We spoke to Tudinh about the challenges of growing a business, what’s missing from many digital experiences, and how Design District is putting the heart back into commercial real estate.
Design District (DD): Thanks for taking the time to chat to us, Tudinh. Let’s start by talking about your journey with ON.
Tudinh Duong (TD): ON started in some early guise when I was studying design at university. I did a lot of consultancy work for design agencies and other clients during that time, before doing my Master’s and then starting my PhD. The latter involved research within a hospital, which happened to coincide with the start of the pandemic. This obviously made research difficult, but I had the opportunity to continue exploring opportunities within digital consulting.
That progressed and I brought in two partners at the tail end of 2020. By January 2021 we’d grown to a team of 10, and now we’re at 60+ people.
DD: Tell us about the type of company ON is and what makes ON unique.
TD: ON is a design-led digital partner for forward-thinking organisations. We have deep experience translating brand experiences for the world’s leading creative agencies.
Most brand agencies are really good at developing strong brand identities that people can engage with, but they can’t always translate this into an online space like an app or website. We saw a gap in the market where we could be a catalyst for the best brand agencies and clients, who have invested so much time and energy into their brands, to translate that identity online.
Because our clients are so passionate about their brands, we’re extremely collaborative throughout the process of working together and always act in our clients’ best interests. We’ll never do brand work – our speciality is working closely with agencies and clients, large and small, to be the best and most collaborative digital output partner out there.
DD: Tell us more about your team .
TD: Our team spans strategy, design, development, and delivery. We’re multi-disciplinary; the nature of the opportunities and challenges we encounter requires us to have a breadth of skill sets and knowledge. Our diverse team includes those that are industry pioneers to those that are paving new paths in their lives and careers. There’s an ON way of doing things that we train all new starters in, so what we really look for is an attitude and aptitude that will help us achieve our goals.
DD: What have been your biggest highlights at ON?
TD: For me, the minutiae and day-to-day are the highlights. I wake up every day so excited to go to work. We’ve created a business that can be a catalyst for the wider creative community; we’ve been able to empower our team and many organisations around us. Another highlight is seeing how much our team grows and how we’ve supported our partners, helping them grow their businesses and have amazing outcomes. I love working with a team of bright, passionate people who are doing outstanding work.
DD: What about any challenges?
TD: I was very apprehensive about growth. I always thought the best work was produced by small, independent, and boutique agencies, so it was scary to think about ON scaling up. My fear was: if we get bigger, how can we manage and maintain quality and excellence and not become just another big agency? Then there are the financial and operational considerations that come with growth. To truly overcome this, I needed to turn to others.
It’s taken a long time to really embrace and be comfortable knowing how much I don’t know, and knowing who to turn to for support. For example, ON’s Chief Operating Officer, Barry Cumberlidge, has deep experience in operations and finance whilst Guanglun Wu, our Chief Digital Officer, understands exactly how to empower our team to deliver great results to clients and their vision.
People can empower you in a new way and help you let go and realise you need help. Overcoming this mental challenge was a game changer and it’s part of the reason we’ve been able to grow quickly – trusting people and knowing where our knowledge and skill sets end.
DD: What sets a good digital experience apart from a bad one?
TD: If you were to Google that question or put it into ChatGPT, you’d get a generic “five steps” guide or list around things like accessibility. I’m not saying those steps are wrong, or accessibility isn’t important, but I feel like our society has constructed lists and frameworks that become so generic, all our experiences start to look and feel the same.
For me, good digital experiences provoke a new way of interaction you may not have seen before and which pushes things forward. They counteract what other people are doing and move the dial. Think about examples like Blockbuster – there was a time when if you wanted to watch a film, you’d have to go and physically rent a VHS tape. When the digital rent-on-demand service was introduced, it was a total game-changer – and Blockbuster got left behind. It’s this type of blue-sky thinking, where an idea or experience is going against the norm, that builds better digital experiences. If we can help to manifest this ideology we’ll be better off as a society.
"We’ve found Bureau to be an amazing landlord – I’ve experienced so much empathy and support from Bureau and Design District while I’ve been growing ON, and this translates to the wider community".
DD: You have a whole team of people working at Bureau. Why here?
TD: One of the benefits is being around a community we love and support – the creative industries are near and dear to us. We’ve seen the amazing investment that Design District and Bureau have made in terms of the quality of buildings. It’s inspiring seeing great architecture on the way into work and not just the same homogenous skyscrapers or warehouses.
Bureau gives a unique voice to the creative community and allows experiences to be tailored to individuals. We’ve found Bureau to be an amazing landlord – I’ve experienced so much empathy and support from Bureau and Design District while I’ve been growing ON, and this translates to the wider community. Commercial real estate can be quite transactional, but Bureau and Design District are different. They put people – the creative community – at the heart of what they’re doing.
DD: What’s next for ON?
TD: What’s important for us is establishing ourselves as a catalyst for the creative industry, empowering more people in these industries through the services we provide.
Bureau and Design District are at the heart of London’s creative community. If you want to be a part of it, learn more about the different workspace options here.