I got to work on McLaren Automotive, which was probably the most fun client of my career. Yeah, there’s still, there’s still a lot of stuff to come, but it, it was most fun for a couple reasons. One, because it’s McLaren, and it’s just cool to work on in general. Right. The other one is because I didn’t have to work extremely hard to make amazing art because their imagery was so good that I could just basically put a large image on a screen and that would pretty much sell it.

So it was fun in those, in both those respects. And then I got to go to a couple of cool events and things like that. And one of the. Events that we went to, I had to sneak into with a partner who actually became my business partner. And I think that was the start of it because her and I snuck in, uh, together, no ticket.

We stayed in a like crummy motel, but we were going to a like high end car, uh, uh, show. And we snuck in with a bot, a giant bottle of champagne. And if you’re familiar with formula one, they shake the champagne and spray it all over each other. One of those bottles and we basically pretended we were pushing the cart to bring it in and the guy who was Actually delivering the bottle let us do that.

We got in once we got in the McLaren. They were like, hey Good to see you. Here’s a pass, but no one met us at the door. So And and I imagine you didn’t trade any of your work for a McLaren No, no, they unfortunately they don’t give you McLaren’s When you work with McLaren, yeah. And I, I even missed out on driving one because I was photographing them on the side of the road.

Like I mentioned, as an art director, I kind of had to do a lot of different things, not just digital. So I was also a photographer because it was a small agency. So you got to hustle and I was sitting on the side of the road and I missed my chance to drive one. So even though I’ve done a ton of work with them, I’ve never.

Never driven the car. Unfortunately. Well, hopefully. Yeah, hopefully in the near future. You can be like I finally got my McLaren, right? All right, let’s talk a little bit more about Curio So as you’ve as you’re kind of leading this agency and its growth and in all of those things What what is it that you are?

headed towards what are you trying to do for your clients? What value do you bring? What do you do? What are you crushing these days? Yeah, so Curio is a partnership that I have with another, uh, not the one I, I snuck into the McLaren, uh, uh, show with, but actually a different partner that I did development work with.

So, and she focuses strictly on Webflow development only agency, and I worked together with her and absolutely loved her process. And, and it, it mainly because she specifically Focused on Webflow, which is some, uh, platform that I can develop in. Um, I just loved the way that she managed not only her internal employees, but her, uh, client relationship.

So, it was just an immediate match made in heaven from a business standpoint. And we just took off and we started to do side projects for fun. When AI, when ChatGPT and AI kind of took off. I think a lot of people were like, oh, what can we do with this? So. Her and I kind of just brainstormed, but then just loved working together in general.

So we kind of brought our two worlds together. She did development only. I had experience in both development and UI, UX and design. So I’m like, let’s expand our services together and offer the full Monty. And so we did. And as we’ve kind of grown, we’ve even started to do some fun little side projects like hackathons and we ended up winning, um, the lab lab.

ai hackathon. Um, for one of our video game products called EZDX and I won’t go too deep into that, but that kind of set us off on a path to also offer product services beyond just marketing services from the agency side. So it’s kind of taking those two sides of the business and bringing them together, which is really beneficial.

I think for kind of, you get to play both sides and I think that’s something I’ve done in my career. Played both sides. Like you play the client side and you play the, um, the agency side, just like I kind of played the design side and the development side, and by doing both, you get such a clear picture about why maybe certain things will be difficult for certain teams or how to speak to certain teams, how to work together, um, that collaboration just is, is I think just super important.

It’s like, uh, the show undercover boss. Yeah. You know, put a, put a fake, fake outfit on and just pretend you’re something else for a while. And then you kind of understand it a little bit more. Yeah, no, that’s awesome. And, and I know I want to, I want to sit on the topic of Webflow for a little bit, because for a couple of different reasons is I haven’t really talked about it much on this particular show, but it’s something that our organization is using.

And the first place I heard about it was from you. Um, and, and I also think it’s like the perfect space for someone like yourself who’s on the design and dev side. So, um, you know, we’d just love to hear, you know, why you have attached yourselves to that platform, what you like about it, what you think it does really well.

