A story of persistence, taking risks and recognizing opportunities.
My name is Nsikak Udoh. I co-founded and manage a web design and branding agency in Austin, Texas under the name SparkNerds. But we don’t see ourselves as just a web design company. Rather, we like the idea that we’re in the business of driving social change with design.
By that definition, it means we don’t work with every other brand out there. Most of our clients are either non-profits looking to drive real change or visionaries and progressive political candidates trying to reach a wider/younger audience or establish an online presence.
Since founding SparkNerds in 2019, we’ve evolved from being small-time dreamers to becoming “big hitters” in our niche. It all started during my time at DigiDems – one that I see as one of the major turning points in my life.
It’s been quite a journey, and it’s a story that needs to be told, of how myself, my managing partner Yocelyn Riojas and the entire team at SparkNerds, are expanding design thinking’s reach into the least expected places.
How did a former pharmacy technician at Target become a successful web designer?
In 2015, after college and not looking to pursue a career in healthcare as a pharmacist, I miserably tried to start a phone casing business. I’d just studied business administration and management, a course with little to no bearing on web design or managing a digital agency (except for managing the business side of things, lol!).
While in college, I’d also developed a fondness for digital technology. This stemmed from my need to streamline and automate many of the technical aspects of the phone case business I was running back then. I fell so much in love with this that I got my certification in front-end web development from the BetaMore Academy in fall 2017 while working full-time as a customer service manager at Target Co.
Prior to getting my web development certification, I was an experienced Pharmacy technician taking on roles at different specialist pharmacies including long-term care, weight loss, and compounding. I was doing this until 2015 when I decided to return to Target to learn more about learnership, communication & team-building skills
The turning point for me, however, was when I joined DigiDems in 2018 and started my new business after I decided to take a break from the previous one. That decision led me to not only realizing my entrepreneurial purpose, but also laid the groundwork for my next entrepreneurial venture and subsequent success – web design, branding, and marketing company SparkNerds!
DigiDems: Connecting the dots
Being consumed by entrepreneurship is one thing. Aligning this to your life’s true purpose is another. I realized this when I joined DigiDems, one year into my second entrepreneurial stint – better late than never.
For the first year of this second stint, I was mostly working with all manner of odd clients, and ironically, I thought I was doing pretty good. Not until sometime later did it dawn on me that I was being mediocre at best.
I had no real business purpose.
Also, I wasn’t making any real impact.
And again, I was just another ‘boring’ freelance web designer.
All of that had to change. I took a long hard look at what I was doing and what I could be doing much better. Then, I made the decision to join DigiDems, one I will be grateful for, forever.
My DigiDems experience
What they do at DigiDems is to allocate full-time technology and data talent on the most competitive House and Senate races for progressive candidates. We also supported several coordinated campaigns across the country.
Here I was for six months, learning the ropes and working on several races, causes, and campaigns, including Joseph Kopser’s 2018 bid for Congress. We lost that closely fought contest but I learned that even great things can still come from disappointments.
Joseph Kopser, one of whose campaign points was about seeing a problem and being the one to fix it would later become one of my very first clients at SparkNerds (we still work together till today!). This gentleman is one of the best I’ve seen come out from our military. He’s one of our country’s most knowledgeable voices in national security and urban transportation and sometimes, I can’t help but wonder how lucky our country would have been to have him in Congress.
At DigiDems, I was able to reconnect with my life’s true purpose to make real impacts and I discovered how digital communication with web design and branding perfectly fits into this big picture. From taking on projects from any available business, I shifted my focus to work with only nonprofits serious about affecting real and positive social changes, progressive candidates and campaigns striving for the greater good, as well as ambitious brands, leaders, consultants, and visionaries trying to change the world for better. I’ve never looked back ever since!
SparkNerds: Finding Purpose In Design
Let’s be honest, anyone can design if they have a little mix of technical and design background – even if it’s an average-looking website. But it takes more than just a little ‘background’ to design web experiences capable of evoking strong emotions and igniting real action – exactly what we’re doing now at SparkNerds.
There’s only so much that can be done when your organization’s website is built on a premade template and looks exactly like 503 other websites on the internet. So, along with streamlining our design, branding, and marketing services for a target sector of the market, we go above and beyond to deliver high-quality and culturally relevant work on time and on budget. And we do this in a way that effortlessly supports our clients’ strategic organizational goals.
How we drive change with purpose-driven design
It’s always great when you have a designer who can think for you.
We brainstorm and research our client’s industry, audience, and competition before writing the first line of code or deciding on the key elements of design. This way, we’re able to understand most of their core needs even before they voice them. In the same vein, this helps us draw out their desires so we get a clear picture of what success means to them.
The way we look at every project, we try to create emotional connections with the audience that will interact with the design. We try to visualize how the design will make diverse end-users feel. The knowledge of this helps us determine what features and business processes should go into a particular project or design. And when designing these features and processes, we’re more focused on the benefits, feelings, and emotions that the features and processes would evoke. In most of our designs, branding, and marketing projects, these benefits, feelings, and emotions center on empowerment; empowerment strong enough to trigger real-world actions, induce behavioral changes, and literally change the world.
But can a small web design agency from Austin, Texas really change the world?
I love the fact that we’re small enough to offer highly personalized services for all of our clients. But I believe we’re also big enough to take a shot at changing the world from our small base somewhere between Texas and New Mexico.
How are we trying to change the world?
John Butler’s quote comes to mind;
Art changes people. People change the world.
To paraphrase this, I believe design can change people, and that people are capable of changing the world. This is why the real purpose of SparkNerds is to facilitate real-world actions and drive changes, one cause at a time.
Two of our favorite projects, for instance, involved rallying grassroots Latinx communities across Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico, Nevada, and Maryland for greater participation in voting and governance processes – for Chispa, a sister agency for the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). The campaign is also canvassing clean and emission-free buses for school kids. We have also been commissioned by Amplify Art and Facebook Open Art to create an original mural centered on how we build community through our SparkNerds Initiatives.
We help grow the brands that help people grow
We’ve also managed projects for consultants, thought leaders, influencers, political strategists, and political campaigns, among others.
We’re passionate about driving real-world changes. So, this helps keep us growing stronger aside from the fair compensation we get for our services and exceptional expertise.
And while we didn’t make it to the latest round of Fortune’s 2020 Change The World List of Companies That Are Doing Well By Doing Good (kudos to “The Vaccine Makers” at the top spot and all of the other incredible companies that made the list), we’re proud of the tiny changes we’re making to help make the world a better place.
Our story has only just begun, no doubt!
Feel like your company or brand is ambitious enough to work with us?
We’re open to web design services, branding, digital marketing, partnerships, collaborations, etc. We can help you achieve your organizational goals no matter how lofty or lowly they seem to be! Contact our team at SparkNerds today. We’ll be more than happy to discuss your options and chart a course for your next level of digital growth.