The total overhaul of Virgin.com had two equal goals: lead generation and social activity. This weaving together of corporate content and user-generated content called for a distinct creative approach that skewed a little more toward e-commerce/online review sites, such as Apple.com, chow.com and even Amazon.com. The key differentiating factor, of course, is that you are not actually buying anything on Virgin.com.
Today, the new Virgin.com lets consumers learn about Virgin the company, coupled with social tools for real-time dialogue, from rants to raves. Bringing it all together is the consistent presence of company founder Richard Branson. Here's how we did it.
Brand Representation: It's the Little Things That Count
In the creative world, simplicity is sometimes viewed as a cop-out. But what designers and brand managers have to consider first and foremost is usability and site shelf-life. Turn a simple design into one that's "on brand" by focusing on the little things, such as iconography, imagery, illustration, tone of voice and functionality.
The creative direction for Virgin.com's user interface was to be as reductive as possible. The clean design speaks to the seriousness of the company, and in contrast, the heavy illustrations show the unconventional character that sets Virgin apart. Maintaining this balance on the corporate pages and social pages tied them together seamlessly.
Designing the Home Page and Beyond
Designing a website is like playing a game of nine-ball: You should be thinking three moves ahead. Good designers look beyond the home page, asking if the design solution is usable throughout the entire site.
Take, for example, how we handled overall site navigation. We started with the logical view that Virgin's breadth of brands and offerings should be presented simply as products or companies, from Virgin's airline brands to Virgin Wines. The IA team worked with Virgin to come up with an expandable, user-friendly navigation scheme. The hierarchical navigation drop-downs subcategorize sections based on news and information and specific Virgin companies. The layout of each company page is divided: the top is company-related and the bottom is user-generated.
The Toughest Challenge: Designing Content Modules
The design of the content modules was actually the most difficult aspect of the design process. Because each company manages its own page, the 20-plus modules were set to a consistent width and height, guaranteeing that each page will retain a clean and organized look.
The Virgin.com modules are flexible and accommodate a host of both corporate and social features, including:
- Quick Talk -- Allow users to chat with Virgin.com employees
- Ask Richard -- Ask Richard Branson anything you like, and the highest rated question gets answered.
- Deals & Offers
- News and Press Releases
- Photo Slide Show
- Your Say (Recent comments)
- Fans (of a particular Virgin company)
- Community Activities
User Generated Content
The design of commenting systems has become an art of its own. Again, the look and feel for Virgin.com's comments is consistent with the reductive direction of the site. For example, only the profile pictures and the rating system use graphics. Comments are self-moderated by a three-tier comment and article-rating system: Rock it, Meh and Knock It.
And, in keeping with the site's simplicity, the only custom-designed icons here represent the four levels of Virgin users, and they refer to Virgin's roots in a shared love of music:
- Groupie -- level 1
- Roadie -- level 2
- Rock Star -- level 3
- Virgin Employees
When dealing with rewards programs, creating levels for users encourages activity and differentiates one company's CRM from another. It's one of the small details that have become part of the Virgin Community's web vernacular.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Charles Bae is exec creative director at Rokkan.