Talking digital with Punchkick Interactive

Every company starts with an idea.

When Berkley One was started, we had a vision: provide customized, forward-thinking insurance that delivered an exceptional experience for our customers and agents alike. We wanted to bring insurance into the future, to challenge the idea that it had to be complicated.

To help bring our idea to life and support our customer experience vision, we needed to go digital. That meant we needed a digital agency that understood what we were all about and could bring fresh ideas of their own.

Enter Chicago-based Punchkick Interactive. In 2006, Punchkick, too, began with an idea: create digital and mobile products that customers actually love to use. For more than a decade, their team has helped companies blaze their own trails in the ever-changing digital space. They’ve helped organizations create websites, apps, designs, and experiences that are built for now and for the future.

The Punchkick team brainstorms ideas together often in their Chicago office. Image courtesy of Punchkick Interactive.

We caught up with the Punchkick team—Zak Dabbas, Co-Founder and CEO; Abby Gartner, Head of Client Experience; and Connor Mason, Account Principal—to pick their brains about all things digital. From how to get inside customers’ heads to what it takes to stay relevant in the digital age, their answers will help anyone looking to create experiences that users can connect with.


Q: What’s the idea behind Punchkick?


Zak: While I was in law school, my business partner (co-founder Ryan Unger) and I started doing freelance work. We saw an opportunity in the digital space. I’d spend every free waking minute sending out new business emails. I realized that’s where my passion truly was.

Our goal was to create a place where we could be ourselves and be proud of everything we created. In the last 12 years, everything from our physical space to the technology landscape around us has changed. In many ways, though, we are exactly the same company as the day we began.

We are privately held. We have no venture capital or external funding. We’ve run completely flat since Day One. We’re extremely proud of this. My job is to ensure that our people have what they need to make smart decisions and do the work they like to do. Most of the time, it never feels like work.


Q: Tell me about the companies you design for. Who are they?


Zak: We work with a very broad base of companies, and one thing that has been amazing for us is to see how this base has changed. In the beginning, we worked mostly with big organizations. Today, we also work with more and more mid and small market clients as digital offerings become more important to them. Our teams work on everything from sports clients to insurance clients, but the common thread is our passion for technology.


Q: What’s one of the biggest tech challenges you see companies having today?


Zak: Today, there are a tremendous amount of tools and channels available. With more opportunities than ever, the question for companies becomes not what they can do, but what they should do and where in order to create meaningful connections with their audiences.

Our clients are trying to figure out two important questions:

  • What will our customers connect with?
  • What are users clamoring for behind the scenes?

Abby: It’s our job at Punchkick to get to the root of what users are looking for, and build products from there.


Q: What was it like designing for a startup with Berkley One?


Connor: Berkley One is exactly the kind of customer we get most excited about working with. From the start, they said to us, “We don’t want to make assumptions about what our users want. We want to hear it from them.”

Being a startup, they began with a user-centric design approach from square one. We were excited about this from the beginning, because their ideas were so compatible with our philosophy at Punchkick.


Q: Your approach has always been to design for people. How do you get inside users’ heads?


Abby: One way that we’ve found is really effective is persona development. We interview real users—sometimes 50-60 of them. From there, we analyze and create a picture of the people who will be using the end product, complete with their names, backgrounds, and history.

We’ve seen clients post these personas in their offices. As they roadmap a new feature, they’ll say, “Think about Dave! How would he use the new app?” It’s awesome to see. It helps remind people that they are creating for humans, not companies.


Q: Berkley One’s agent portal was a different project for you guys, and our agents seem to love the user experience. Can you give us some insight into the building process?


Connor: The Agent Portal is so unique. It has an abundance of information, and that data comes from a wide variety of places.

We started the build by asking agents what they wanted. We wanted to know what would make their days easier, and the entire organization of the portal followed their direct feedback.

Without the portal, Berkley One agents would have to go to a lot of different places or websites to get this information. On the portal, an API behind the scenes ties it all together for them. In the end, the data comes to the agents rather than them having to seek it out, which helps reduce barriers to their day-to-day business processes.


Q: What’s changing the most in digital design right now?


Connor: Technology is becoming more user-centric than ever. Today’s companies place a higher priority than ever around how a user interface (UI) works, not just how it looks. We’re moving beyond just a beautiful design, which has been the prevailing school of thought in the past.

Today, digital products take the user’s context into consideration. Systems are becoming more aware of our context and allowing us to interact within that context. This is happening in two distinct ways:

  • Ambient user experience: Today, users interact conversationally with voice or chat bots. They can communicate naturally, from wherever they are, and these systems are designed to respond to them. Gone are the days when users would aimlessly click around an FAQ page trying to find what they need. Today, they can bring only what they know, and applications or websites will respond.
  • Proactivity: Websites and apps are becoming more proactive, with elevated levels of sophistication when responding to the user and automatically making recommendations about content, features, or other things they might need. Not everyone gets the same experience—increasingly, it is tailored to you, and comes to you before you even know you’ll need it.


Q: What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Abby: I’ve always been drawn to the atmosphere at Punchkick—it’s the kind of place that really fosters a great work environment. We have a daily company huddle, where we really get to know one another and share transparent company updates. We all get excited about new tech and it keeps us connected. Everyone brings their whole self to work and is proud of what they do.

Connor: I love building products where we can iterate quickly—it’s so much fun to watch, respond and improve. We’re in a great position to do this with Berkley One. I love the level of collaboration and trust we have built.

Zak: The digital space is so exciting—the rate of change and the level of impact that these changes are having is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. For example, Apple has over 1 billion iOS devices in regular use, and there are nearly twice as many Android devices out there, and this is just in the last 10 years. The industry is moving faster than ever for more people than ever, which means our clients have more channels and data than ever to work with, so we’re excited about creating new opportunities for them.

Punchkick grounds all of its work in user-centric research and design, offering custom software development for apps, websites, APIs, and data analytics. The agency is based in Chicago, IL.

Berkley One is a Berkley Company.