Spotlight: Brandon Kelly - Navigant Consulting

January 19, 2010
by Jacob Russell

This week we spotlight add-on developer Brandon Kelly and Navigant Consulting, a site he developed using ExpressionEngine.

Our “Spotlight” series of articles gives designers, developers, add-on creators, and just generally great members of the ExpressionEngine community a chance to talk about how they have used EE and its add-ons in their work.

Brandon Kelly is a web developer and ExpressionEngine Add-on developer.  He has created several of the most popular add-ons in the EE community, including Playa, FieldFrame and Wygwam and currently does business as Pixel & Tonic.  He has won Extension of the Year in the AcademEE Awards twice, once for FieldFrame and once for Playa, and was voted 2009 Developer of the Year.

Give us a little background on yourself, what do you do and how do you use ExpressionEngine on a daily basis?

“What I do” has been a constantly-moving target. Over the past few years I’ve gone from a freelance web designer to a Flash wrangler at Design Reactor to a senior UI developer at Level Studios. All the while, working with some of the best companies Silicon Valley has to offer.

But now I’ve quit my day job and decided to put all my energy into EE add-on development. I’ll be doing it under a new moniker, Pixel & Tonic, just as soon as I can finish the site.

I’ve mostly given up client work, so the majority of the time I’m using EE is spent developing add-ons for it. I’d like to think that one day things will clear up, and I’ll find the time to do a client website every now and then. But that’s beginning to feel like a pipe dream.

How did you get started with ExpressionEngine?

While at Design Reactor, I led development for a consulting company’s website. Originally we were asked to use SharePoint, but when it became painfully obvious that wasn’t the right tool for the job, our creative director, Gustaf Fjelstrom, suggested we take a look at ExpressionEngine. And the rest is history.

What is this site, and why is it special? It’s special to me because it’s a great representation of the transition I was going through. I had only recently learned CSS and gone to my first An Event Apart conference. It was the last website I used Flash to any degree on, and the first large-scale project that this agency had pushed out that was primarily developed using web standards. And of course, the EE aspect.

What add-ons are you using on that site?

The only one I can remember is LG TinyMCE. (But of course, now I’d recommend Wygwam!) I wrote a few of my own as well, including Playa.

Were there any particularly challenging parts of this site that required creative solutions? What add-ons were involved with that?

The project certainly had its challenges. One in particular was the variety of relationships throughout the site. Those “In the Spotlight” promos on the left, Key Contacts listings on the right, Downloads within the content, Industry Specialization and Functional Expertise listings within the Professionals profiles… each needed to be relationships that wouldn’t require updating content in multiple places. And each were solved by the advent of Playa.

What is the greatest need you have on this site that you wish were met by an EE add-on

My biggest grievance was the convoluted content organization behind the scenes. To edit the Construction entry, go to the Industries weblog. To edit the entry on Litigation Support & Expert Witness Testimony, go to the Industries - Construction weblog. etc. Had Structure been around back then, things would be much cleaner!

What’s next?

Right now I’m focused on launching Pixel & Tonic and porting my most popular add-ons over to EE2. Once those are done, who knows? I’ve got a big pile of projects to pick from, and each are exciting in their own way. My “business plan” going forward is: Do Whatever the Hell I Want! Which I think is going to work well for me.


eyevariety 01.21.10


This reads like an email interview.  BK has told all these stories before.  If you can get time with these developers, take the time to call them and push them on their ideas.  Obviously BK is smart as hell and has a knack for merging design and development.  Push him on that.  You had one of the most interesting devs to talk to and the interview doesn’t tell us anything new about him or his motivations.

Jacob Russell 01.21.10

Jacob Russell

We appreciate your opinion eyevariety and I agree, there’s a lot more to learn from BK, we aren’t even scratching the surface.  However, our focus with this series isn’t getting a super in-depth interview that will teach something to even the most hard-core EE user. 

Two things should help you understand where we’re coming from here:

The focus of the series is to introduce readers to add-ons used to meet challenges by notable EE using web-developers.  We want to show readers how to better extend their own sites with EE add-ons.  Also we’d like to show people some really cool EE work.

The other thing you should understand is that our audience as a whole is not necessarily as knowledgeable about the EE community as you are.  devot:ee is a resource for a wide ranging group of developers, many of which use EE in their work but aren’t involved in the community at all.  I have personal experience with that since I was a drupal developer before switching to EE.  In that capacity I visited daily to source modules, but I couldn’t have named more then one or two major players in the community.  For people who use devot:ee like I used, these stories are a new and informative introduction to BK.

Not trying to batter you with text there, just wanted to explain where we’re coming from with this series. :)

eyevariety 01.22.10


Point taken, thanks for your response and I look forward to more.

shotwell 01.26.10


Having also worked, ahem, on the Navigant site more recently, I can confirm that the content organization is truly convoluted and could have benefited enormously from the modern EE add-ons available to us including Structure.

Brandon: remember dealing with the language switching? Oh man, I still don’t entirely follow that works on that site. :D


Brandon Kelly 01.27.10

Brandon Kelly

Yeah, language switching was a bit of a mess. Looks like itÂ’s gone entirely now though.

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