When JD Graffam branched off on his own to start a user experience and Web design firm in August 2009, it wasn’t just a bold business move in a down economy, it was seeing a pipe dream to the finish line.
Simple Focus is Scotty Bollinger, from left, Calvin Morris, owner J.D. Graffam, and Casey Zumwalt.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
“Running my own business is something that I have always sort of had in the back of my mind,” Graffam said. “What’s great is when your mindset changes from ‘This is something that I want to do one day’ to ‘This is something I’m going to do and this is how I’m going to do it,’ then everything starts to click and come together. It’s when it stops being fuzzy in your mind and it begins to crystallize is when it starts to really happen.”
Graffam had spent three years as a Web designer for Hilton Hotels Corp., working on the technical and creative team, designing global hospitality websites with emphases on simplicity and branding. It was there where he solidified the importance of usability and user experience, the heart of Simple Focus LLC.
“Simple Focus is more philosophy than it is anything else for our work and our approach,” Graffam said. “We are not an advertising, marketing or PR firm. We are a firm that specializes in the user experience of website, applications and software, which affords us the opportunity to work alongside ad agencies, rather than compete against them.”
Due to the size of Simple Focus’ projects, most of the firm’s business is outside of the tri-state area. Clients are in places like Baltimore; Washington; Boulder, Colo.; Bozeman, Mont.; San Francisco; Dallas; and San Antonio, Texas.
“The way we do business in general is we have a lot of partnerships – ad agencies, strategy firms in Memphis and in other cities come to us with projects of theirs for their clients,” Graffam said. “A lot of our business does come from other creative partners who are bringing work to us.”
One of those partners is Helix Business Solutions, a Memphis-based programming and development shop. Simple Focus has an “informal partnership” as the usability and creative Web design arm for Helix.
Helix put Simple Focus on the map three years ago by bringing the firm work for the U.S. Air Force. The organization was in dire need of design expertise for its Personnel Center website, which is the Air Force’s version of Human Resources for active, retired and enlisted professionals.
Before Graffam and his team redesigned the site, it took the average visitor 20 minutes to find an answer to a question. Upon completion, that same visitor was able to navigate a response in less than two minutes.
“Right out of the gates, we were working on world-class work, high-end brand and had an opportunity to really make a difference,” Graffam said. “Traffic has increased tenfold, which is a testament to people’s faith and trust in it, which in turn creates a positive brand impression for the personnel center for the Air Force.”
Graffam is the president of American Institute of Graphic Arts Memphis, and is the author of “CSS for Print Designers” – a book and workshop that has taken him all over the country talking to other Web and print designers.
“It’s nice for the business for me to be out there sharing what we do, how we do it, because it makes everybody’s lives better,” Graffam said. “It helps us sort of position ourselves in the industry as leaders.”
Graffam’s plans for the future include growing slowly, remaining focused on building Simple Focus’ brand and reputation nationally. He’s also working on a new product launch called Team List, a to-do management software for teams.
The software allows an individual to email a to-do list to themselves and expands the tool to teams so all members can see what others are working on. It’s a concept he’s perfected in his professional life and wants to teach others how to do the same.
“Part of the reason I’ve been able to succeed in business is because of my ability to respond to emails in a timely manner,” Graffam said. “The trick is not to use your inbox as a to-do list … because each email in your inbox carries like a physical weight with it that weighs you down. The way I do that is by my inbox at zero everyday.”