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A Case Study On

By Jack Darnell & Sam Kelham


The people who work here connect to their work and are constantly enjoying it and thinking about it. Probably the only time they’re not is when they’re asleep.


Adam Todd Creative Director

magneticNorth 101 Princess Street Manchester M1 6DD UK 3


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Company Profile Aims, Objectives & Strategies S.W.O.T. Analysis Company Structure Website & Social Media Press Clients Creative Ideas Competition Awards Staff Profile #1 Staff Profile #2 Finance Gallery Conclusion Thank You


Company Profile We are digital thinkers, designers and makers. magneticNorth (mN) is a digital design company based in Manchester, UK with a team of 25 digital thinkers, designers and makers. The company is currently in its 13th year of business and in that time they have worked for some of the world’s most interesting companies and brands including the BBC, Arup, Google and Reuters. CEO Lou Cordwell founded MagneticNorth (mN) in July 2000, after originally being Head of Business Development at Jay Walter Thompson an advertising agency based in Manchester.

Lou Cordwell made contact with Brendan Dawes, who at that time was travelling to New York. On meeting Brendan at the airport she pleaded with him to join her at mN. Brendan then spent 13 years at magneticNorth. Brendan Dawes was Creative Director for 10 years and Executive Creative Director for 3, Brendan helped magnetic North grow in size both in cliental and staff, specializing in Concept, Design, Development, Websites, Mobile & web apps, Installations / Surface table / touch screen projects, Social media strategies, New platform exploration / prototyping. In 2012 Brendan left mN to set up his own company called Beep. Which has now stopped trading. Since then Adam Todd has been the creative director and the company has continued to grow and attract new clients, and at the same time pushing the bourderies in interactive digital design.

Lou Cordwell made contact with Brendan Dawes who at that time was travelling to New York. On meeting Brendan at the airport she pleaded with him to join her at mN. Brendan then spent 13 years at magneticNorth. 6


Aims & Objectives

Aims & Objectives The company describe themselves as ‘digital thinkers, designers and makers creating commissioned client work for some of the world’s most interesting companies and brands’ They create bespoke interactive designs for clients, who seek them out independently. They aim to build relationships with their clients, who will pass on their thriving reputation through word of mouth advertising. Magnetic North try and keep a fresh look on the fast changing digital design world, starting in their office where they even try and shuffle up where everybody sits every 3 months or so! Magnetic North pride themselves on coming up new creative solution for clients, that have not been seen or done before.



S.W.O.T Analysis

Strengths Strong Clients

Having such a high standard of cliental, leads to a reputation that is equal if not higher to any of its competitors. Prestigious clients which include BBC, Google, Arup and Reuters

Versatile Staff

The staff roles within mN are deliberately left without parameters to encourage greater creativity; this enables the company to remain at an average size of 25. mN state staff are multi-disciplined making a more versatile team. mN feel this is a positive to their company as by the nature of the industry they are always unsure of the content and type of brief which maybe be presented to them by clients.


The office space is open and each member of staff works in the main hub and not sectioned areas. This mixed area in turn creates an appreciation for one another’s work, Sam states ‘you then have an appreciation for what each person does when the time comes, I mean I generally work in code but sitting next to a designer who works on Photoshop who will know what can be done and how that can be interpreted pragmatically and there’s a lot of crossover there.’

Weaknesses Self Promotion

The main weakness to mN is their lack of self-promotion. This includes online social networks and selfpromotion on the products that they create. This became more apparent after the creating and producing the BBC Sports app, only now are people saying ’Oh did you do that.’ mN reasons for the lack of promotion was because ‘We were too busy with other things to promote it at the time.’

Search Engine Optimisation

Another weakness to mN is their lack of skill within the area of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). With Adam directly stating that ‘I don’t think we’d ever win any awards for SEO at the minute, that’s not something we have expertise in,’ However to address this issue he did state that ‘If a job came in for it, that’s something we would definitely skill up on and do some research for.’

Work Space

At mN there is an informal yet professional team working environment. ‘We try and keep it pretty relaxed, that doesn’t mean the environment is relaxed, no one shouts or bellows, there’s still shit to do.’ 11


Opportunities Threats

We try and keep it pretty relaxed, that doesn’t mean the environment is relaxed, no one shouts or bellows, there’s still shit to do.


