Villager

by Andy Howard on January 4, 2012

Adam and I founded Newcastle Advertising and Communications Agency | The Village of Useful in September 2011 and man we’ve had some fun. We’ve been pitching, guest lecturing and working with some great people.

2011 ended with Claire Barwell joining the business and The Village being appointed as creative and digital agency for Inspirations Paint (press release: B&T). Awesome way to end my first year back in the country and wrap up the first few months in The Village.

Couple of other highlights, along with doing good work, were lecturing the Master of Marketing class at the University of Newcastle on all things digital and presenting the Newcastle App at the Newi Awards for Best Mobile App (runner up).

Here’s a recap of my favourite posts from The Useful Blog during 2011:

I’m amped about this year. Wondering what this useful thing is all about? Here’s our manifesto.
 

The Village of Useful Manifesto

Reflection

by Andy Howard on August 14, 2011

Reflection. Pause. Stopping to think about what what wrong. Celebrating the awesome. Taking the idle moments to think, plan and improve. Escaping to your Third Place. It gives clarity, focus, and I bet you don’t do it as often as you could. The importance of reflection was my biggest takeaway from a Hyper Island Digital Master Class earlier this year. I wasn’t reflecting as often as I used to; suddenly reflecting each day during the master class was a luxury and I felt like I’d been missing out. If you’re missing out now, change it. Take some time out early in the morning and think things over. Try it this week. Think about how you’re spending your time and what your priorities are. Is it the best use of your time, and are your priorities right? Think about your plan for the coming week, month and year. What’s the goal? Are you on track? How can you do better? Are you having fun?

Newcastle

by Andy Howard on February 24, 2011

Newcastle, Australia is my home. I haven’t lived there for about 4 years – first I relocated to Sydney’s beaches, then packed a bag and travelled for a year, called the UK home for a while, and most recently I’ve been living in Seattle, USA.

Wanderlust. It’s been a big adventure and I’ve loved every minute of it. Turning up in strange places gives me as much excitement now as it did when I started backpacking 10-odd years ago. The main difference is that recent travels have been about culture and career, not just travel thrills. I’ve had the opportunity to do great work with great people and have seen awesome results. When I jumped on a plane a few years ago, my goals were to explore, learn and advance my career. I’m stoked on how it’s all turned out.

Sea-town

Seattle’s a fun place. Mountains are draped around the city limits, forests are found in every direction and water flows in from Puget Sound to form enormous emerald lakes. The technology and design scene permeates local culture and the strong presence of Google, Adobe, Amazon, Getty Images and others no doubt contributes to this.

There’s a hacker culture that feels almost native, and there’s every chance the guy wired in at Uptown Espresso is building the next web app you haven’t heard of. Yet.

I’ve worked in a few different collaborative spaces – including Fremont’s Gasworks Gallery and a range of cafes/co-working spaces – and there’s energy everywhere from smart people making things. My preferred workspace, Uptown Espresso on 4th, is home to a stellar mobile app agency, hosts the PopCap Games crew daily, and sees Amazonians hacking projects pre-dawn before their day jobs. There’d be countless interfaces designed each day, and that’s just one workspace. Alongside the hacker culture, stellar local agencies – most notably Publicis Seattle – produce smart engaging campaigns that are extremely sophisticated and integrated. For a digital guy like me it’s a great environment.

Travel

The past year is highlighted by some fun trips – surfed in Hawaii and Nicaragua (again – love it down there) and ventured around the USA. I also snuck back to Newcastle for a 6-week stay, my first visit since I left Australia. Seeing friends and family was great, and after spending a stack of time abroad I saw the city in a new light. The incredible work from Renew Newcastle and recent sustainable developments are quickly turning the former steel city into a world-class destination. I’m fiercely proud of being Novocastrian, for good reason. But it was only then that I saw the city coming into its own and having serious appeal on a global scale. Lonely Planet recently named Newcastle a top 10 city in the world for 2011. As expected, tourism in Newcastle began to boom and I watched closely from afar.

From booked out hostels to French girls pursuing Newcastle’s finest, the signs were there – Newcastle was quickly becoming a fixture on Australia’s well-trodden backpacker circuit.

Alongside backpackers, the more discerning visitor is being well catered for: developments at Newcastle Beach and Honeysuckle, new mid-high range restaurants and the nearby Hunter Valley wineries are hosting an influx of visitors chasing a quality lifestyle and change of pace. Being an avid traveller I considered the tourism resources available for this new wave of visitors, and based on what I’ve seen across the globe I concluded they could be better. So I did something about it.

Newcastle: The App

I quickly launched an iPhone app to support Newcastle tourism. Inside 2 days the app was built, basic marketing collateral was designed and it was shipped off to Apple for App Store approval. A few days later, ‘Newcastle’ v1.0 was available for download. I mentioned it to a few friends and a handful of local businesses. v1.0 was very basic: my theory was to launch the minimum viable product to test the idea, then quickly respond to feedback by building in the features people asked for. I had a plan but prioritised updates and new features based on user feedback. v1.1 was quickly rolled out to include Hunter Valley wineries, and then I set about building v2.0. It’s finished, and available for download right now. You can read more about the app if you’re interested.

Newcastle App - Download Now

Technical Aside

Not everyone who works in digital strategy / user experience / management / online marketing / optimisation can write code.. but if they can’t, they’re missing out. Development is about building things and making them work, so with development skill comes a deep understanding of the web and digital technology. I’ve been working mainly in strategy / UX / management / online marketing / optimisation for a while, but I do everything I can to not just stay updated on technology, but actually write code and build things. Nothing beats real code for understanding how digital works and managing projects effectively. It’s no coincidence that the best digital leaders are highly skilled in strategy and development – Jack DorseyMike Davidson and Dave Feldman come to mind.

Technical Notes: The app is written in JavaScript and compiled into Objective-C using Appcelerator’s Titanium, a mobile app platform that’s great to use. If I wanted a mobile site and a mobile app, I would’ve built the site in HTML5 and JavaScript using Sencha Touch, then added a native iPhone app wrapper using PhoneGap.

Newcastle: The Move

I’m missing friends, family, and surfing every morning. I’m keen to jump back into the mix at a top agency – I really enjoy working with good budgets and great teams to deliver awesome work and value for clients. I’d like to witness Newcastle’s gentrification first-hand. I get satisfaction from helping local businesses and growing the regional economy.

As luck would have it, an exceptional opportunity arose and next month I’m joining Peach as Head of Digital. Can’t wait!

I’m very familiar with Peach’s work – I consider them the best agency in the region – and I’ve kept an eye on the work coming out of Newcastle while I’ve been away. I’ve been in regular contact with Peach recently and can’t wait to get started.

I’ll still be occasionally involved in Conversant Media. Working with Zac and Zolton has been great, and in case you missed it – Network Ten recently became a minority investor. Big news. Conversant Media’s growth and achievements have been trending exponentially and I’m confident the business will continue down a very successful path.

So at the moment we’re packing up our life in Seattle. My girlfriend’s excited about moving and it’ll be her first time in Australia. I’m sure we’ll adjust well to the change and I’m really amped about coming home after so long. I have a new sense of contentment after all this wandering. I’ll still be travelling when I can but the trips will be shorter. See you at the beach, and I’ll post some Peach project updates down the track.

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