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Why modern graphic designers are functional artists

Graphic designers sometimes feel quite mysterious. Mostly creative looking, often found shuffling around their Apple Macs and living somewhere between techy and arty. They are also often left to their own creative devices in the business world, because people don’t quite understand what they do, kind of like a unicorn in a suit.

So who are Graphic designers? A lot of people think they design nice looking logos and brochures and spend hours picking out fonts and colours. Which is kind of like saying a chef is someone that just adds lots of ingredients together in a pan.

They are actually the people that build a bridge between art and functional design, to target a specific audience. They design with a practical purpose in mind and use visual arts, communications, and psychology to translate beautiful visuals into tangible goals – which is no mean feat.

Any marketer worth their salt, knows that strong visual branding and sharp wording are the magic markers for a successful campaign. Graphic designers, copywriters and marketers also share a common thread – they use the arts and social patterns to create something that sits between creativity and practicality. Something that is a representation of the current status quo or where a trend is heading.

Behind the looking glass

Graphic designers kind of live between two worlds, or have one foot in each. They are not quite tech engineers and not quite pure artists (although many do wear both hats).

To be a successful graphic designer, you can’t just know what colours or lines go where, how to use a software tool, or go full pelt into a commercial brief without thinking of the artistic beauty of a design. You also can’t just do what your artistic tastes dictate, because you need to listen to the audience and be in line with the intended message.

Pure artists normally design according to what they want to see produced, and if the public like it then that’s a bonus, but not the point. A pure artist creates from their own experiences or because of a need to express themselves. A graphic design creates an experience for the other person and expresses an external viewpoint or how a brand wishes to be perceived. Much like the difference between copywriting and poetry.

Graphic design trends are also directly influenced by already established art movements and are then painstakingly translated into functionality. Minimalism, modernism, cubism, pop art and even the surrealist art movement are all huge influences for modern design.

Brick by Brick

But perhaps the most important is Bauhaus, which was also the first art movement to remove the distinction between artist and designer, and helped pave the way for the multi-faceted graphic designer.

Bauhaus artists were the original functional designers, the minimalist rebels who created shining and unflinching modernism in the wake of a dark and subversive time in Germany. The movement was a huge advocator for marrying art, craft, industry, and technology together – which is still a prevailing concept across both creative and commercial design.

Some of the most famous Bauhaus artists also wrote streams of papers in the 1920s and 30s which predicted our own future relationship with design. Wassily Kandinsky wrote about how objects can relate to one another on a page and how they can guide a viewer’s eye and Paul Klee explored how colour can create an instant reaction with an audience.

Bauhaus ended in 1933 as the Nazis took power, but it still managed to shine a long and unfaltering beacon into the future which helped create the foundations for graphic design, user experience and modern ideas of harmonious beauty.

Practically Beautiful

When I think of graphic designers, I mostly think of tech savvy and commercially-minded artists.  I like to think celebrated painters from 200 years ago might have put down their paint brush and opted for Adobe Illustrator if they’d had a MacBook to hand.

I often work with graphic designers because of what I do, and I’ve found they come in all shapes and sizes and really range on the creativity kaleidoscope. Some create mind-bending design from the most boring of products, some go off on a creative tangent throwing two fingers up at caution, and others stay tightly within a brief and prefer the mechanics of design rather than edgy visuals.

What I’ve always found impressive with graphic designers is that they manage to make art a mainstream conversation, they manage to shine a light on it without making it pretentious. They help influence ideas about modern design and beauty and even how products are sold, but they do it quietly behind their sleek desks.

I love that most people hardly even notice them adding cubist shapes or surrealist design processes onto an album cover or a product brochure. For me, what graphic designers do best is that they create something visual that changes opinions and trends without people seeing each and every design stepping stone.

Why are website designers giving us simpler and more stress-free user experience?

If you’ve already had a scroll through our site, then you’ll know that we are WordPress website builders who love nothing better than coding and designing our way through the cold winter nights and building some pretty decent websites along the way.

Something that we often get asked from our clients is whether they should have a custom built or Premium theme-based WordPress site. So, we thought it was high time to explain the differences between the two options, and why a custom-built site is probably the right move 80% of the time.

Defining moments

Before we delve into the murky realms of website coding, let’s start with the basic differences between Premium and custom built WordPress themes.

Theme-based WordPress sites are basically a set of page templates that you can choose from and which form the visual skeleton of your website. Each theme has different visuals and layouts which create a specific website look and function.

The beauty of a theme-based option is that you can find a template that is already built, which you can then download, replace the images and rework the content to suit your own branding. The template themes are flexible and are open to slight modifications, you can also can add plug-ins to build-up a more layered website.

Custom-built WordPress sites are basically built completely from scratch and have no set template that you need to work around. A custom design is a one-off theme, that is specifically created for that individual or company.

