Business development manifesto

Here’s a compilation of many emails between Arnaud Mercier, Dominique Deriaz, Kemp Attwood, Andrew Ackerman and myself on the subject of business development within our company.


As we grow as a company, it is important that we all understand where we are going. And to do that, it is important to know where we came from and where we are.

Everything within our company is based off talent and mutual respect. Our vision for our company is to be a respected industry-leading interactive agency. Our mission is to develop a new kind of system — a modern system of interaction — that is effective, sustainable and enriching for the people who use it and the organizations that manage it.

We believe this is done by combining fields of study.That we need to be interdisciplinary — not multi-disciplinary — blending the practices of branding, design and technology into a newly-formed discipline. A discipline still called ‘interactive’ but endowed with a new, more modernized meaning.

  • Bring craftsmanship to the web
  • Collaborate cross-discipline in extreme ways
  • Treat everything as design
  • Produce, show results
  • Learn from the past, be open to new ideas
  • Embrace change, explore
  • Take on challenges head-on
  • Don’t be afraid of failure
  • Build tension
  • Be ambitious in our endeavors
  • Define and follow process, but know when to break the rules
  • Create methodology based off principles not rules
  • Stay focused
  • Have fun, a sense of humor
  • Be cool about it all cause its just a website at the end of the day

We believe we can do good work and affect the world by doing these things. But further, we also want to live good lives and make good money.

Maintaining two of the three is an accomplishment. Attempting to do all three needs a revolution. So if you look at the core of our mission, we are trying to revolutionize the way things are done — online and in business. In its essence, that is the meaning of design. And this ambition is what has driven us since the beginning.

Making the web a better place

After working at AREA 17 for a little while now, I hope you have seen that the way we do business is a little different. That we have real ambition to make the web a better place and we aim to do that with everything we say and do – from strategy to production to design to development.

We care about the web and believe that it is early enough in its life to make a real difference and affect the industry at large. That is why we work with standards and best practices, which to us is a means to an end and not the end itself.

It’s about making the web more convivial. Websites are entering our offices, living rooms and even bedrooms. They need to be more comfortable, ergonomic and most importantly, directed towards the users needs. Just the same, they need to be good for business too. Its a mutual relationship.

Our clients define who we are

Our aim is to make the web better, one client at a time.

That is why we only desire ‘good’ clients and try to stay away from ‘money’ clients. Money clients create the ‘static’ that distracts us from our mission, not because of the money, but because money is the goal.

That is why we work for clients such as SPIN, Canal+, Dering Hall, Google, Facebook, etc. – they are ambitious like us and their business depends on ambition … being a leader and all the responsibility that goes with it.

As individuals, we care about the world we live in and we like working for companies that have similar belief systems. That is why we work for companies like SustainAbility, Endeavor,, Design 21, GOOD, Creative Capitol and Humanity United.

And that is also why we don’t work for certain other companies. We fight for our clients, we aim to be the tool to achieve their ambition. If we disagree with their philosophy or where they are taking the world, then we shouldn’t be giving them the tools to succeed.

But its not just about philanthropy, or doing good … its also about access to culture and things that enrich peoples lives. We want to work for museums, art, cultural and design organizations such as HyperIsland, Doha Film Institute, Independent Film Project, Spain Minister of Culture and so on. Cultural projects are something we strive towards.

Principles that drive us

All that said, there is no hard rules of why we choose a client, its about principles, not rules.

More and more, we want to work with clients that have design as part of their business strategy. A company with design as part of their business strategy already believes that design is good for business, so half the battle is won already.

We want to seek international clients. Or clients that have border-less aspirations. The web and the work we do is border-less.

It is strange to realize that people in Paris, New York and the Gaza Strip all use Facebook. Only today can you be in Africa and have Twitter followers from all over the world hearing your voice.

As a small international agency, we must own internationalization, it must be a specialization of ours. Our small international agency becomes a refreshing alternative to the big, expensive and un-human giant international agencies.

We also have a core believe that actions speak louder than words. That a website is an active space, a space for interaction and transaction. Today, brands are about action. It’s about the functions it serves, the community it attracts and the themes it’s associated with. A website is the same thing – a place to do things, to socialize and to discovery the themes we care about. A website is a brand personified.

Last but definitely not least, we treat our work as craft. We are applied artists who thrive on creative activity for a productive end. Since the beginning of the commercialization of the Internet, web designers have been self taught. Many have not studied the craft of design and the ones who did, did not venture to the web, thinking it was a compromise in design.

We believe web designers must return to craft (as Walter Gropius would say), making no distinction between traditional design and interactive design. That form, type, grid, color, space and time are all thoughtfully considered. That the new website is a combining form, an interdisciplinary activity of branding, design and technology.

  • Make the web a better place
  • We will get there through ambition
  • Let’s not forget about the world<
  • Art and culture must proliferate
  • Design is good for business
  • The web has no borders
  • Everyone deserves design
  • A website is a brand personified
  • We must return to craft!

Focus on success

One thing you will hear at AREA 17 is does the project have legs? This is something that Kemp coined a while back about what kind of projects we should take on. What it means is: “if we put in all our efforts to make it great, do they have the ability to take it the distance? Or will they drop the ball the moment we stop and the product gets worse and worse until we no longer want to say we did it.

We want to work with smart clients. Clients that have success on their horizon and we help them get there. Because the more success they have, the more success we will have.

Make money

We shouldn’t forget this is a business, not a hobby. Our choices for our clients become about making money for them too. We cannot ask our clients to spend the money it takes to do great work, only to give them a website that doesn’t make them money or give them value in some way.

Therefore the clients we work for must have the financial ability to work with us. Not because we are expensive (we are not), but because doing great work takes good money.

The role of business development

You might have noticed that clients come to us quite differently then other companies. Probably because we have principles. Most often, we didn’t have to sell ourselves to clients. They come to us because they were told we are the right people for the job. They don’t want just any company, they want the right company that can deliver. We are ‘Craftsmen’ just like them. And just like finding a good employee, word of mouth is generally the best way. With most new opportunities, it is ‘ours to lose’. And if we go in there with a sales pitch, we’d be dead in the water.

You may now be asking yourself, if clients come to AREA 17 with little effort, then why invest in business development? Good question.

We believe that good clients—just like good relationships—are not found, they are developed. Every idea above is a recipe, it is not the dish. Our role is to find clients with the right recipe, then collaborate with them to make it into a delicious dish. This means strategy. Business development is to strategically develop our clients business in order to develop our business.

This is an on going job, even after the contract is signed.