January 7th, 2009

Handle With Care

By Duane King

Since our site is named Thinking for a Living, we thought it was time to share how we do it for ourselves. Case in point, the recent launch of the new Luigi Bormioli site. Designed and developed by BBDK in conjunction with User Experience Strategist Ian Coyle of Superheroes, the story of this site’s development is a perfect example of how, with careful management, everyone can get their wants and needs satisfied when you’re doing the right thing. This project also illustrates how our efforts intersect each other; in this case, BBDK and Thinking for a Living.

One year ago, BBDK was approached by Luigi Bormioli to refine the companies brand position and web presence based on our past experience within the tabletop industry. Luigi Bormioli is renown worldwide as a leading company in the glassmaking industry and was seeking a refined online presence that promotes the company’s product offerings and brand position to a United States audience. The site should reflect the look and feel implemented on the existing Flash site while introducing flexibility and scalability for future growth. The site will begin as an online product catalog but should allow for full ecommerce capabilities.

Although the client’s directives were specific, the course of action was undefined. Practicing what we preach (see our booklet at YouWorkForThem for more information), we set out to define the project’s goals through the development of a creative strategy. This strategy encapsulates the following points: 1) a project summary, 2) the target audience, 3) perception and tone guidelines, 4) communication strategy, and finally, 5) competitive positioning. Although BBDK is not an agency, we do our best to be as deliberate as possible while avoiding the pitfalls of over-analysis and the watering down of concepts that is common in ‘bored’ meetings. Through this definition of our creative strategy we were able to find the ‘white space’ within the glassware industry. We decided to separate Luigi Bormioli from its competition by highlighting the quality of the products, materials and design, as well as illustrating the way product shapes work together within a collection. A clean, simple, easy-to-use site would be a differentiator within the industry.

Oddly enough, clarity and simplicity are a bit unusual for the glassware industry. The tendency is to over do things with staged photography and ‘lifestyle’ imagery. We instead chose to focus on architectural simplicity, featuring products in in proportion to each other across collections. In this manner, we illustrate how items work together and encourage seeing things as a whole, instead of as parts. If you can see how the items work together, you are more likely to subconsciously understand how they would work in real life.

With our goals defined, BBDK began our search for the perfect partners for the project. From our home office in Santa Fe, New Mexico and satellite office with Athletics in Brooklyn, New York we collaborate with a network of individuals worldwide, but given the current project parameters, who is the right fit? For reasons including SEO and compatibility, we needed HTML, but with our precedent of a temporary Flash site we created a year earlier, we also wanted to maintain some level of interactivity. In addition, the normal metaphors of thumbnail grids are functional, but tiresome. How can we overcome these limitations of this predictable catalog delivery format, provide an interactive experience, illustrate product proportions across collections, and keep things simple? Easier said than done.

Managing multiple projects with a variety of vendors is always a challenge, and sometimes your partners are booked. Athletics was busy working with the United Nations and GOOD Magazine (as well as bidding projects and helping us with Thinking for a Living™). We definitely needed some big guns for this project.

Given the challenge at hand, I recalled a site I had seen for a design store in Denver that had amazed me with it’s interactivity. You would swear the site was built in Flash, but it was actually HTML, jQuery and Javascript mastery. We turned to our daily research for Thinking for a Living™ and used it to our advantage. I dug through my Delicious bookmarks and luckily, found the site. Shop Composition. I checked it out once again and was still amazed. “Nothing like this is out there,” I thought to myself. We discussed it internally and Bob and Shane agreed that we needed to have an execution of a similar technical level. We then tracked down Ian Coyle at Superheroes, the creator of the Shop Composition site.

At BBDK, we love to collaborate with others. Collaborations with people from a wide variety of skill sets expand your view of what’s possible. Whether designers, programmers, motion graphics artists, illustrators, copywriters or photographers, the result is a mix of cultural, economic, and creative energy that contributes to originality while testing your assumptions of how things are done. This project was no exception.

Ian and BBDK had an immediate connection. He lives in Denver – we live in Santa Fe. We both love great design, letterpress and the outdoors. After a few discussions with Ian, we decided to pool our talents to create the best product catalog site possible – something that we hoped would cross generational borders while pushing the boundaries of technology and user interface design. We had a mutual respect for each other’s work and understood the benefit of leveraging our collective abilities. It didn’t take long for the sparks to begin to fly. Ian’s technical ingenuity allowed for an expanded user experience and endless design possibilities. We were excited and knew we had everything we needed to conquer the challenge at hand.

Within weeks, we had working prototypes that we refined internally ad nauseum. There was a lot to balance. Client input, vendor relationships, creativity, originality, usability, and most importantly, a defined budget. All of which were made more difficult due to the advanced nature of the solutions we decided to explore. We were taking a huge leap of faith that we could sell something of this nature to Luigi Bormioli (even though BBDK and Superheroes knew it was the proper approach). Much to the credit of the senior management of Luigi Bormioli, they let us move forward with our proposed direction and fully supported the implementation of an advanced user interface. They saw the value in leading their industry, and others, and fully embraced the unknown.

Keeping an open line of communication between client, BBDK and vendor was critical. We knew the success of the project, in terms of it’s design, functionality and schedule, would be determined by a constant back-and-forth between all parties involved. By listening to the client’s feedback and the developer’s concerns, we could define problems; avoid pitfalls and work together to come up with practical and functional solutions that did not compromise the overall structure and design of the site. In other words, everyone wins.

So far, the site has been quite well received. We think we passed all three of the questions that Adrian Shaughnessy, author of How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul, suggests that we ask at the end of a project. Is the client happy? Yes. Is the job profitable? Yes. Is the project newsworthy? We think so. We’re waiting to see how the public reacts as the site was launched on December 24th. Luigi Bormioli is ready for 2009. And so are we. Next up in our refinement of the brand…packaging!