Crucially, they can look like theme-based templates, but all the various parts of the custom website are integrated in one go, to work seamlessly together. Kind of like the difference between using a pre-made cake mix or just getting the ingredients yourself and making your own Victoria sponge – working on the base always makes the cake taste better.

Dream me a dream

Ask a website designer what their dream question from any client is and it’d probably be ‘can I have a custom website build?’.

Why? Firstly, with a custom build we are free to generate a website from scratch that is unique and fully adapted to the client.  The sky is the limit with custom design. The opposite can be said with Premium, because you are limited to the configurated structures set up for the template. A bit like consigning yourself to playing in a box garden when you know there’s a whole field over the hedge.

A premium theme-based site can also turn into a coder’s worst nightmare, especially when things get a bit complicated. Although it can be simple to create a Premium theme-based site, any advanced site modifications or plug-ins that automatically update can run the risk of crashing your site or a producing a bug which will, at the very least, affect your websites functionality.

Premium theme-based sites typically have many layers of design and much more code. So when something goes wrong with a theme-based template it can feel like crawling through a coding jungle or trying to find a pebble in a desert. Sifting through streams of coding chains to find out why a site is bugging and then repairing the problem can often take longer than just custom building an entire site from scratch.

Template themed sites can also be much slower to load and have reduced page quality because of the additional coding structures and the way they are built. The speed at which your site loads has a detrimental effect for user experience and is even penalised by Google Search Ranking bots.

Tick Tock

Premium theme-based sites have their uses and are a great option for people who:

  • want a very simple site
  • have a tight budget or deadline
  • find a theme that is perfect for their website goals
  • want a theme that has built-in features such as animation (which take a long time to code)
  • are not planning to modify or evolve their site

Quite a few people also think that building a custom-built theme takes more time and money than a Premium theme. It’s true that when you first set up a Premium theme-based WordPress website it can be a lot quicker and cheaper, and will have your website singing and dancing on Google in no time.

But where this logic falls down is with the maintenance and general upkeep of your site. If you end up having a coding problem or want to turn your site into something more complex (i.e. turning it into an e-commerce platform or an interactive forum) it can often be more expensive and time costly to sort out than building a custom site in the first place.

In the end, the decision boils down to knowing what you want from your site and what you are prepared to invest. Once you’ve seen the light, you can then decide whether you need a quick and simple fix via the Premium route, or an integrated and long-lasting solution which would point you to door number 2, the custom WordPress build.

PSST! Did we mention our boundless love for all thing WordPress? If you want to have a chat about how we can help you sift through noise and build a sleek and functional website, we are a short phone call away or can be found pouring over our Apple Macs at Ziferblat Edge Street.

Look out Mystic Meg! Bamboo Mcr’s got hold of a crystal ball, and we can see…

Smart Technology

First things first, everything is going to get a lot smarter. We aren’t just talking about Bamboo’s brilliant website building skills (ahem), but about the entire breed of technical devices out there on the market.

As predictions go, you might feel like it’s a pretty safe bet to assume technology is going to get a bit more quick witted. Technology has consistently become smarter since we started putting together techy stuff to make even better techy stuff. It’s the kind of horse you’d bet on to get a sure-fire win.

But, what we think will specifically make tech even smarter in 2018 is the internet of things (IoT). Now, the internet of things may sound like a loopy science project or a deep space mission, but what the internet of things means is connected objects that can exchange and collect information via the internet – think Amazon Echo, Apple’s Siri or your fridge that suggests you might want to make an omelette with the egg and cheddar combo on your shelf.

We are obviously right at the start of the IoT movement, but experts are predicting that 2018 will be the year of IoT and where we’ll start to see real changes to our lives. IoT is going to create a completely connected world where all devices and products will form mass networks that communicate with each other and form integrated services and data troves. The internet of things will basically become the backbone for all our consumer goods.

The movement is so huge and set to tip over into our every waking moment that in 30 years or so, we’ll actually look back at the likes of Amazon Echo and have a little giggle about how quaint our IoT systems were, kind of like how we look at the 80s bricks that were apparently mobile phones or existential life before Google.

Two huge IoT examples set to change our lives are smart homes and smart cities. Most of us are already familiar with smart homes – thermostats, lighting and security systems that you can regulate with your phone, or fridges that predict food running out, and fire sensors that contact emergency services when triggered. Smart cities are also set to revolutionise our urban lives by freely exchanging live data as we go about our days. IoT cities have the potential to reduce traffic congestion, noise, crime, and pollution.

User Experience

User experience or UX design has been coming up on the rear for a very long time. User Experience has always been important, with 88% of users less likely to return to a website if they’ve had a bad experience. A UX designer’s principal role is to make your journey from A to B as smooth and pleasant as possible. As technology gets smarter and more connected, seamlessly smooth user experience across multiple channels, devices and systems will become even more important.

UX designers are also the real Mystic Megs of the digital world, because a huge part of their job is to predict how people will want to use a system and how that might change over time, which is a crucial asset in the quickly evolving technology sector.

