What drives us

Our kickoff meetings always end with “there are no egos here,” and we mean it! We approach every project as an exciting collaboration. We’re the experts in web design and development, and you’re the expert on your business. We genuinely care about doing great work; that’s how we make the Internet better for everyone.

Method vs madness

Forge and Smith was founded on the values of traditional craftspeople: quality and trust. These principles guide every web design and digital strategy we produce.

Process First

We’re all about efficient, repeatable steps, honed by years of experience.

Slow And Steady

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. That’s how great websites are made.


We’re all adults here. Trust is a two-way street, and we mean what we say.


No false promises. We’ll always be honest, and share everything we know.


Our roots

Our principal and lead strategist Shawn Johnston gets asked all the time, “Why Forge and Smith?” Shawn grew up surrounded by craftspeople and the values of honesty, quality, and dependability. When he became a designer instead of a tradesman, he struggled with the lack of those values in most web design processes. Being a tireless problem-solver, Shawn found his own way to bring true craftsmanship into design and strategy – and that’s what launched Forge and Smith.

Our name harkens to medieval blacksmith guilds, and a time when your word was your bond. We value rock-solid relationships, dedication to process, and striving for mastery at our crafts.

No heroes, no egos.
Just people.

We’re a crack squad of savvy, motivated websmiths, fixing the Internet one website at a time. Learn more about the humans behind Forge and Smith, and why we do what we do.

10 years and counting…

Time flies when you’re having fun.



The adventure begins

After 10 years of working in a variety of roles within the design industry, Shawn decided it was time to strike out on his own. Armed with ample experience, a love of process, and a passion for web design, his one-person team started designing and building for charities and small businesses.


Employee #1

Gaining momentum

After doggedly hunting for leads on Craigslist, Shawn finally built up enough of a client roster, reputation, and Google rankings for the volume of work to get out of hand. Abe Friesen was hired as a Project Manager to help answer questions and support existing websites.

Abe left us in 2015 with our blessings to take on a new management position at an agency we’d done build work for. But he lives on in our Slack password commands:


First Agency Website

Freelancer no more!

It only took a year, but we finally launched our first agency website. At this stage we were a team of eight, mostly developers. Our belief in process, sweating the details, and passion for what we do has been a part of our ethos from day one.


Growth Continues

More people and services

As we saw how well our sites performed for our clients, we launched a new service side of the business: digital strategy and monthly retainers. We launched an array of engagement options like SEO reporting, social media management, and monthly support. This was an important milestone, as the monthly recurring revenue from these services stabilized our business and began to even out our cash flow.


Strategy First

Commoditization was here

We saw an emerging trend in the web world towards the commoditization of websites, with the launch of services like Squarespace and Wix. We pivoted our focus from services to strategy. We doubled down, got serious about information architecture, content strategy, and UX design, and expanded our process. Rather than providing a website as a product, we began providing strategy as a service… the website was simply an outcome.

Hard lessons

Unfortunately, this epiphany came too late, and our long run of competing on price caught up with us. Unable to sustain our overhead while making this pivot, we had to downsize by almost 50%. Every team member found their next gig within weeks, and we did everything we could to ensure they were taken care of.

It was a tough year.


Design Systems

Stop reinventing the wheel

While the dust settled after our pivot and team changes, Shawn pursued a vision. After 10+ years of designing and building websites, he saw consistent patterns in how content was structured and users navigated websites. What if we could leverage those patterns to build a layered systematized foundation as a basis for websites?

This would become the beginning of significant R&D efforts, which would impact every facet of how we work: from the flexibility of our websites to the health of our agency as a whole!


Anvil is Born

Efficiency meets creativity

Shawn’s vision of reusable frameworks based on known content patterns, underlining an unrestricted creative front end, started to bear fruit.

Codenamed “Anvil,” a WordPress-based Framework is starting to emerge. This year was one of experimentation, and the results were game-changing. We reduced total development time per project by over 70%, including further reductions in UX and design as we embraced a consistent prototyping toolset.

These efficiencies allowed us to reinvest that time within our projects, for an enhanced content support process and extensive improvements in our overall QA system.

The result? Better sites, even better client experiences, and significantly reduced team stress. It was a win-win-win.


Back in Black

Debt free and ready to grow

By taking advantage of several amazing federal R&D programs (we’re so lucky to live in Canada!), we could leverage the thousands of hours invested into Anvil to pull us out of the debt we’d dug back in 2016.

This also started the invisible process of transforming from a strategy company offering products to a product company offering strategies. While it may seem nuanced, it transformed the way we approach our work.


Sustainable Growth

Investing in our process, our team and our clients

As we spent increasingly less time on repetitive tasks, we continued to invest that time into our team and our clients.

By adding additional team members in QA, content and design, we continued our growth without sacrificing quality or client experience. This included key hires to support training, QA management, and content strategy.

Numbering 16 full-time team members from Victoria to Toronto, we were now a well-rounded and deeply experienced team rooted in a commitment to process and client success.

We also implemented a new suite of HR practices, designed to support our remote team, build a sense of purpose and prioritize mental health and wellbeing.


Product Development

Anvil Blocks and Gutenberg

It’s all still a bit hush-hush, but we can say that we’re currently working on our own Gutenberg-based site build called Anvil Blocks. We fully embraced Gutenberg in 2021, and its flexibility has changed everything.

Continuing to prioritize our own R&D for the benefit of our clients, we now have a three-engineer WordPress plugin team. We genuinely can’t wait to share more!