Reverse Engineering the Squiders Website
It can be an interesting exercise to look at a finished piece of work and then reverse engineer the reasoning and processes that lead you to the end, that's what I would like to do here.
Author: Kris Jeary
Published: 5th October 2015
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A good designer should be able to justify and explain every decision they have made, as I was my own client on this I shall treat you, dear reader, as my sounding board.
The previous incarnation
You may remember the previous Squiders website:
At the time I did it I was enormously proud of what I had achieved and the high-end execution of my ideas, we even won an award for it... things move on however. One of the biggest trends in web design company websites is the video on the home page of people going about their day with white header text over the top, sound familiar?
How can I offer a unique product to our clients when I am being lazy with our own website? The Squiders website had become bland, predictable, this wasn't the right message to send.
The seed of a new design idea
What was needed was to go right back to the beginning, to decide what we, as a company, are all about, what are our values and what makes us different?
The answer was clear; I value research and data as a powerful driver for design. I believe in long term partnerships, in iteration and all backed up with real data. Now can I sum this up in a sound bite?
We understand the way your customer's mind works
It felt like going back a few steps. Back when Squiders was just Jo and me we did a photoshoot involving a brain (a prop one I hasten to add), that was centred around the pervasive left brain/ right brain myth. Jo is a developer (left brain), I am a designer (right brain). Whilst it was a play on ridiculously inaccurate neuroscience, it was also fun, it had personality, it stood out from the crowd.
I wanted to bring that sense of fun back, I wanted to show that data and research is important but from that you can produce a unique, stylish and usable website. This is where the scientist idea came in. On its own a shoot with us dressed as scientists would be fun, but not nearly fun enough, not unique, it was time to add the shock value, the part that would make the experience of visiting our website memorable.
Gathering the assets
Before I decided on the images I wanted to capture I needed to get the content, user flow and layout set. Scribbles and wireframes followed until I was happy – then it was time for the exciting bit.
I feel very privileged that a lot of my days at work are fun, this one might have been the most fun. I wanted a day in a studio to do our nice and smart scientist shots but I also wanted the full on zombie gore as the shock and fun element.
I was lucky to find Kate Griffiths, a theatrical makeup artist with experience of zombifying her clients (previous gigs included promo work for Resident Evil). I also gave a call to my favourite photographer Steve Cole and a studio and date was booked.
It is fair to say that I'm still disturbed by Kat's transformation. Let me show you a few shots from behind the scenes:
Aside from the images I am indebted to the skill of Lucie De Lacy in making sure the website made sense from a user journey, language and tone point of view.
Making decisions on style
I got the comps back from Steve, selected the ones I wanted to work with and then it was time to place then where intended in the design and start to make decisions over spacing and typefaces.
I'm a great lover of minimalism in design, of stripping back until the core of the message is singing loud and clear. The home page carries the strongest emotional work, the content pages are factual, with detailed information.
Every line-height and margin was poured over until I was happy, the correct shade of red was agonised over until I had something that I was proud of, something I could happily put my name to and reputation on – this is what you are viewing now.
The finished product - have I made the right decisions?
I set out to treat this project in the same way as a client project, so it was time to get some targeted user testing done. It was largely positive, there were some elements that were updated, explained further or toned down.
I also bothered friends and people I massively respect in the industry for their thoughts (Thank you Dan Edwards, Andy Clarke, Andrew Fairlie, Darren Beale and Sally Jenkinson to name but a few).
I will be keeping a close eye on analytics as well as qualitative feedback from visitors, the second part is harder as you only tend to hear from people you haven't put off! But I'm fine with that, the quickest way to blandness is trying to appeal to everyone all the time, the great thing that data does is show you who you should be aiming at, couple that with who you want to work with and it sets the boundaries of your canvas quite nicely.
I also use visitor visualisation as a wonderfully powerful way to see how real visitors to the website are interacting, the marketer in me wants to see their faces via webcam, but dear me, what a world that would be.
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