And, and, and why it’s serving your clients so well. Yeah, of course. So I’m a huge Webflow fanboy. So I always, I have clients go, well, do you work for them? When I’m trying to like, I’m like, no, I don’t work for them. I stumbled on them around 2017, I think. And what hooked me right away is that the founders of Webflow are a developer and a designer.

And the ethos behind Webflow was to democratize Development in the hands of designers as well. So allow designers to be a part of the development process, which a young designer was like. all over. I was just couldn’t be more excited about kind of jumping into that. So when I started kind of doing those, I was able to make a simple design and turn it into a website in a day or two.

And it wasn’t anything spectacular. Webflow specifically focuses mainly marketing brochure sites. Now they’ve expanded into being able to do like some complicated CMS stuff, but because you don’t have server access and you’re, you’re somewhat limited, but those limitations kind of allow you in marketing sites to do some really cool stuff with animation and design.

Because if you’re, if you have that focus and it’s not something like a WordPress or a more complicated, like headless CMS, and you’re not thinking about, Those deeper development tools for a simple marketing site. It allows you a ton more freedom. You’re super fast kind of diving in. It was honestly, it was a tool that changed my career because without it, I think I would have quickly gotten frustrated because I do not have a background in computer science and didn’t really understand a lot of the.

Uh, more technical details of working, um, in WordPress and working with PHP and a lot of more heavy duty coding languages. I could jump into Webflow, day of, and kind of make something. Um, so, that’s kind of how I fell in love, and why and how I fell in love with it. Um, and I’ve been continuing to use it because they’ve continued to grow with me.

I feel like, again, sounding super salesy for Webflow right now, but I feel like they’re a partner that I’ve worked with for the last five or six years. Like I legitimately feel like they’ve improved as I’ve improved. Sure. Yeah. And it’s really nice when you see that happening and especially when they’re going down the same path you’re going down.

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I mean, from, from our perspective, it is. It’s the right tool for the job in certain solutions that we do as well. And, um, it definitely is getting some, getting a lot of tension on the features and just in the market out there in general. Um, and it’s, it’s, it’s growing from, from my perspective and in a very positive way from the features that it offers to the ecosystem that they have to the customizations that you can make and, and, and all of that.

So. Um, you know, I, I think that’s, that’s really cool. Um, yeah, and, and one thing that is always one of my favorite things to talk to you about, Alex, is just this, like, because you take both that design and, and, and development side, which of course there are people that do that. Um, but I think you’ve taken it further than, than most in that area.

So I, I love asking you these questions, but, um, uh, one of the comments that you made to me as we prep for this show is, is can’t you just make a template? So let’s talk a little bit about, you might regret that now, but I had to bring it up. Um, and, and it’s a common, can’t, can’t you just use a template?

Like why, you know, a lot of folks. So what we’re getting at here is that. A lot of Webflow and WordPress has these templates where you take a, um, something that’s pre built and kind of plug in your own content and I know the, some of the issues and I’ll continue to mention them as with that thought process, but I’d love to just get your take on, on what the advantages are from kind of starting with a blank slate and what you see as, as issues went with templates and it’s, it’s the right solution sometimes.

But for most of the time, when somebody’s asking an expert to do it, it’s not always the right solution. Yes, I do, I do somewhat regret that comment. Because I’m gonna sound, uh, a little crass talking about this topic. Because it is something that’s kind of come up a lot. And it’s, it’s It makes sense from a business perspective when you’re thinking, I have a site.

I like the way it looks. I want to take that and put my content in place. And a lot of times it does come from that design perspective. And this is where kind of like the design development, having both experiences helps because you take a template and now ideally you want to template that. design and development templates.

So it has both files. So you have designer files and development files. As you start to break that template down and start to change things, you’re also changing the style guide, which means that that style guide needs to be adjusted by your development team. Now, depending on how much you break it down will depend on.

How much extra work the development team will have to do to retrofit your new design with that template. So that’s where things start to like, just start to go off the rails because you’re now breaking all the class systems that that template has, you’re now breaking a lot of the, you’re changing, the fonts are easy, the colors are easy.

