GROWING up, Michael Armstrong had dreams of space travel and aspirations of becoming an astronaut.

Upon leaving school, he still didn’t know which career path he wanted to follow.

Now, however, he's helping businesses across the globe make the most of cyberspace as director of North-East design agency Roundhouse Digital.

Loading article content

He said: “My teachers always said I’d have difficulty in choosing a career.

"I considered lots of different avenues when I left school and would bounce between the idea of being a journalist, lawyer, teacher or joining the forces.

“I have to say that being an astronaut appealed to me from a young age and I’m still excited by the prospect of space travel, so having a career route to get me into orbit is the one I would be most willing to take.

"Being at the forefront of digital innovation is probably as close as I’ll get to space travel and I enjoy working in cyberspace.”

Mr Armstrong joined The Roundhouse six years ago, when the company had just turned 16.

Despite its reputation for designing and delivering high-quality brand and print publications for clients, the company did very little in terms of websites.

He said: “In the past six years, we have grown to deliver (as standard) websites that serve specific business functions, a range of digital services, such as marketing, copyrighting, content creation, hosting and a 24/7 support network.

"Our team deliver so much more than fantastic looking websites, because that is what our clients require.

“Keeping our current clients and businesses in the region up-to-date with our latest work is very difficult, we don't just have to explain that we now offer new services but, in most cases, we lead the market in these services due to a large investment in staff development and resources.”

Roundhouse Digital was created as a subsidiary of The Roundhouse to spearhead their new digital offerings and is now recognised globally for its expertise in the higher education sector, most recently winning a contract to produce a new website for Wollongong University in Australia.

Mr Armstrong said: “Delivering the first-ever university website that was responsive always stands out as a key moment in Roundhouse Digital’s history.

"We had to persuade the university that response websites weren't just a passing trend or a fad and that there would be a real benefit - especially in student recruitment and engaging with a younger audience.

“Now nearly every site is responsive and we have continued to innovate in this field.

"We’ve been fortunate to secure contracts with universities such as Newcastle, Winchester, Aberystwyth, Stirling, Cumbria and Liverpool, and our recent partnership with Wollongong shows our expertise is becoming globally recognised.”

It’s not just universities that use Roundhouse Digital’s services, however.

Mr Armstrong also enjoys working with a diverse range of businesses up and down the UK.

One of his highlights was working with the Regent Street Cinema in London.

He said: “That was great fun, but rather pressurised and entailed all the facets of our agency, from a website which enabled tickets to a new brand, printed materials and a five-minute video that was shown at the opening gala event.

"The short film was shown in front of the great and the good of the university and film world, with directors, actors and BFI representatives all praising our film makers' capabilities.”

Mr Armstrong attributes the success of Roundhouse Digital to the talented team he works with.

He said: “One of the best aspects of my role is being able to work with such an exciting team who are always striving to deliver the most innovative solutions.

"They keep well ahead of the curve and are always enthusiastic to share what they have found and how they think it could be useful for our clients.”

Over the next decade, Mr Armstrong has a clear vision of where Roundhouse Digital will be, including ambitious growth plans and product launches.

He said: “Our business is constantly changing through growth and will continue to do so over the next ten years.

"We have successfully delivered on our targets and seen 20 per cent to 30 per cent year-on-year growth.

“Our plan for the next financial year is now to consolidate what we have and make a real step-change.

"We are at that cusp of a large growth where we are having to re-think all areas of our operation.

"As we grow we are finding the volume of work is dictating specific job roles and titles, which we have never had in the past.

“In addition to this we are continually increasing the range of services we offer.

"We need to ensure clients are aware of these offerings and the high levels of in-house expertise we have for each, as well as making sure the staff here are happy and challenged, which is always a difficult balance.

“Similarly, we are looking to diversify our revenue streams.

"We have a number of products we are looking to take to market.

"This is obviously a very different business model to the one we have been successful in and careful planning needs to be carried out to ensure we hit the right markets at the right time.”

