A great website build is a delicate balance between the needs of the end user, the objectives of the client, and something that’s functional and looks fantastic.
The Being Group’s Head of Web, Karven Kwan, shares how running a successful web development team is ultimately an exercise in creative problem-solving.
Finding the passion
I grew up in Malaysia and studied in Auckland, New Zealand. When I began a degree in film and media, I was writing papers and doing film analysis. I found I really wanted to do something more practical — to “touch” something, or at least work with cameras. So, I swapped degrees and studied studio production for a year.
Although I enjoyed it, I realised it wasn’t my passion — and I didn’t really want a career running TV or film studios. But one of the electives in the course was web production. I found myself liking that class and really looking forward to it each week.
What I loved was the unique mix of technical and creative. You have to think about design at the same time as you think about code architecture and how the website can be structured. I also found the management aspect deeply interesting. How do you plan a website build from end-to-end?
I swapped majors again and started focusing on web development. In my last year, I did an internship as a web developer at a digital agency in Auckland, which is where I learned all my technical skills. During that internship I realised I was really enjoying the challenge and the real-world, practical things I was learning, so I stayed on and became a junior developer, then a developer in the web team.
Speaking a different language
I know I’m going to sound like a broken record, but what I love about web development is that coding is like knowing a different language. Being able to produce something really creative that looks amazing, by using that language, is instantly rewarding. When you’re coding, you’re able to see the outcome of your work straight away.
If you make a mistake in the middle of a project, it’s not like you have to start over. You just take a step back, fix the issue and carry on. It’s like making something out of LEGO. You go step-by-step, one piece at a time, and suddenly you have a giant building or a helicopter.
It’s all about problem-solving — but the fun part is there’s infinite ways to solve problems, on both the creative and technical side.
The creative element is understanding the blue-sky vision and doing our best to deliver what’s on the client’s wish list. At the same time, with the technical experience I’ve gained, I’m able to tell clients what’s feasible or realistic and work from there.
I find the work incredibly rewarding. It doesn’t matter if we make a single landing page, or a huge build of 200 pages. There’s still a moment when you look at the outcome and say: “Wow! We did that!”
Loving the work
One of the projects that stands out for me, in my almost-six years at The Being Group, is the NSW Government’s Everyone Can Play, a program that ensures playspaces are as inclusive and accessible as possible. There were few creative restrictions, so we were free to express ourselves on the development.
The other key element was to nail the accessibility compliance. It was important people with impaired vision could use voice prompts on the site, and that everything was really simple and easy to read. It’s a fantastic project because it does all the things it needs to do really well, and it’s also lovely to look at.
Another build that stands out for me is a ground-up custom build for Meditrax, a company that specialises in medication management in aged care. They’ve been a client for a long time and the project is still evolving to this day. They’re always trying to improve the site with fresh functionality to keep up with changes in the business, so there’s always new problems to solve. Challenges are exactly why I love this job.
Keeping up with technology
The world of web development is evolving all the time, and rapidly.
If there’s something new we want to try out, it’s important to make sure we are in the best place to execute it successfully. It means we have to deeply understand the purpose of the work we’re doing. It’s fun to use a shiny, new thing, but it’s also important to understand how that benefits the client.
The ultimate purpose of our work is understanding the needs of the client and the audience they want to talk to. We add the most value when we’re able to do both at the same time.
I think we’re at the start of a human-centred user experience becoming more and more important in the future — not just in design, but in how the website is built. It’s about making it as easy for people to use as possible.
AR, for example, will change how we interact with apps and websites. The potential is huge as the technology develops, particularly for e-commerce. IKEA’s already using it. If you’re shopping for a couch, you can point your phone at where the couch is going to go in the living room and see how it will look before you buy. That’s an extraordinary leap forward in user experience.
It’s good to be in a growing industry. Now, businesses just have to be online to be successful. That’s where the audience finds you. Some people won’t even bother with a business if it doesn’t have a good website, because it doesn’t seem legitimate.
Being a leader
I enjoy the leadership aspect of my job, but I certainly don’t see myself as a boss. I don’t feel like I’m telling people on the team what to do. We do the planning for new projects as a group.
It’s important to be open to new things and the input of the team. They all know their specialist areas better than I do, so if everyone feels involved in a project from beginning to end, it’s more rewarding overall.
My job is maybe not as purely creative as other departments at BEING, but I love working closely with them and seeing how the brilliant solutions they develop add to our work and bring it to life.
I definitely think I have the best of both worlds.
If she wasn’t the Head of Web at The Being Group, Karven would be on an island full of rescue dogs, with her cat Mooncake.