Creative Lives — Developing skill sets: Meet Halo’s UX designer and senior developer at Halo, Tim Banks

Posted 18 July 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

After graduating with a degree in documentary photography and deciding that most websites were terrible, Tim Banks switched lanes to set about making the web a better place. His skills developed in tandem with the web itself, and now he’s a UX designer and senior developer at brand agency Halo. Working to find the balance between function and emotion for websites and apps, Tim has evolved an octopus-like ability to multitask. Here, he talks us through his day-to-day and shares some technical know-how.

Tim Banks

Job Title

UX Designer and Senior Developer, Halo (2014–2017)

Based

Bristol

Previous Employment

Head of Digital, Mar-com (2012 –2014)
Developer, Mar-com (2011–2012)

Education

Documentary Photography, University of Wales Newport (Now University of South Wales) (2006–2009)

Social Media

Inside Halo

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
I work across disciplines to either do, or manage the delivery of great websites, apps and strategy for brands and businesses. My role is a fluid mix of digital strategy (brand platform, value proposition, pitches), UX (workshops, testing, UI design and architecture) and development (Drupal, HTML5, CSS, PHP and JavaScript). 

Most of our biggest wins have come from being brave with our ideas and being ready to show clients another way. There are moments when you can distil an idea into a strategy or approach that is so spine-tinglingly right that no other way makes sense. For me that is what it’s all about.  

What does a typical working day look like? 
I love living and working in Bristol. My commute to work is a leisurely 30 minute walk along the river every morning. It’s long enough to listen to a podcast or read a few articles and still have time to absorb some of the life of the city. In the morning it’s a great way to get in the zone for work, and decompress the day in the evening.  

We work a 9:30am to 6:00pm day with time for a leisurely lunch and a Mario Kart fix (which has been an agency addiction for many years before I joined). My day starts with agency stand-ups and tickets and task planning with the development team. We normally have anywhere between three and six digital projects ongoing and in various phases plus a steady amount of ongoing client work on sites we look after in the long term. I am involved in some way with all phases of our digital projects and branding on the digital side.       

“There are moments when you can distil an idea into a strategy that is so spine-tinglingly right that no other way makes sense. For me that is what it’s all about.”  

How did you land your current job?
I had a friend who worked (and still works) for Halo, who said it was was a good place to be. I remember being really excited about the responsive web which was the big thing at the time and I wanted to build my UX credentials. I think my passion and desire to learn sold me above others.   

Where does the majority of your work take place?
I really enjoy getting out in front of clients, and take any excuse to do so. But I still spend 80% of my time in the Halo studio. This is pretty much limited by the time economy and the production parts of my role. 

Luckily our studio is colourful, loud, joke-filled and about as far from a boring corporate office as I think it gets. We have a long running joke around an account manager describing us as a ‘cool bunch’ to an interviewee. There is a lot of that, and because we occasionally do work for Love Honey, you’ll normally find sex toys in unexpected places. 

Tim at work in the studio

In the studio

In the studio

How collaborative is your role? 
In an agency of over 25 people, I work with pretty much everyone, which is great! I don’t believe in working in silos; I always make an effort to share what I’m doing with others and be nosey about what they are up to. Collaboration always leads to the best work, so we try and make it part of our culture. 

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The buzz of a good agency is always exciting; there is always a new problem to engage with. I find it really important to feel like things are progressing and variety really helps, but it can also become difficult at times. The bigger we get and the more work we take on, the more process gets involved. That can feel like a drag when it takes time away from the more creative side of what I do. I dream that one day most of the boring process stuff will be automated (that’s the developer in me). 

Work-life balance in a job where it’s hard to stop thinking can be tricky. At least the problems I take home are mostly creative or technical (which seem like life or death a the time). Making time to do normal things is really important, as it maintains the objectivity needed to keep things in perspective.       

“Making time to do normal things is really important, as it maintains the objectivity needed to keep things in perspective.”

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?  
I probably enjoyed the Butcombe Brewery work most. We designed (but didn’t build) their website. When there is a really strong emotive brand to play off, the UX phase is really fun. Bringing a sense of brand and emotion into a website’s UI is what stops websites all being the same. I always like to look forward and there’s really exciting work for some of our music industry clients coming up in the next 12 months which I can’t wait to work on.

What skills are essential to your job? 
Multitasking like an octopus. Knowing when to stop. Knowing when to keep going. Articulating and communicating technical and creative ideas, problems and challenges.

What tools do you use most for your work?
InVision app, Photoshop, Illustrator, Sublime Text, Omnigraffle, Optimal Workshop and Sketch for my own stuff (which I have been trying to get our design team to switch to).

Halo’s work for Butcombe Brewery

Halo’s work for Butcombe Brewery

Halo’s work for Butcombe Brewery

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
A designer, engineer, photographer and artist. Petty much in that order.

What influence has your upbringing had on your work?
My parents were both into art and would take us to galleries whenever we were in a big city. My brother hated it but I kind of fell in love with it. It really gave me something to focus on as dyslexic kid at school because it wasn’t taught like everything else, you kind of had to teach it to yourself. 

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
University for me was more about learning the creative process than the actual subject I studied. Over three years I mostly learnt about the process of making, observing, and exploring ideas and creative themes. Critical thinking and the importance of total emersion were probably my other main takeaways.

What were your first jobs?
I’d had enough of having to work in retail to pay the rent and maintaining the illusion of being a struggling artist, so I started freelancing as a photographer and designer after uni. I decided that most websites were terrible and thought I could do better, so I taught myself HTML, CSS and basic Wordpress theming. Being young, I also set myself the grand mission of making the web a better place.

Working for an agency seemed like a good way to do bigger projects and learn from others so I got a job as a developer at an eight person marketing agency in Bath (Mar-com). I was thrown right in the deep end of dealing with clients and working on projects with ten times the budget I had while freelancing. It taught me so much about business, design and what it really means to be a developer. Luckily I had some great people to work with and we pushed each other all the time. 

“Find out what you’re good at and tell everyone. They will either give you more of it to do or they won’t.“

Who in particular helped you at the start of your career? 
Probably the creative director Rob Doble and account manager Helen Sanders at Mar-com taught me the most in the early days of agency life. 

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
I worked on the end part of various phases the build and of the British Chambers of Commerce website. That really taught me about the importance of being methodical, precise and building trust with a client. I also learnt the hard lesson that sometimes clients come to you with solutions, when often you have to get to the actual problem if you want to produce something worthwhile. 

What skills have you learnt along the way? 
The web has changed a huge amount in a very short time. Responsive design and mobile first where big changes that moved me towards wireframing and UI design. Now it’s taken for granted that a site should work on every device. 

What’s been your biggest challenge? 
Learning when it’s ok to make mistakes (so you find ways not to when it really matters) and knowing when you are out of your depth. These are probably the first things developers need to learn. In UX, it’s probably about finding a balance between emotion and function.  

Is your job what you thought it would be?
No, but I think life is more satisfying when you are proactive and open to things.

Inside the studio

At work

Future

What would you like to do next?
More strategy work; good ideas are addictive.  

Could you do this job forever?
All of this job? Probably not. But parts of it, yes. 

What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
Either a director or head type role with or without a share in a business (depending on its size).

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a developer?
Find out what you’re good at and tell everyone. They will either give you more of it to do or they won’t. And don’t stop trying to find new things you might be good at; everyone gets bored eventually.   

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