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Turn your website inside out!

I have the privilege of sitting next to some smart gents this Saturday as part of the Arriving and staying on the web panel session at the Create Conference 08, and one of the ideas I’d like to throw out there is the idea of turning your website inside out.

What I mean is this: say you were after a copy of the Rolling Stones’ Flowers album (hey, it’s got Ruby Tuesday on it, what a great song). Where would you go to get it? These days you might shop at iTunes, or Amazon, or countless other online avenues. Or you might scour some second-hand music stores. No doubt you would go to where music is available for sale.

Now say you had a copy of that album to sell. Would you keep it on the shelf and hope someone will knock on the door and ask to buy it? Unless your house is a famous music museum, you’re probably going to take out an ad somewhere where you know people will read ads for music to buy. Or maybe you’ll take it to the second-hand music store to sell. The point is: you would go to where people are who would want to buy it, to tell them about it.

Obvious? In my line of work, I often find that people build websites assuming that others will knock on their door to buy that album, then (understandably) get discouraged when it doesn’t sell.

Go to where people are

We should be taking the content of our websites to where people are already congregating, not just ads to try to get people to leave what they’re doing and visit our websites. There are so many websites around these days that thrive on communities sharing their content with each other. Whether it’s for fun, like photos and videos on facebook, MySpace and flickr, or to make a coin, like on Etsy or Threadless.

There are loads of opportunities for creative thinking to take our websites’ content ‘out of the house’ and into the street to where people can see it, engage with it, share it, have a conversation about it — be it to promote events, news, topical articles, relevant services and products — whatever you and your business have a passion for.

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Create Conference 2008 website

Screenshot of the Create Conference home page

Screenshot of the Create Conference home page

Create Conference is a day-long ideas fest run by FEVA for churches and other ministries to tackle communication issues, covering everything from improving death-by-PowerPoint sermon presentations, to promoting church in particular, and Jesus and Christianity in general, to the world around us.

This website was a huge departure from the usual corporate flavour I’m used to designing for, and I went at the brief with a vengeance. Once I had soaked in the existing brand and vision of FEVA and the conference, I brought two themes — an airship and a clockwork-slightly-steampunky feel — together to evoke an image of broadcasting in a playful, graceful way to the world around us.

The pressure was also on, not only with a very tight deadline, but also to produce a website that would demonstrate all the best-practice things that they were going to be talking about at the conference, about what a website should be and do.

I did some concept sketches that the client liked so much, they ended up running with the ‘sketch’ theme in the downloadable conference information brochure (done by Andrew Nobbs at Barton Design). These were then transormed into what you see online.

Go to: createconference.org.au

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Website concept sketches: they’re worth more than you think

I’ve learned a great lesson from doing the Create Conference 2008: you never how how valuable the various design artefacts you come up with will be during the life of a website project. Your throw-away thumbnail-dipped-in-tar scrawls may well lead the way to other areas of creativity and visual assets for the website that you hadn’t anticipated.

When I was first thinking about the visual concept of the Create Conference 2008 website (read more in the work section if you like), I was combining their existing visual ideas of an airship and a clockworky steampunk theme into some pretty scratchy concept sketches, with notes and call-outs all over them.

I showed one of the pages to the client. She loved it. But the thing is, it wasn’t just the concept, it was the actual ‘look’ of the scratchy sketching as well that fired her imagination. And boom: thus was born the visual concept for the print brochure.

I didn’t know at the time that the client was working on the print brochure for the conference, but that one sketch launched a series of extra sketches I did, all around the same theme, and centered on the airship theme. The client ran with the sketch idea, and wanted to convey a ‘Leonardo da Vinci’-esque theme, which actually fit in very nicely with the creative spirit of the conference, and with the playful ‘bygone grandeur’ visual theme I was originally after.

What’s more, once I started thinking about what I could sketch of this thing, the whole contraption under the airship came alive in my mind; I could see it in 3 dimensions; I could see where people moved around on top, and the living quarters in the hull… everything. Now I’ve never been into model ships or anything like that… but suddenly i wanted to build this thing!

I’ve put a few of the sketches in this post. Looking carefully at the Create Conference website and the brochure, you’ll see how they’ve been knitted in.

Sketch of the front (bow?) of the contraption under the airship

A cut-away view of the contraption under the airship

The tail and rotor of the contraption under the airship