Adam Todd Creative Director

BBC Digital Roster

One opportunity that mN prides itself on is the inclusion upon BBC Digital Roster. The reason for this is that once a company finds itself on the roster they can pitch for projects released by the BBC. To gain access to the roster however is hard a company must show certain in-house skills. mN are one of only two companies that finds themselves on the BBC design roster, BBC development roster and BBC development and design roster. This enable them to pitch for projects that are purely for design, an example of this would be the BBC Sport Olympics App. An example of work from the design/ development roster is mN’s BBC Proms project and an example of mN’s work from the development roster was the project BBC Tevo app. The more BBC rosters that mN feature on the greater the opportunities are for more BBC projects.


With such strong competition out there with other digital design agencies, and digital and design technologies always moving forward it is important that companies like mN keep up to date. This is so that they can distinguish their products or services from other companies and their competitive position when gaining clients intern effecting there financial results. To make sure they keep up to date with new technologies Sam stated that; ‘We sometimes have projects that we initiate ourselves so we can learn new technology or we have an idea that no one else has done. Were never just sat around just thinking what can we make or where’s the next client work.’


Company Stucture

Company Stucture Lou Cordwell


Co-Founder & CEO

Senior Producer

Creative Director

Senior Interactive

Production Director

Interaction Developer

Adam Todd

Caroline Sotorrio Sanjeev Shewhorak

Technical Director

Kate Towey

Social Media Director

Samuel Cotterall Developer

Tom. H

Business Development Manager

Ray. M

Matthew. L Gareth. H Designer


mN have an average staff count of 25. Unfortunately mN did not want to discuss or release any further information on the staff. The information gathered is taken from LinkedIn Profile searches so this is the reason for low number of staff. 15

Studio Floor Plan Dining Area

Welcome Area Meeting Room A

Private Work Space



Kitchen Workspaces

Studio Floor Plan

Meeting Room B 17

Website & Social Media

Website & Social Media mN Website

Magnetic North have a unique website, which does not portray traditional home pages. Upon arriving at the URL you are greeted with the mN logo and a simple set of instructions. This set of instructions shows you how to view their portfolio. By drawing a shape, of any size it will show you a image of the work then allowing you to go deeper into the site. However, even of this homepage is fun and grab the users attention one of its fatal flaws is that it is still built by using Flash. This means that is unable to work on any mobile device produced by Apple and generally quite slow. They do have a new site that is being developed at the moment that we managed to have a sneak peak at.

It takes fundemental elements from the current site and have replaced flash with the faster and lighter HTML5. With the new site it opens up their website to a broader audience, to a potential audience that might not of been able to understand the current one. The new site is also responsive, which is vital as the mobile Internet traffic is increasing year upon year.

Social Media

Magnetic North does use Twitter, However when interviewing, they expressed that they were not using it enough to show off and shout about about their completed projects. They also said that the team member that looks after the Twitter feed is on maternity leave. We believe that social media is a very important when trying to spread the word about your work and it may be worth them spending more time on promoting themselves 19

press Press

Press press

Because of the nature Magnetic North, digital design. It is rarely featured in the traditional media, for example Newspapers. However, the company is featured in many articles across the internet. Here are some features articles.

Smashing Magazine

Magnetic North were featured on a Smashing Magazine titled ‘50 Fresh Portfolio Websites for Your Inspiration’ written by Julia May in 2009. As the title suggest it display a long list of innotive home pages. mN’s is 5th from the top of around 20 featured websites. Smashing Magazine is one of the most popular information source for web designer and devlopers. Article:

Manchester Evening News

Magnetic North were also featured in the local news, Manchester Evening News. The reporter is discussing the new app ,with Lou Cordwell and Adam Todd, that they have produced for the BBC, for what is beleived to be the next up and coming technology, Internet TV. Within the article they explain a bit about their company how when it first started out, it was a website design and developement business, however, now people are using their computer different every year, Lou states that “Our field is anywhere that humans interact with computers.”



