An Agency as Creative as its Name
New York, March 17, 2016.
Launched in the late 90’s by Creative Director and Founder Ken Braun, Lounge Lizard is a success story that’s been evolving with the times for almost twenty years. Ken Braun offers an impressive personal narrative on what it means to dream big, work hard, and not be afraid to take risks. What started as a small one-man operation, has grown to a top digital agency that has boasted well-known clients including Honeywell and Nikon in addition to exciting start ups.
With talent on both coasts of the United States, the company has grown from a one-man show to a boutique team of 30 talented creatives and developers. Not only do these Lizards specialize in creating beautiful and thought-out websites and mobile apps, but also they have launched their own social networking app, Cheery, Lounge Lizard’s new app is live in the Apple Store. Fully designed and developed by the Lizards themselves as an agency product, Cheery is a manifestation of the team’s overall passion for the craft and this industry.
Describe the core work of Lounge Lizard:
At our agency, we specialize in two distinct business units: mobile app development and website development. In both areas, every campaign incorporates branded marketing strategy and smart UI design. The two are symbiotic.
What is your journey with advertising and digital design:
I attended the Visual Arts School in Manhattan, but ended up leaving after a year to work for a top agency in Manhattan. I was basically a Mad Men character for many years, working as an Art Director in what most people would picture a “traditional advertising” environment.
Tell us the full Lounge Lizard story:
In the year 1997, I was working at a digital agency called K2. They hired me to build up their online presence, which involved all kinds of online interactive ads. We had a freelancer out of San Francisco at the time and the agency was paying him well. I ended up probing him more on his success, and he told me that he got all his work from bannertips.com. It cost $50 a month to be a member of the directory. I took a look at this site, saw that this freelancer was the only member, and saw an opportunity. After talking to him, I immediately signed up, became a listed member, and within days had my first virtual client, all the way from South Africa.
I made these banner ads in any breaks I had; lunch at work, the commute to and from Manhattan, and into the hours of the night. I worked like this, and slept very little, until I was making about $30K a month. Within ten months of my first client, Lounge Lizard became million dollar company. In ‘99 we started offering websites, and I was hiring more employees.
Throughout each phase of the business, I’ve continued to integrate more services and as a result, the business kept growing and survived difficult times in the industry. We were rolling on the internet wave, and then the .com crash hit. Venture capitalists were pulling out left and right. I knew I had to diversify the brand very quickly. I went with my gut and stuck to my traditional roots, doing print design, corporate ID, product naming, and brochure design. When the .com bubble crashed, we downsized 50% but we didn’t go out of business. We rode out that wave and then saw a transition back to digital. When mobile got hot in 2006, Honeywell gave us a shot, and that opportunity became a big success for them and for us.
It’s been a constant process of evolution. We now have offices in NY, Long Island, and most recently, Los Angeles. About 80% of our clients do virtual business with us. We have started creating our own Lounge Lizard products, one of them being a new social networking app called Cheery that promotes positivity. I’m proud of the directions the business has taken over the years, and I credit our success to the ability to evolve with the market and foresee the next trend.
What do you do for inspiration? Are there online publications, professionals, industry leaders you follow?
I try to avoid the online publications. Instead, I find more inspiration in the works of others. I judge a lot of contests, including the CSS Design Awards and the Webby Awards. Taking peeks at what the best minds are producing in the international community always inspires me the most.
What project presented the hardest challenge for your team?
Our greatest challenge comes from an overall misunderstanding about the key ingredients needed for a successful launch of an app. It has little to do with the actual development of the app, and everything to do with comprehending marketing. We find that a lot of clients don’t have the adequate marketing dollars to properly market the apps. Too many entrepreneurs think the simple act of uploading the app into the App store and doing some promotion on Facebook will make it an instant success.
These clients who don’t understand the importance of marketing an app make it difficult for us to find success in the app and can reflect badly on us. We get judged on how successful an app is, usually in the amount of downloads. We can design a beautiful and needed app, but if there is no proper marketing it can fall on its face.
What is a campaign you worked on that was especially successful and why?
Honeywell is a campaign we are especially proud of. Before they came to us, their UID was designed by engineers. We’ve taken them and elevated the brand to one that went from engineer-crafted to UX designer-created and as a result have made a more beautiful design experience that is easier for users. The Honeywell Total Connect for Apple Watch is a big win for us. We created a very intuitive UX design in a very tiny space.
Which international communities excite you most in terms of digital creativity?
Germany and London. German agencies are extremely meticulous, like German engineering, in that they are very detailed-oriented and well thought-out designs. London is another creative hub I enjoy observing. I’ve always followed them since I joined the industry, and these creatives are always producing crazy designs that somehow work.
What do you like doing in your free time?
I’m very into MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), especially Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). I studied in the past Krav Maga, the Israeli fighting style, for over 12 years and recently switched to BJJ. I find it to a very strategic activity, like a physical chess match, that works my brain and body. I also have taken up scuba-diving recently, with the intent of using this skill to go spear-fishing.
If you could describe your agency in 3 words, what would those be?
Strategic, creative, and technical.
Where do you see app development going in 5 years?
I predict artificial intelligence as being the next big thing. This means having your phone doing more for you based on what you like, more about machine learning, and delivering that to the user. I see the trend of apps making suggestions for the user based on personal preferences
What advice do you often give to people who are starting to work in your same field?
People in my field oftentimes get too focused on either Apple or Android. From the standpoint of an employer, it is better if you know both. Instead of focusing on just one platform, it’s a smart career move to learn both systems.
For aspiring designers, my advice would be to take their portfolios and put them side by side with some of the best designers in the world and see how they compare. To grow and become the best, one must look to the top people in the industry.They should check out thebestdesigns.com or the CSS design awards and see if their work is comparing to winning designs.
What does the word creativity mean to you?
Creativity is anything that stands out among the norms. It is something different or new that goes the complete opposite way of what everyone else is doing.