I end up driving the short distance to meet with Sue McHugh, who co-owns Carbon Digital, based at The Landing, with her husband Paul. The stairs in the car park have a little sticker on each floor, saying how many calories you will have burned by not taking the lift. This is my weak willed compromise.
“I’ve run the 21 miles to MediaCityUK from where we live in Warrington a couple of times” Sue tells me. “I get up at 4.30am each morning and either run or cycle. There are no people and no traffic. It means I get to switch my brain off.” she tells me, sounding like she’s describing the empty streets of one of the computer games she used to design.
“I used to never tell anyone, in case I sounded like a loon. But I read a book by Jocko Willink ( an ex-US Navy Seal ) about being disciplined, and how it brought freedom, and I now I don’t think I’m cuckoo.” she says, laughing, whilst I suck in my stomach a little.
Carbon Digital has been at MediaCityUK since 2012, and were the second tenant in the building.
“It was always our strategy to move in here. We’ve got some big clients, like Standard Chartered, and they do ruthless background checks on companies before they use them. Being here definitely helps.”
Sue did a fine art degree in Manchester and specialised in digital arts, and so has spent her whole career, which began in the early 1990s, working with new technology.
“It never gets boring, because there’s something new all the time. It seems to change each week, and we’re always pushing to help clients see the potential for their business. We work hard to optimise what we create, so it not only looks good, but works well, especially on mobile phones.”
I ask her if she feels connected to human evolution?
“I’ve never thought of it like that before, but I suppose we are in some ways. I read all the time and so am aware of the possibilities. Augmented reality can be used by surgeons, we will have augmented reality contact lenses. It won’t be long before all of this is seamlessly incorporated into our lives.”
Sue’s sharp blue eyes confront the mid-morning sun as she speaks, and I wonder if she still thinks of herself as an artist.
“Yes, I do. And still the best way to visualise something is to draw it. When students ask me how to get a foot in the door of this industry, I tell them to go and buy some pencils and a sketch pad, and then fill it. I’d much rather draw something than sit and watch a film for two hours. I think that comes as a surprise to a lot of people. ”
Just then someone comes by with a small, cute dog, and the hi-tech chat is brought to an immediate halt whilst Sue strokes and fusses over it, and I’m reminded that there are some things the digital world just can’t improve on. Being our happy, human selves is still the most cutting edge place to be.
Words and Photography Simon Buckley