Creative Times featured Magnetic North in a article in their website which revovles around a series of videos entitled Digital Up North’. Magnetic North’s video is number 5 in the series and consists of an interview with Drendan Dawes, the form executive creative director, about what he thinks about digital. Article:





Magnetic North have worked with a wide range of huge clients including:

One of mN biggest clients and most prestigious, is the BBC. The company has managed to secure a place on all three of the rosters for work that is produced out of house. These three rosters and for design and development project, design project and solely development projects. Only one other compnay is on all three roster, which is based in Australia. mN have worked with the BBC on several occasions for some of the world most prestigious events such as the Proms and the 2012 London summer Olympics

The University of Manchester allocated ÂŁ24 million pounds for a new learning commons to provide a stimulating environment for up to 1000 student at a time to work and socialise. mN worked closely with the University of Manchester in creating a collection of applications for several large format touch screens, which are installed in the new building. Students can use these spaces to find a computer that is availble to work on and to see if any group work spaces are available.

Google is one of the most recognisable brands in the world and mN was appointed by them to showcases the capabilities of the new webRTC technology. mN’s final product was showcased at San Francisco in the summer of 2012

Manchester’s tourism is huge, with any one year the visitors to Manchester spend around five billion pounds and over one million international tourist visit the city. The visual development agency of Manchester recognised the need for the city to have a state of the art visitors center. Magnetic North created a state of the art interactive mapping application, that is used to dicovers new aspects of the city.


BBC Sports Olympic Mobile Site

The Brief

To collaborate with BBC Sport to design a BBC Sport & 2012 Olympics website for mobile devices

The Opportunity

This app would ensure that everyone could access coverage of the 2012 Olympic wherever they were, across multiple devices.

The Approach

To allow audiences to quickly dip in and out of the information surrouding sports and also allow those who want to the ability to explore and follow entire events.

The Activity

During the Olympics, mobile audiences were able to enjoy live action of the games through live video streaming, use the BBC’s unique live text commentary service and get latest schedule information and results straight into their hands – wherever they were.

The Result

The BBC stated in July 2012 ‘ The BBC Sport’s Olympics app for Android and iOS smartphones has been downloaded more than 500,000 times since its launch.


Working on such a key project for the host nation’s official broadcaster has been a great one for the team to be involved in. home or on the move.

Adam Todd, Creative Director magneticNorth (mN)


Recent Projects


Information Screens

Who am I?

for AGLC building at the University of Manchester

The Opportunity

The University of Manchester have spent £24 million and brand new student hub, where students can work, relax and socialise all under one roof. The university wanted interactive information screens that told the user valuable information about the services within the building.

The screens allow users to check and see what services are available, such as computers that are not in use, group working rooms and prodiced an interactive map of the campus, designed with touch and scrolling features. When the information boards are not being used, they display live news, announcments and twitter feeds as a 3d cloud.


We aimed to create a digital experience that meets the expectations of the students and is aligned to the ethos of the building. Providing access to useful content in ways that are simple, suprising and contemporary. Adam Todd, Creative Director

The Brief

To create a WebRTC project that was showcased at the global Google I/O conference that took place in San Francisco from June 27th–29th, 2012

The Opportunity

magneticNorth were approached by Google in March about developing a project that showcases the capabilities of the new WebRTC technology – a technology that allows for real time communications such as web chats to take place without a computer needing any installations or plugins.

The Approach

‘Who Am I?’ is a new digital take on an old party game, using WebRTC for real-time audio, video and data communication.

The Activity

To begin the game you can invite an opponent to play and then choose a mystery celebrity identity for each other. The aim is to guess who YOU are before your opponent guesses who THEY are – taking turns asking a yes/no question about your mystery identity.

The Result

The game was demonstrated to the thousands of developers who came from all over the world to attend the conference, which showcased the latest web, mobile and social breakthroughs.


I have to thank Google for setting us the challenge of this project. It’s not often you get the chance to work with such new technology and so closely with the people who are releasing it.

Adam Todd, Creative Director


Magnetic North needed to come up with new, state of the app for interactive screen around the new AGLC building at the University of Manchester.

The Result


The Brief

Google WebRTC Project




Ustwo is a digital design studio founded in 2004. They have offices in London, New York and Malmö in Sweden. They specialise in interaction, user interface design, app development and digital entertainment. They design multi-platform experiences across mobile, tablet and TV mediums. Their client base consists of Sony, Sony Ericsson, H&M, BBC, Turner and J.P.Morgan. The reason that Ustwo could be seen as potential competition to mN is that they focus on the same mediums as mN and have a crossover in client base.


