Obituary: Jonathan “JJ” Joyce, digital communicator

Jonathan Joyce
Jonathan Joyce
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Born: 18 September, 1971, in Isleworth, west London. Died: 15 June 2013, in South Devon, aged 41

Jonathan Joyce, widely known as JJ, was a communicator of the modern age, a visionary who helped bridge those two crucial gaps between creativity, communication and understanding in an increasingly digital world. Passionate about the worldwide web and all things digital, he foresaw that news, advertisements and pretty much all information could no longer thrive – or even survive – only on the printed page.

In 2001, he co-founded the award-winning Edinburgh-based company Storm ID Ltd – a child of the new millennium – which “delivers multi-channel digital solutions”.

It creates websites, applications and anything that will raise the profile of clients including Marks & Spencer, Trinity Mirror, Holiday Inn, ITV, Disney, Mars, the Beano comic and the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. According to Storm ID’s website, largely created by Joyce, the company “kicks ass”.

As technical director of Storm ID and a creative influence in its sister company Storm Ideas, both based in the historic Corn Exchange in Leith, Joyce was hugely influential in creating Twibbon (with the slogan “Make Something Happen”) which won the inaugural Golden Twits award for “Best Applications” in 2009.

Twibbon is now used by tens of millions of twitterers around the world, helping charities, anti-government protesters or simply the previously unheard.

Joyce also helped take Desperate Dan and Dennis the Menace off the written page that had confined their hopes and dreams for so long and took them on to the worldwide web where they could finally be understood by hundreds of millions of people from Boise, Idaho, to Kukes, Albania.

The Beano going digital? Who could have foreseen that? Jonathan Joyce and his team, that’s who. Storm ID relies on technical, creative and marketing dudes but, like life itself, overlap and interaction brought down barriers. Joyce was formally a technical dude but his creativity shone through. Working 24/7, he and his colleagues at Storm ID probably kept their local takeaways in Leith in business after the economic crisis hit.

If life at Storm ID ever got a wee bit boring, which, according to Joyce it never did, he challenged the elements. Extreme swimming became his passion – he called it “wild swimming” – involving waters where there was no shallow end.

According to his colleagues at Storm ID, “We used to call JJ the missing link with our aquatic ape ancestors. He’d throw himself into any water deeper than a puddle.”

He was a passionate supporter of what is now the UK-wide Outdoor Swimming Society and he created the website, which maps areas around the UK where you can swim without that annoying person splashing you from the adjacent lane.

JJ died while swimming off one of his favourite places, Beesands beach in South Devon. Whether he died there, en route to, or in the Derriford hospital in Plymouth, we may never know.

Jonathan Joyce was born in Isleworth, near Twickenham in west London, to Peter and Denise Joyce, natives of Cumberland whose work had taken them south.

He attended Hampton School, also near Twickenham, followed by Halliford independent school in Shepperton, on a bend of the river Thames in Surrey, where he became head boy, captained the rugby team and taught himself Spanish in the back of French class.

He excelled at maths, at the age of six telling his friends “my hobby is numbers” but, fearing Pure Maths would be too difficult to graduate in, enrolled at the University of Bristol as a student of Chemistry and Pure Philosophy.

After a gap year studying maths, in French, at the Pierre-and-Marie Curie University in Paris, he returned to Bristol and switched to Pure Mathematics, graduating with a BSc.

“I handed in my paper 30 minutes earlier and left knowing I had a First,” he recalled. Moving north, he got an MSc in Cognitive Science at the University of Edinburgh, where he met his great love, Stephanie Simon, and pursued an interest in astronomy.

After a “frugal” spell in Ireland, where Stephanie taught German in a convent school while Jonathan developed his computer software skills, the couple returned to Edinburgh where he got a job helping an ad agency move into the internet age.

Seeking a job that would better use his skills, he was interviewed by a kindred spirit, Simon Wall, and together with another couple of like-minded friends, Paul McGinness and Craig Turpie, founded the avant-garde company they called Storm ID.

Using the benefits of internet communication, while Joyce continued to work for Storm ID, he and Steph moved first to Sweden, later to Devon, where they both developed their interest in wild swimming.

Joyce was swimming off Beesands beach near Kingsbridge, Devon, where the wild Atlantic poses as a supposedly more benign English Channel, when he got into difficulties.

Seeing him struggle to stay afloat, a nearby kayaker got him back to shore and he was airlifted to a Plymouth hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

His family and friends, in Edinburgh and beyond, were stunned. “Jonathan was driven by the opportunity to help people,” his father Peter told The Scotsman yesterday. “His personal circumstances and his professional pride always came second to his sense of duty.

“He live for 41 and three-quarter years and died knowing he was loved and admired for every single moment.”

His colleagues at Storm ID wrote: “Jonathan lived life to the full. He taught us a few important things: fill your life with love, surround yourself with laughter and seize every opportunity like there’s no tomorrow.”

Jonathan Joyce is survived by his longtime partner Steph, sons Janus and Finn, his sister Lisa and his parents Peter and Denise.