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B-Swing

Making Web development feel like jazz.

Putting up a Web site that will please customers as well as the in-house marketing and tech gurus is a challenge for any company, large or small. To keep all parts harmonious, many firms opt for outside help like Minneapolis-based B-Swing, a Web development shop that’s attracted some heavy hitters in the online world. The company’s president, Jen Alstad, chats about the present challenges and future promises of the interactive industry.

How did B-Swing get started, and where does the name come from?

My creative director, Eric Freeberg, and I started the company in 1997 to fill the void left by design firms that lacked a strong combination of technology, design, project management and account strategy under one roof. Our name was inspired by a piano composition called “Bemsha Swing” by jazz virtuoso Thelonious Monk. The composition is fluid yet filled with ambitious complexity — a lot like us.

Most of your clients are in the financial services industry; why did you decide to cater to this specific niche?

From the dawn of the Internet boom, companies in the financial services industry have been leaders in delivering products and services online. In fact, among our earliest clients were American Express, E*TRADE Financial Group, Piper Jaffray Inc. and US Bank; each of whom has been committed to devising people-centered Web experiences. Although we possess a core competency in creating online solutions for financial services clients, we use that same discipline to serve clients in a wide range of other industries, including health care, publishing, foundation, nonprofit, and more.

What kind of challenges do you find in creating interactive sites for large clients?

Obviously, there are a number of demands on a Web site, including usability, communication issues, technical delivery, and the many complex systems behind the scenes that provide the core information and site architecture. Clients can get so close to a complex online issue that it may become difficult to separate their marketing goals from technology needs. So we have to identify the tools necessary to achieve the business objectives, and assemble the right online mix for our clients and their customers.

What was one of your most satisfying projects?

Developing the E*TRADE Personal Money Management site was a wonderful experience for our firm because personal money management was a new market that had previously not delivered services directly to the consumer. Up until this point, private money management had only been offered to million-dollar investors through traditional brokerages and banking institutions. B-Swing created a site that offered consumers online tools to compare money managers by up and down market returns, investment style and net return over years. In recognition for our work on the site, B-Swing was lauded by BusinessWeek as one of the top Web sites for online investing by consumers looking for both direction and autonomy.

What future directions do you see for the company as well as the interactive industry?

B-Swing will be developing online applications that don’t much look like “Web sites,” including applications you see at airports, on college campuses, and in your office. These applications will be Web-enabled and reach out to consumers in the context of daily life. For example, the ubiquitous ATM machine will soon offer a wider range of services, many of them Web-enabled. This will create a greater demand to understand people’s needs and how interactive design firms can help people be more successful using new technologies.

What makes you happy to come into work in the morning?

Working with our clients and my team to create Web-based tools and applications that will improve people’s lives and make our clients more successful. Believe it or not, we like to work on client projects that are complicated, projects with real business needs. The challenge of a big problem that presents an opportunity to make a difference is what I would consider an ideal day at the office.

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