Written by Michelle Pereira
From April 21-23, creators in the digital space convened for the annual three-day FITC Festival, which welcomed 1,200 attendees from around the world.
The tech-savvy audience were treated to talks on all the latest and greatest trends and technologies in the digital realm, including motion graphics, mobile, animation, HTML5, UX, installation art and more.
A talk that stood out for graphic designers was “Attack of the Creative Process”. Fi (Fantasy Interactive) Global Creative Director Anton Repponen and UX and Strategy Head Irene Pereyra explained the challenges they overcame during the development of USAToday.com – which has been touted as the most innovative newspaper website ever released.
Anton Repponen & Irene Pereyra at FITC Toronto 2013
Despite a raring start, the first concept presentation was a flop. The client said “they missed the mark” and that it was “way too safe”. The Fi team feared losing the project. Yet they went on to create one of the best websites we’ve seen. The lesson? “Things always go wrong, and clients always have feedback. It’s important to learn to accept crushing feedback and offer a new idea,” explains Irene.
Irene and Anton regrouped. They went back to the discovery stage by analyzing the site, the user experience and the audience. What they found was a “cancer of content.” Users had to “tunnel into the site, and tunnel back out”. Their new project goals? To “flatten it out” and make not a website, but “an app that offered a really nice reading experience.”
The duo sat down with a physical newspaper to get a feel of how people traditionally read the news. They were able to put their finger on the natural way readers consume the content – by dividing up the sections, reading and swapping. They emerged from this exercise with the question: “How can we digitize the analogue convention of reading the newspaper?”
Building the site in Keynote, the goal was to “keep the user traveling”. Irene and Anton made every section of the newspaper its own homepage. According to Anton, “the site is two layers. It needed to be as flat as possible. The user is able to navigate left and right to go to different sections.” A ‘disaster page’ can be taken over by content related to a specific topic in times of crisis, when nothing else matters. Other unique factors? The story page consists of a bunch of Lego blocks, and the search results overlay the content. The team explained that they opted not to make the site responsive; they invested a lot of time in making it “stand alone”, independent and flexible. Yet the site is semi-adaptive, allowing more content to be shown when it is viewed on a bigger screen.
As successful as the project was, it wasn’t without challenges along the way. Midway through the website redesign, USA Today was rebranded by Wolff Olins. The new look and philosophy had to be integrated into the site. Luckily, Fi and Wolff Olins were thinking along the same lines, and no large-scale changes had to be made to the site architecture. A second quandary arose when the test site met with contradictory feedback from the client team. Fi solved this by explaining that it simply wouldn’t be possible to launch the site on schedule if such contradictory feedback had to be considered. The Fi team also struggled with ads that were old, not updated for new browsers and at the wrong specs. Convinced that they wouldn’t let ads alter the modern look of the site, they spent three weeks working with advertisers to effectively integrate the ads.
The project, which involved all disciplines within Fi and took the 2012 year to complete, was well worth the hard work. A promotional video released the week before the site launch went viral; USAToday.com launched on schedule, in time for the company’s 30th birthday; and feedback has been amazing.
Irene and Anton concluded their talk with a hint about two major projects they plan to release this year – one with Wacom, leader in interactive pen displays and digital drawing tablets. And their new work is sure to have been created out of pure passion, excitement and inspiration – according to Irene, Wacom is one of those clients she’s “dreamt about” having the opportunity to work with!
For more on FITC Toronto 2013, visit fitc.ca/event/to13. To see photos, click here.