So, what will this mean for our digital spaces in 2018? Time saving nudge features, voice-activated experiences, augmented reality, and modern passwords such as biometric activation, are all being excitedly whispered about along the UX grapevine.

Social Media

No we aren’t going to predict social media happening, that ship has long since sailed past the billionth duck face selfie. What we are going to predict for 2018 is that social media channels are going to become even more integrated and connected, just like user experience and smart technology.

Social channels are already merging their identities to eat up their competitors and keep their valued users. Instagram stories copied Snapchat, LinkedIn news looks very similar to the Twittersphere newsreel and Facebook is now a video tidal wave, akin to the original video titan, Youtube.

Social media will also continue to eat up traditional T.V viewing. Since the birth of Youtube, Netflix and On Demand streaming, the young’uns and the tech savvy have switched off their family tellies and flocked to their portable devices to stream from the internet wherever they want and to their hearts content. It’s very similar to the previous shift from CD to mp3, everything is getting more online, connected and instantly accessible.

TV channels and television producers have been tracking this colossal shift and have done what all savvy business people are now doing – they integrate the competition. Most television boxes now have the option to watch programmed television or go onto on-demand viewing, because it’s set to become the mainstream way of watching our most bingeworthy television programs.

The Future’s bright

So what’s in store for Bamboo in 2018?

Drum roll please!…… We are very excited to reveal our plans for a brand spanking new website, scheduled to be live and kicking early this year. Since our move to Manchester city centre, we felt like a new look was in order, it also gave us the chance to integrate lots of snazzy new user experience and design features as well as a Manchester bee inspired logo!

We are also going to continue to eat cake and live our very own coworking experiment in Ziferblat Edge street. Working in the northern quarter and being around friendly and creative people has definitely brought about some surprising opportunities. We’ve found new clients, friends and even branched out into photography and video creation.

All we can say is, roll on 2018 and let’s hope it builds on the brilliant year we had in 2017!

If you ever want a chat with us about our uncanny crystal ball skills or maybe even how we build great looking functional and modern websites, we are always available via phone, email or even for a cup of tea at Ziferblat Edge Street!


Manchester is a city that has something about it. You can’t quite put your finger on it but it’s there, chatting in the old city pubs, brainstorming in basement warehouses, or weaving along the industrial streets. Northern city dwellers forever doing their own gritty, creative thing.

We first moved into the Northern Quarter because we wanted to be more central for our clients and get a Manchester post code for Bamboo. But in the end what we got was much more than an address, we got to live and breathe what the city is about and reflect that in our work. Breaking norms, doing our own thing, laughing about it and then breaking norms again. Creating something from the richness of the past and making it completely, inspiringly new.

Red Brick Road

In our mind, Manchester’s uniqueness, in part, comes from the fact that it was the starting point for the industrial revolution. To create such a global movement which transformed the planet’s future has to take a very unique way of thinking and some stubbornly forward-thinking guts.

But post-industrial Manchester was in danger of living in the shadows of its past and resigning itself to a very long concrete slumber. Luckily, Manchester’s never-ending love of music and unique art rose to the challenge and kept the creative candle burning, making sure the Mancunian spirit never really burnt out.

Then when Manchester’s time came again, purpose flooded back into our empty red brick buildings and made sure music wasn’t the only thing shining across our city. Warehouses were splashed with street art, Victorian mills adapted into creative spaces, and empty factories became digital hubs. The transformation happened when Manchester needed it most and made it that little bit more special.

Let me go my own way

This city is also in creative flow when it revives the past but doesn’t drown in nostalgia, when it isn’t afraid of blending the old and new by letting them clash and collide until they learn to be in each other’s company.

Manchester also doesn’t care about what is expected of it, and often rebels against that expectation. Which is also where our simmering hatred of most things from London comes from, and why the city quickly wriggled off its ‘Northern Powerhouse’ title – because it’ll most likely achieve the same thing but in its own way.

Even the architecture doesn’t care about what a city should look like. Towering glass structures sit next to elegantly decaying Georgian buildings, as do Tudor houses and concrete tower blocks. Manchester’s architecture is a defiance of standardised beauty and architectural norms, which is the perfect backdrop to what is happening on the streets. Heritage being reaffirmed with innovation. Creativity coming from the freedom of disregarding rules.

Family of strangers

Something we also love is that we work in an urban cosmopolitan city that still acts like a local pub. Stranger talk to each other at bus stops, laugh together in queues and chat about the weather in cafes. It’s this mix of innovation and genuine friendliness that creates the unexplained buzz flitting around the streets and helps to slow down the train to pretentious city living.

Working in the northern quarter, which acts like an urban village, has also helped us be more creative and productive just by being a part of something truly exiting. We are all talking, inventing, and creating an idea of a city together, and it’s inspiring to build and adapt to the times together.

The sun has been out so instead of sitting for lunch and discussing web design things, we headed out across Manchester to capture our favourite place in the world… Manchester 🙂

– Captured our senior developer Mark on a two step