LOVE is a creative agency which was established in 2001. Specialising in transformational creativity, Advertising (traditional and non-traditional), Digital design. With these specialisms they quote that they ‘offer effective integrated solutions for a wide range of national and international businesses’. The reason that LOVE could be seen as potential competition to mN is that once again there is a crossover in client base and a slight crossover in specialisms. One significant thought when discussing the connection between LOVE and mN is that the Managing Director Chris Conlan at LOVE worked at mN, April 2003 – May 2007.

E3 Creative


E3 creative are digital design agency founded in 2010. They have offices based in Manchester, London allowing them to design, develop and deliver to a UK wide client base. E3 creative host many skills some which rival mN and some specialisms that mN state they do not specialise in for example search engine optimisation and social media marketing. E3 creative have worked with clients including Barclays, Socialwear, Hoffmann Foundation and Arc Skatepark. Some industries may see this as not as strong as the client base, however it is up to interpretation from a client.

Mosquito is digital brand development company focusing on business to consumer and business to business projects. Their areas of work include websites and apps as well as providing visual and written content, social media and online strategies. The reason for this is to ‘ensure communications are polished, consistent and differentiated on and off-line.’ Having clients such as EA Sports, BBC and AutoTrader in its portfolio. Mosquito was in the news recently after having one of its Apps featured in the Sunday Times top 500 app list 2012.


Staff Profile #1

Adam Todd Creative Director What was your experience before joining mN?

I’m from Liverpool, I live in Liverpool as well so I travel to Manchester to work every day. I did a degree in electronic communications at Bradford University which was very simple, well it sounds very simple but it wasn’t very simple, it was mixed different skills, photography, chemical photography, film studies, electronics and programming. Part of the course was at the National Museum Of Film, Photography and Television at Bradford, which is now the National Media Museum. After leaving University I did some work experience in the education department there. I built some attractive kiosks for some gallery spaces. This then got me an interview to do an MA at John Moores University in Liverpool around multimedia production, so I did that. From there I met a guy and we set up a company called ‘Maize’ which was based in Liverpool and is now based in Manchester. From there I met Brendan Dawes at a talk and my partner was an illustrator and came and did some work here. Then at a party they said ‘Do you fancy coming to work for us.’ I said ‘Yeah sounds good.’ That was 6 years ago. So in a nutshell, that’s how I ended up here.

What’s is the most satisfying part of the job is?

For me, it’s when you step away and see someone using it, things like the desert island discs website or the proms, when we will go to the proms and people will be using that on their mobiles to read who’s the conductor or other certain things. Like the BBC sport app, rarely a day passes when I will be on the train and someone’s using it to look at the football results and it’s pretty cool. It’s when you see someone using it.

Is there anything that you do differently to the university way of working? A day doesn’t pass when you come in and you have to learn something new. Whether it’s a piece of software, a programme language or something about a client, a subject matter, a new technique, you know. To be able to learn how to learn is important, just as important as learning to work with people.

What does your week consists of?

We all meet first thing together on a Monday, that’s something we all do, we have something we call roll call, so half 9 Monday morning we all sit down and all have breakfast, of fruit and pastries. We sit down and discuss what’s happened in the previous week and what’s happening in the following week, so that’s round the kitchen table. That’s how our week starts and our week finishes with an internal newsletter that goes out, which is a bit lighter hearted it has gossip and news from within the office but could also talk about what was successful and what wasn’t successful. Coming and goings, people who are on holiday or might be going on maternity leave or leaving the company or starting a company or you know the fact that you guys were in goes in the internal newsletter and talked about the one on one. People just know what’s generally going on. The rest of the week, really depends on what’s on the card. Usually there are people going out to meet people, people coming in to meet us, but we all tend to try and sit round the dinner table at 1 o’clock for lunch sit and have a bit of a banter and discussion not really work related.


Staff Profile #2

Samuel Cotterall Developer What was your experience before joining mN?

