Part 1 of the Hub interview series
We’ve just joined the thriving Westminster Hub community and we’re excited to be exploring the space and slowly getting to meet our neighbours. The Hub’s primary aim is to support organisations with positive social and environmental impact at the heart of their culture. As a result, we are doing a series of short interviews with people working in design and development.
We recently met with Tom Greenwood (https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomgreenwood) who is the Managing Director of Wholegrain Digital (http://www.wholegraindigital.com), a WordPress web design agency. Tom co-founded Wholegrain with his partner Vineeta Greenwood back in 2007, with the aim of “helping good people benefit from good design.” A fan of open source and WordPress, it is Tom’s job to set the vision for the company and ensure that everyone is healthy and happy.
- Did you always want to be involved in this industry?
No, I always wanted to be involved in design in some way. But not specifically website design… but as time has gone on, it’s very clear that digital is the way forward. This is what I have been working on for 10 years. I actually studied Product Design at Aston University.
- How did you get involved in developing and designing through WordPress?
So originally we set up a branding agency. I am very interested in sustainability and from what I had done in Product Design it was always to do with sustainability and energy efficiency. When it came to setting up a company, I twigged that most products you design are going to end up in a landfill in one way or another. There is some good stuff out there but it’s very hard to go about designing really good stuff. Whereas if you go down the digital route you can do things that can impact people’s lives in a positive way but it doesn’t physically exist. And that really interested me.
We originally wanted to set up a branding agency with the objective to help small businesses that were doing good things to present themselves well. About 8 years ago there were lots of green and eco businesses cropping up and a lot of them didn’t really have any branding experience so that was our focus. We gradually morphed into a WordPress agency because it’s clear that everyone wants a great website. WordPress is fantastic, it’s open source and we do so much with it. We really loved it and our clients really loved it so we gradually dropped everything else.
- What are you currently working on?
We’re currently working on lots of things! We have just recently done a site for Collectively.org, which is an online sustainability magazine which was set up by multinational corporations basically who wanted to do something good. There’s about 30 big companies such as Unilever and Coca-Cola, all invested into it, companies who you wouldn’t always associate with doing things like this. Collectively is a really great magazine, really interesting, really engaging and they tackle difficult issues.
So due to the Paris climate summit this week we made a mini site for them, campaigning for young people to lobby universities and big companies to get them to convert into using 100% renewable energy.
- What do you hope for the future?
In the future, we definitely want to move towards more wholesome clients. We have quite a mix of clients. It’s kind of the nature of the business. Although we are lucky and get a lot of enquiries, we can’t always be picky who we work with. You have to do enough work to keep yourself going. We do have a lot of really wholesome clients like Collectively and Ecover / Method who produce eco-friendly dishwashing products, which are used here at the Hub kitchen! And we’re also working with UNICEF. So we have some really good clients. We have an ethical policy where we don’t work with certain industries, which has been great in steering us in the right direction. But next year or the year after we plan on having a larger proportion of our clients in the category of companies who are positive instead of neutral, so actively green and trying to make a difference.
We also plan on doing more in the way of developing things ourselves that we can give back to the WordPress community and wider community, which we have done in the past but not as much as we would like to. It’s interesting with software that you can build things and give them away so that other people can benefit from them.
- What was the project with UNICEF?
So actually, we have been helping them on their blog. UNICEF UK has two websites. They have the core website that tells you about UNICEF, containing the donations forms and then they have the blog. Most of their traffic goes to the blog where they publish articles with their news, the celebrity ambassadors they work with and it links in with their social media. We are working on their maintenance with WordPress but also the user experience side and how we can make the blog more engaging. Also, working on how we can increase conversion rate from the blog to the main site to make donation pages. That’s something we have only just started working on so you can’t see it yet but we are really excited about it.
- When you’re not at the Hub working, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I like running, I do a lot of barefoot running. Everyone always asks if it’s painful but I live in the new forest so it’s really good, it’s quite sandy.
I also run a film club with some friends called The Ethical Film Club (www.ethicalfilmclub.com), where we screen documentaries about different issues in 4 main categories: animal rights, environment, community and human rights. We try to do eight screenings a year. We do this in the New Forest where it’s not like London, where there is lots to see and do all the time. It’s a beautiful place to live but there is not a lot of this sort of activity going on but it’s going really well. We have a good community of people and about 50-100 people come to each screening.
This weekend was our 7th screening and we showed The Future of Energy, which ties in quite nicely with the Paris climate summit going on. We had a scientist from Imperial College called Keith Barnham who came down and gave a talk afterwards. He is one of the top scientists in the country on solar energy and wrote a book called The Burning Answer so that was really cool.
We have also just been given a grant by the BFI. We have really basic projection equipment but no one has ever complained, everyone seems really happy with it! It’s just a cheap PowerPoint projector but it’s all you need! The BFI have a fund for community cinemas, which we applied for and got about £4000 worth of HD projection equipment. So next year we will hopefully show people better films!
We would like to thank Tom for letting us hijack his day for this interview! We loved learning about the origins of Wholegrain Digital, but I’m not sure we will be going barefoot running anytime soon!
We are looking forward to getting to know more of our colleagues at the Hub.
Ad Hoc London explores audience needs in the UK. We routinely conduct UX and usability research in London, Southampton, Manchester, and Glasgow. We optimise information for laptops, tablets and smartphones so customers have the best possible user experience. We help clients benefit from understanding their audiences’ varying needs.