Webby Award-winning website from Zync helps Commander Chris Hadfield showcase wide range of content

Case Study by Marko Zonta RGD, Creative Director at Zync


Chris Hadfield is the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station, best-selling author, a YouTube sensation and a thought-provoking speaker. This project involved redesigning an existing 3-page microsite to ramp up his presence as not only an astronaut, but as a speaker and musician. The team we worked with was great, both from a communications and creativity perspective.



The project had a very tight timeline (July to October, 2014) in order to match the website launch date to the date for the client's US book launch. We wanted the site to be a place of discovery for users, providing access to Chris Hadfield’s journey into space and his journey back on earth.



The client was involved in every step of the process and worked collaboratively with our team throughout. In our case, face to face meetings were the best way to explain our thinking and have a collaborative discussion about the elements of the site. When it made sense, online screen sharing and conference calls were also used for facilitating reviews. We used email correspondence to follow up on meetings and send links to be reviewed. 


As we do with all projects, Zync took a content first approach to the design of the Chris Hadfield website. Other important factors included the use of progressive enhancement when moving from small to larger devices and an emphasis on the importance of efficient load times. These and other considerations resulted in a consistent user experience across all devices. 



After an initial kick-off meeting, our team conducted two internal brainstorming sessions. The next stage involved conducting competitive, visual and technological research. We then mapped out the content, wireframes, visual design and finally development, QA/testing and launch. Our team also continues to perform website maintenance, which involves revisiting areas of the site to further enhance user experience and accommodate the client's changing needs when necessary. For example, making it possible for users to purchase photos online. 


Two visual directions were presented based on approved wireframes. One was "Canadiana" in feel and another was space-oriented. Ultimately, the approved direction was chosen for its strong visual impact using space photography.


The website was created using a custom-built Wordpress Content Management System that allows the client to update existing content and add new content.



All of the unique Commander Hadfield content needed somewhere to live, which is why Hadfield’s team tapped digital agency Zync to build a responsive website that houses all things Chris: space facts, videos, trivia, links to purchase books, prints of Earth seen from orbit and more. Working with clients who have abundant content means a lot of thinking and strategic planning at the mapping phase, usually the most important phase in any website project. 



The tight timeline for such a project might have posed a challenge; however, the client team was extremely clear with their feedback and quick with their approvals, which made them a joy to work with and helped all of us to stick to our milestones and execute on time.



One of our greatest measures of success was winning the Webby Award in the “Website: Celebrity/Fan” category. The site was nominated alongside The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Google World Cup, Art Project OE20 from Ukraine and StarWars from Disney Interactive. Runner-up Honourees in the category included U2.com and One Direction. The Webby Award is the Internet’s most respected symbol of success, honouring the best of the Internet. The 19th Annual Webby Awards received nearly 13,000 entries from over 60 countries worldwide.


Since the time of the website’s launch, the client has reported substantial growth in site traffic, which used to be largely driven by links to purchase books. With the new website from Zync, the 'Books' page views alone have increased more than 10 times.



Designer Takeaways

  1. With all websites, it is wise to put a strong emphasis on content first. Content drives the structure, functionality and design of the website.
  2. Put yourself in the mind of your client's audience and how they might be accessing the site. A desktop experience will be different from a mobile experience—but people still expect speed and consistency across devices.
  3. Make sure the site can handle your big ideas. You want to deliver cutting-edge experiences, but also manage audience expectations and ensure your client has the capacity to manage the technology from a business perspective.


Client Takeaways

  1. Trust and open communication between the design team, project team and client is key. Setting clear expectations and establishing points of contact, knowing who is responsible for key milestones and identifying resources at the start will make it easier to maintain a great partnership throughout the process.
  2. Be open to different methods of communication—a video conference and an email are both excellent ways to connect, but each has a unique purpose. One can be more beneficial than the other, depending on the circumstances.
  3. Reduce the noise. Edit out redundancies in content and provide a clean labelling and tagging system to make processes efficient for both you and your end user.


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