From an early age I was interested in drawing and illustration. Then I discovered the internet in 2000 where I found and thought maybe I can make money from this. I ended up doing a bunch of web design courses at college. I ended up going to university at a little known university called Edge Hill University in Liverpool. Which I found a lot broader than just web development and web design. There was a lot of database stuff which never interested me but I’ve used it since. The course also included user experience, interactive design, sound design, filming and video editing. So I picked up a lot interests and that’s why I think I was drawn to Magnetic North because they did more than just straight websites they did a lot of multi-media especially in 2008. Looking back at their portfolio of work there was so much flash and multi-media content. If I didn’t join here I may have gone down more of a straight role.

Is there anything that you do differently to the university way of working?

It was 5 or 6 years since I was at University, when I left and started working I just thought I wasted 3 years of my life because nothing transfers but gradually you start referring to techniques you used at University, or things you learnt. The biggest thing is working with people, working to deadlines and learning how to learn about how to figure things out. That’s the most important thing I learnt at University. And that’s something I use like all the time. I didn’t learn to code at university.

What programming languages do you know and when did you learn to code?

I specialise in html, css and java script. In the past I’ve done php or ruby. When I’ve needed to use them languages I’ll almost re-learn them. Well before university when I was in high school. At that stage it made me realise I want to go do some courses in it. There were a lot of people in my year didn’t really know what they wanted to do so they came on the same course as I did. However I was clear that I wanted to do that there was no should other subjects that interested me.

Do find that process of re-learning happens a lot?

Technology moves on so quickly, for example I probably use PHP 2-3 times a year, but there might be a best practice that might have changed since I used it last in a certain project. The same for things like video editing, I’ve been doing that recently and the software’s changed since using it last and the formats changed

Where do you see future of the media industry? I think you have to be prepared to adapt and try other things. If we just said we only did websites 5 years ago we wouldn’t be in very good position because half the work we’ve done hasn’t been websites. We’ve had to learn mobile and be responsive and iPhone apps.


press Finance

Finance press Breakdown

Magnetic North were not prepared to share their financial details with us, which is completely undistandible, however, because they are a limited company, their blance sheets are publicly available from Company House for the small price of £1 per document. From looking at the document on the left, it is clear that the company is growing. Their total assets has risen from £284,994 in 2011 to £289,864 in 2012. Along with profits rising from £558,681 in 2011 to £572,551 in 2012

Share Holders Magnetic North has three share holder that all own a stake in the company. These are: Sarah Louise Parkinson Brendan Jay Dawes Janet Virginia Hall Parkinson



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Gallery 1. The Hub 2. Meeting Room 1 3. Kitchen/Chillout Area 4. Screening Area 5. The Library 6. Meeting Room 2









Conclusion We beleive that magnetic north is one of the best digital design companies in the country. It is signs of a good businesses when it can mould around whats it clients need. As mentioned before this was the case for mN, when they first started out they focused on website, designing and devloping, thirteen years later, they are focusing on different kind of projects that are pushing the boundries of todays technolgies. Which we really admire. After the visit to mN in Manchester we noticed that there is a great sense of drive within the team and that they are not working there due to the money they are working because they love what they do and it’s a bonus that they get paid for it. The studio itself felt like a brilliant place to work in, completely different to a day to day office, it feels like a great working enviroment and a great team to work with. This kind of company is something that we both aspire to be part of, whether we work with one or start up our own in the years to come.




Thank You

Thank You Dear Magnetic North, I would just like to say a massive thank you for taking the time to meet with me (Jack) and Sam today. We realise a company like yourselves is constantly busy with clients and answering client brief and to take time to meet two students and partaking in projects such as this is not your norm so we appreciate it greatly. I would like to thank Adam and Sam for the meeting/infomal chat about the company and to the rest of the team for making and being so welcoming towards us. Also thank you Sarah for the contacting and constant email updates and organisation of the visit and meetings. After visiting the company and understanding the company me and Sam would like to say how jealous of your great team work ethic and workspace which you have, and how lucky we would we feel to work an environment like the one at Magnetic North. We will be in contact in the next few weeks if there are any areas which we didn’t manage to collect information on We would like to wish you all the luck the future. Thanks again, Jack Darnell & Sam Kelham





For one reason or another I think we were all drawn here. Although maybe a common reason is the innovation side of things. I think the way we do things here is that little bit different. Thats the way we’ve always been seen, a little bit different.


Adam Todd Creative Director

Magnetic North  
Magnetic North  

A case study on Magnetic North, Manchester.