Jan 11, 2012

Hot Spotlight: Dan Harrelson Blends Technology with Design

Tomáš Zeman's picture
Tomáš Zeman
Content & Marketing Intern

It took me a few days to track down Dan Harrelson, Hot Studio's friendly and energetic Executive Director of Technology. Like many people at Hot, he has a busy schedule. And, as I learned, he’s getting a lot done. I arrived before business hours to find him in the kitchen. He was listening to a design podcast while unloading the dishwasher.

When it comes to incorporating technology into design, Dan hires Design Engineers–developers with a passion for collaboration and soft skills that include design sensitivity. "There are a lot of engineers who talk about build automation, test coverage, performance, scaling, etc. All of this is important, but Hot's not the kind of company where that's the lunchroom conversation," he explains. “At Hot, our technology conversation crosses disciplines. We have design engineers who consider themselves designers first.”

“Kerry Nehil (engineer) not only built our mobile site, he designed it too,” says Kelly Meanley, Producer. “When we launched the new hotstudio.com last February, we wanted to redesign the mobile site to match. Our user experience and visual design teams were fully allocated on client work so Kerry took it upon himself to tackle the mobile site redesign. Maria loved his work–and initiative–and approved the design so fast it made my head spin. We were able to get our new mobile site live in a matter of weeks and now Kerry is regarded as a double threat.”

Back before Hot built and delivered its own end-to-end technology solutions, the company was primarily known for its prowess in design. “There's always been someone technical here at Hot, but we weren't really invested in technology," says Dan. That investment changed two years ago when Chris Jones joined as Principal of Strategy and Engineering, and began to expand Hot’s in-house technology offerings.

Mixing design and technology comes naturally to Dan, who himself has been a cross-pollinator between the fields. "I'm most excited about not just building what we're designing, but actually having the technology team impact the design.” To that end, he believes design engineers need to think like designers too. “There are dev shops that really focus on the technical aspects of a deliverable. I care more about how people interact with software, and what technology needs to do to make those interactions wonderful.”

Of course, Hot’s expanded end-to-end technology capabilities come with some small internal challenges. Bringing design engineers upstream is “a little foreign to our process, but we have evidence that when an engineer is involved early on and can start building something to see how it acts, and how people interact with it, you can quickly bypass some wrong turns.”

Most recently, Dan describes a new product design. “At the same time the design team was moving forward with the look of it and how it works, the technology team was researching and experimenting with how we could pull it off. If the team didn’t have the capability to tinker, prototype and build, we would have ended up with a Photoshop comp and an After Effects movie. Instead, the final deliverable was a stand-alone HTML 5 application that runs in a browser. Once the design was done, we turned it into production-ready code. We did all of the browser testing and performance testing.” This is an example of full service strategy to end-product offering.

Dan and the technology team have a lot more on their metaphorical stove. “We ended the year with some pretty compelling engineering solutions, a number of products in the Apple App Store and apps for third party tablet devices. We're going to announce a number of case studies for websites we've designed with interesting content management solutions. We're going to have custom software written for the Windows platform. In all, we'll soon have well over a dozen projects that we've built in house.”

Hot Tech Team (from left): Oksana Timonina, Scott Tran, Chris Jones, Adam Chromicz, Kathy Simpson, Kerry Nehil, Bill Fisher, Eric Hackman, Brett Webb. Not pictured: Dan Harrelson, Jason Punzalan, Anthony Bovasso, Tory Polich

With a burst of enthusiasm Dan adds, “We’re not just a design studio. We’re a design studio that builds software really well.”


This is the third post in a series of articles spotlighting unique Hot characters—real people I’m working with that have some interesting stories to tell! Read the first post and the second post.