Impact through substance, utility, and beauty

A look back at our 15-year journey to impact people’s lives positively through design and engineering.

2018 marks our 15 year anniversary, and we’re enjoying our reflection on the incredible journey it’s been thus far. Early on, we embarked on a mission to plan, create, and grow digital products with utility and substance, designed to improve life. We didn’t want to be just another digital agency; we had to do it with soul. We must be an agent for change—applying design and engineering to a productive end—to make the Internet an extension of our lives, our work, and our ambitions, not a distraction from it.

We understood that we couldn’t achieve our mission alone, that we must surround ourselves with like-minded clients that would challenge us to stay focused on our purpose. Over the years, we’ve had the privilege of working with diverse, well-respected and impactful clients that kept us inspired and motivated while collaborating with them to drive success in and access to arts, science, culture, education and social advance kept us curious and engaged.

Like the clients we work on behalf of, every person who has worked at AREA 17 has come for and contributed to our mission and holds the shared vision to do great work and to live great lives. We’ve consistently surrounded ourselves with people who live life to the fullest and bring their diverse personal experiences to the work we do together. Personally, I am both honored to be part of such an exceptional team and humbled to be at its helm.

Today though, our reflections are framed in the contemplation of the future and our role in shaping the Internet. The Internet itself started as a collaborative platform with a shared vision. It began with the idea that, through access and transparency, we can increase people’s freedoms and opportunities, improve well-being, and allow ordinary people to decide how to live, who to be and how to engage with the world around them. It’s astonishing to think about how far the Internet has come over the years, and we’re proud of the role that AREA 17 has played in its progression.

Throughout our journey, we’ve learned a lot from our successes, but more from failures. We’ve learned that craft is not enough, that just because a product is well-crafted, it doesn’t mean that it is a good idea and that it should exist in the first place. We’ve learned that even a well-crafted good idea is not enough, that if nobody uses it, then it doesn’t matter. But most notably, we’ve learned that we have a splendid duty towards users, and the benchmark we should judge ourselves by is not our contributions to the Internet, but whether they have resulted in the progression of its ideals.

In our industry, we get enthralled by new applications of technology and their enormous potential for human progression. Internet of Things, Wearable Technology, Augmented Reality, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, et al. With the promise of increased convenience and improved productivity, we often accept these advancements as implicit good. But, outside of our Internet bubble, people struggle with them, their usage, and their potential implications.

As the Internet has become even more pervasive in our lives, it has introduced threats to the founding principles of the Internet and the people it aims to serve. It is not possible to improve our well-being without privacy, security, and the ability to engage in the real world. Nor is it possible to increase our freedom and opportunity without equity, accessibility, and evidence. The Internet is not a public good in and of itself; we must make it as such. We must recognize that as producers, strategists, designers, writers, coders, and marketers of platforms that diverse and massive amounts of people use, we wield considerable influence and with that comes great responsibility.

As we look to our future, we recognize that our founding mission is more critical than ever. Our work aims to empower people and convey a positive vision of life by creating authentic experiences that resonate with people on a personal level. To achieve this, we must continue our unwavering commitment to quality design, performant engineering, and measurable outcome. But further, we must design for loyalty, not addiction, accept our social responsibility, and hold ourselves accountable to higher ethical standards, even when regulations don’t exist. We must respect privacy, ensure security, nurture equity, assure accessibility, promote open access, combat false narratives and, ultimately, use the Internet to get off the Internet and enable us all to live great lives together, in the real world.

While our convictions are not unique, we look to do our part by building these principles into our core mission and making them a systemic part of the way we deliver our work. We aim to be transparent and equitable in how we operate and create benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders. Going forward we will contribute more to the open source community and the industry to which we’ve dedicated ourselves. We will continue to work with companies and institutions that influence the world for good; organizations that aim to use advancements in technology to improve our well-being, freedom, and opportunities; organizations that inspire us to be our best selves, within a global community that embraces our differences and similarities as human beings.

Thank you to everyone—our team, clients, friends, and industry peers—for believing in our mission and helping to make AREA 17 the fantastic company it is today, and for years to come. Over the last 15 years, we have accomplished a lot, empowering countless organizations and people to realize their full potential. I believe I speak for everyone at AREA 17 in saying that we are proud of our achievements and that what matters most is what we do next. We are motivated to tackle the challenges ahead, inspired to help shape the world we live in, and curious to see what the future beholds.

Also published on Medium.