And that’s what templates are made for, which is changing content. Colors, fonts, the, the skin of it, but when you start adding new sections, when you start changing sections, maybe I want my section instead of being three cards, I want it to be two cards, and I want one card to be a different size than the second card.

You’re like, at that point, just, just having a developer kind of go in and update would take longer than just giving them a design and letting them start from scratch and make those decisions, which they’re really good at, and I think a lot of times Like, uh, both sides don’t understand, like the pre process development teams go through in order to plan out their class systems and all the different style systems that they’re going to use.

And when you have a template that you’ve done some, uh, unique work for, and then also some. Uh, templated work for you’re blending those two worlds and it blows a lot of things up. So, the best process because I don’t want to just complain about it. I think giving a, a best case scenario would be to build within a system.

So, instead of finding a template that you like. Use those templates as inspiration. And then hopefully if you work with a seasoned designer who has UI experience and is more focused in digital and not just a general designer, they’ll usually have resources that have like prebuilt modules that they can kind of start with.

And they’ll have a system of how much padding they use. I tend to use an eight point system. So like everything is based off eight points. So any design you work with with me, if you, and as a designer who. Does not like math at all. This was, there’s two, sorry, I’m on a tangent here. There’s two things, math I suck at.

And then I tell people when I misspell stuff that I don’t, I didn’t misspell it. I see shapes when I design, I don’t. see words. So that’s why it’s misspelled. It was just a shape. I saw it. I don’t use that as much anymore, but every once in a while I have to throw that out there. Um, so when you’re using those point systems, it allows for the development team to have a standardized set of points when working with that design.

So if you, as like, if you’re a client, if you’re on even on the agency side and you get that question of, can I work with, can I use a template? Will it save me? of money or time? Probably not. I mean, there is cases where it does where if it’s, I just want to make this exact thing. This template is perfect for my business.

I just want to replace the content, just want to replace the colors. But if you like a template, you probably just like it as an inspiration and make sure that you’re very clear about what your goals are, what your content’s going to be. And if you use that template as that inspiration, Your design team will be able to execute on that.

Your development team will be a lot happier because they’ll be able to start fresh. And one thing I know about developers, it’s, they do not like working with someone else’s development system. They don’t like working with something, like, they didn’t do. So a lot of times they build it, rebuild it anyway.

So, like, just kind of starting from there and having those parameters makes it a lot more of a smooth process. And also just makes. I think overall the design team feel more creative and be able to have a little more freedom and really be able to execute on your business goals successfully instead of trying to jam certain content and certain pieces into a template that may not be the one that’s for your business.

Yep. So yeah, totally. But that’s, that’s what I’ve dealt with for the last like seven, eight years and kind of retrofitting templates. Right, right. I, I, the analogy I use is one that everybody uses on a lot of things, but cars is a template is great. If you like how the Toyota Camry looks and you just want to change the rims and the paint color.

Yes. But if you, if you buy, if you’re like, well, let’s start with the, let’s start with the Toyota Camry, but I really want it to be a Porsche. Yes. You would never ask anybody to do that because it would cost you more to make that Toyota Camry Really a Porsche than it would just to go buy one or have them make one from the start It’s that level.

I like that analogy and it just makes me think of like a Toyota Camry where you slap a massive spoiler on it You have a V10 engine just sticking out of the hood It wouldn’t look good. It wouldn’t look good. But if you do that for like, uh, uh, you know, uh, a Ferrari or a Porsche, that wouldn’t look good for a Ferrari or a Porsche, but there is a case where that would look good.

And if you think about that as giving your goals and your goals are clear. you can make that perfect car for yourself. So I like all the car analogies. We’ve been happy to talk about McLaren. Yeah. I didn’t even know either one of us were like car people really, but uh, they, they do make for good analogies.

I like formula one. I don’t understand what’s, I don’t understand the, that it’s so technical, but I do like formula one. That’s probably my. The farthest I dig into cars. I have a Tesla. So I like the electric cars now, and I’m really into it So if you ask me to fix anything like on a on a gas park, I wouldn’t know what to do anymore Yeah, where’s the battery in this thing, right?

