Belfast tech firm Big Motive has big designs on the future

Big Motive's new technology seeks to entice children into bookstores through making their favourite characters come to life
Andrew Madden

INNOVATION is a word that gets thrown about all too frequently in this modern age of social media giants and ping-pong-table start-up companies.


However, speaking to Stephen Shaw, chief technology officer for Belfast-based digital company Big Motive, the term seems perfectly apt.


“The start-ups scene tends to be quite one-dimensional sometimes; someone has an idea, they get money for their idea, they go and build the product and see if it works,” he surmises.


“For us it’s a much more lean way to experiment and see what might work and what might not.”


Shaw agrees with the late Steve Jobs when he insisted that 90 per cent of innovation isn’t just coming up with a great idea, it’s the process that matters.


Using this ethos, in just over a decade Shaw and business partner Damien Cranney transformed a three-person design start-up into Big Motive, Northern Ireland’s premier creative technology company.

Now with a dozen employees, offices in Belfast, Derry and Edinburgh and a portfolio of clients ranging from the BBC to Elton John’s Rocket Entertainment, the firm has clients the world over and its fingerprints all over the burgeoning tech industry.


In the beginning Big Motive, then named ‘Frank’, was just one of dozens of design firms which performed full-package jobs for their clients; top to bottom contracts from websites to print to graphics and video.


“Back in the old days when this full service idea existed, a lot of agencies were like octopuses- with a lot of arms in a lot of different things, but not really doing one thing well,” said Mr Shaw.


So that’s exactly what Mr Shaw and company founder Damian Cranney decided to do.


In 2012 they rebranded themselves Big Motive and found a niche to squeeze themselves into: creative technology. Mobile app development, interactive media, virtual reality and cutting edge augmented reality would now be the order of the day.

Before anyone even knew what augmented reality (AR) or Pokemon Go was, Big Motive were working with the National Trust and Ulster University to create an interactive AR tourist guide through the north coast’s Downhill Demesne, the 18th century mansion of the eccentric Earl Bishop.

Big Motive’s latest project seeks to tackle the chronic lack of young children venturing into the dwindling number of bookstores through using AR to make characters from children’s classics come to life and interact with the reader.

The rise of Kindle and online e-readers has led publishers to seek the help of companies like Big Motive to entice young readers to cross the bookstore threshold.

“The physical retail experience is massively challenged by the online retail experience and they are interested in anything that can bring value to the physical retail experience,” said Mr Shaw.

The firm is not just serving clients however; Big Motive also has a track record for going into partnerships with investors and even creating its own intellectual property, some which AR is part of.

A virtual reality children’s game is due to be released this Christmas and success has already struck with their Jumpdrop app, which allows users to perfectly sync their videos with music. A specialised fitness app for UK gym chain Pulse has also garnered praise.

Big Motive is currently in the process of moving into bigger premises on Ormeau Avenue in order to facilitate its growing staff numbers.

Speaking of Big Motive’s future, Mr Shaw is reluctant to give away any details, but he assures me that the company’s plans are precisely what their name would suggest: big.


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