Five minutes with... Michael Armstrong

Favourite North-East building and why? It has to be St James' Park. I’m sure there will be plenty of people rolling their eyes at this but setting aside the fact it is the home ground of the local football team, the building is so many things; a fantastic piece of architecture, a home for all of the city, where locality, religion, class, poverty, health and education are all put to one side so that people, in unison, can show their passion and stand side-by-side united by a single desire.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid? As a pot-boy collecting glasses in the Pig & Whistle on the Bigg Market. I got it just as I started another job in the QE Hospital, working in their health records department. Because I had two jobs, they used to tax me off my Pig & Whistle job, and being 17 I came out at something like £2.20 an hour – it wasn’t worth it.

What is the worst job you've had? Definitely clean-up at the Pig & Whistle. It is unbelievable some of the things we would find in the toilets at the end of a night. And, without question, the women’s was so much worse than the gents.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner? I can do a pretty mean mushroom risotto – as long as you’re not afraid of garlic as I love it. Either that or a steak with all the sides – macaroni cheese, corn on the cob, asparagus wrapped in bacon. I’m spoilt actually as my partner does most of the cooking as she enjoys it more, but when it comes to the risotto and steaks she leaves me to it.

What would your superpower be? I would like the ability to be invisible from time-to-time. I would be very interested in hearing what people say behind closed doors.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party: William Shakespeare, Barack Obama, my grandfather and Ant & Dec (they count as one). As a literary graduate and lover of the theatre, I would be intrigued by Shakespeare and his ability/cheek in making up words to suit his sentences and would ask him whether or not he wrote the plays that exist under his name. I think Barack Obama would be great fun. I never met my grandfather (my mother’s father) but I’ve heard great things about him, a big socialite and clever businessman to boot. Ant & Dec are great fun and always seem so happy with each others company.

Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much? Sadly, it will be my education. Sad because a university education shouldn’t be the second largest thing I’ve ever bought behind my house. It took me decades to pay off the debt, which I managed myself into. However, the ongoing cost of my season ticket will soon overtake the cost of my degree and it looks that I’ll never get rid of that.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why? For your daily scare, @POTUS is trying to Make America Great Again. But I like the celebrities who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves. Alan Shearer, JK Rowling and Stephen Fry are pretty adept at back handing people who dare question their respective legacies.

Favourite book? It depends what sort of mood I’m in. If it is ever a bad mood, I revert back to Enid Blyton's The Secret Island. When I was travelling in India, I always kept a copy of Romeo and Juliet in my pocket.

When did you last cry? At the relegation of Newcastle United.

What is your greatest achievement? It may not be an achievement but one of my proudest moments was when I was president of the students’ union at York. I had the honour of laying a wreath on behalf of the university and students.

What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given? Don't be afraid of saying I don't know.

Favourite animal and why? I’ve recently started a project with the University of Wollongong, and while I was there I met a koala, quite simply the best type of animal. They are so chilled and relaxed it's just a shame they have to be protected.

Most famous person on your mobile phone? I guess the only contacts I have are those I went to school/university with. There was Toby Flood (England and Newcastle Falcons), who was on our rugby team at school, our head girl was Shirley Webb, Olympic hammer thrower and one-time Gladiator 'Battle Axe', and I went to university with comedienne Ellie Taylor, once of Snog Marry Avoid fame.

What was the last band you saw live? Tom Odell at the Mouth of the Tyne festival. It was my first time at the Mouth of the Tyne and it really was fantastic.

Describe your perfect night in: It would be me and my partner, and I would cook us both a steak dinner. There would be a Friday night Newcastle game on the TV followed by a decent film. We both quite like horror films, so would be watching something scary while gorging on ice cream and Haribo.

In another life I would be... An astronaut. I would love to go into space. As a child I was just a signature away from joining the air force ahead of going to university, thinking a pilot was the best opportunity for me to get into space.

Who would play you in a film of your life? Probably Tom Hardy. He seems to be able to get that quietly considered yet possibly temperamental look quite right.

What irritates you? Inefficiency. It really gets me angry when people waste time, especially if it is my time that is being wasted.

What's your secret talent? I can make a sound exactly like Chewbacca. I’m not sure how much of a talent that is, but it did once win me a special prize at a bar quiz.