All right one thing I wanted to chat with you about because again like utilizing kind of your experience and where you’re at both in the design and dev side like Where do you see this go, where do you see this like tech, this technology being able to take designers and developers over the next five years, whether that’s through a platform, whether that’s through making it clear for designers and developers, like where do you think we’ll be in five years?

It’s been, it’s come a long way in the last five years. I’ve seen, I’ve worked at a few, I’ve done consulting and worked at small agencies and small agencies are interesting because they have to, people have to wear a lot of hats. Yeah. At those agencies, they have to be able to do a lot of things because they’ll get requests for things that you may not have a dedicated person to handle.

And initially, what I would see a lot of is you’d retrofit graphic designers to handle digital designs like UI, UX. And they wouldn’t really have much experience and they lay out a lot of stuff like print in web. And so, there’s been a lot of There’s a lot of rules that have to go into UI and UX. And I’ve started to see more people come out of school with that background, more so than the general graphic design or art direction background, which was more common when I was in school.

Um, and so seeing that happen, And then seeing them also kind of have a little bit of a understanding of development kind of lets me extrapolate a new kind of role, which is maybe a little, maybe I’m biased because it seems almost like there’s more of me where it’s someone who has design and development and can kind of do a little of everything.

And when it comes to the world of like marketing and doing, um, marketing brochure style websites. That’s kind of, in my opinion, the best person because you have someone who can execute, execute quickly. You have someone who kind of understands both those worlds and hopefully they understand user experience and can optimize your page.

But then that person can continue with you to kind of work and optimize your site. And so, In the next five years, I just see that becoming more and more of a standardized role. I don’t know what that’s called. Like, I, like, you know, I’ve seen, like, I’ve seen a lot of, like, digital ninja and digital, like, digital samurai and weird, like, terms like that.

But, like, whatever that role ends up being, and even if it’s just, like, a UX, UI designer. If that’s the role that they have development experience kind of that’s where I see Things in the next five years going more dual role um, I also see I also see a lot of and this is getting a little more on the technical side, I guess but like A lot more building in kind of an understanding react and understanding components and kind of how to build those out.

And I’ve seen designers thinking that way about how to build out component sets and then utilizing those and their design and kind of like. They, designers are starting to think a little bit like developers and they’re doing a lot of pre processing before when I was, man, I’d get a, I’d get a brief and I would just start throwing stuff on a, and this is going to date me, but Photoshop, I would just start dumping stuff in Photoshop and start moving stuff around and throwing in squares and circles and just moving pieces around.

Now, it’s like you start with. A system like, um, untitled UI or Rayloom, or there’s a lot of design system bases out there and you start to plan out the entire project beforehand, um, which is cool. So long story short, the melding of those two worlds, a designer and developer and becoming kind of a hybrid of both seems a little bit like the way things are going.

Yeah, and, and I think the tools and. The tools and the libraries and all those things are making that possible where you, you know, 10 years ago, you had to be an expert at literally writing lines of code or designing in Photoshop. It was harder to be good at both because those tools were what they were 10 years ago.

And they’ve come so far where, you know, Webflow is doing some of the coding for you or setting up the systems and CSS and all of that. And it allows. For that hybrid person to be effective and not be, I mean, you can be a master of the web instead of a master of coding or a master of designing. Yep, exactly.

And creative is just, yeah, being creative. All the tools are leaning towards allowing you to be more creative and giving you the freedom to be creative. So. Next five years, I think we’ll just be able to be more creative and just spend time doing, even with AI, just doing more of the creative, fun work that you want to do.

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Well, Alex, unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for today on Mind Your Own Marketing Business. Thank you so much for joining us. Always good to catch up with you, see where you’re headed, and give our listeners some insights. I can’t thank you enough. Awesome, Joe. It was really great talking to you.

Never enough time. I know. I know. And thank you to our listeners for joining us. You can download episodes of our program by going to fjordsdigital. com slash mind your own 📍 marketing business or subscribing to the show on iTunes, Stitcher and iHeartRadio

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