What Top Creative Minds Are Doing With Their New Websites

Five Shops Share Their Design and Content Imperatives

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Looking to redesign your website? Well, what could be more instructive than examining the newly redesigned sites of a handful of brand creativity companies -- companies whose very purpose is to communicate effectively (online or anywhere) and who, theoretically, have the best talent and the best ideas on such matters.

During the last month or so, a handful of shops launched big, notable sites. I asked the sites' framers about their priorities and design and content imperatives. Here, the sites' framers provide some insight on their priorities and design and content imperatives. Given the wide range of approaches embodied in these sites, the first bit of perspective they provide is to reinforce how well you need to know who you are and what you want to say to the world in undertaking this or any branding exercise.

Hal Riney & Partners came out bold with the "Minority Report"-ish navigation on its new online identity, launched in mid March. Visitors to the site (created with U.K.-based Clusta) are met with a floating cloud of red ink. The web-cam-enabled may move through the site using hand gestures. It's a compelling window to where this technology will lead, though the site content is pretty straightforward.

What they were thinking: "Riney has been an institution, steeped in tradition and a rich history of creativity," says Chief Creative Officer Roger Camp. "But for all of its storied past, it had become aged. So the charge was to shed the perceptual baggage of the Riney of old but retain its soul of innovation."

Equally dramatic in a dramatically different way: Modernista's we-are-the-web site. To the extent that explaining it in words has any point, visitors to the site are taken to outside web pages (Google, Facebook, Wikipedia -- which has added a disclaimer about the site) overlaid with a small red menu. As the agency has explained, the menu doesn't live in the site, it is the site.

What they were thinking: "We wanted to rethink what it means to be a brand in 2008," says agency co-founder and Executive Creative Director Gary Koepke. "We thought it would be interesting to embrace the participatory culture of the web and ultimately learn from that to be able to make better recommendations for our clients."

He goes on to add: "In this space, the guiding principals already exist -- they are the norms of the communities themselves. We just needed to figure out how to express Modernista within those communities. The site has inspired a lot of conversation and we are happy to be a part of that conversation. We are eager to see where this idea leads us."

Grey got in on the action a few weeks back with its own revamped site, hosted by a trio of animated characters. The site features lots of work case studies and an unusual one-take video of Grey Group Chairman-CEO Jim Heekin expounding on the new Grey from the empty Toy Building space that will be the agency's future home. The site is serviceable but, particularly with the somewhat arbitrary addition of the characters, maybe feels a bit 2004.

What they were thinking: "We wanted to give users a real sense of the new dynamism and creative energy at Grey ... engage all our audiences, introduce the 'new' Grey, provide immediate access to our people and resources and begin to build relationships using the site as a vehicle for ongoing dialogue," says Heekin. "We employed a design and navigational simplicity to make the site fun and easy to use."

R/GA weighed in with a Flashtastic site earlier this month. It's clean and crisp and incorporates a ton of video -- mostly devoted to the agency's work. The site is in an early phase -- the agency will add more video of its people talking about things like data and universal planning and explaining capabilities and philosophies.

What they were thinking: "We've always specialized in very-well-designed, complex communications capabilities on the web for clients," says R/GA Chairman-CEO and Global Chief Creative Officer Bob Greenberg. "IBM.com might be 8 million pages deep, but you're always just a few clicks away from anything. That's more informational. You also have to be experiential -- we wanted it to be a consistent experience. What you don't see is the architecture that you can hang additional capabilities on -- you have to plan for releases that are coming out over the next several years, the way it ties into mobile, all the different parts and pieces."

Regarding the design: "We don't have anything tricky on our site -- that's conscious. People know how to navigate our site."

The Barbarian Group launched its site earlier this month (after being shadowed online by the mysterious Bavarian Group). The Barbarians, masters of the gee-whiz web experience, zagged nicely with a bloggy, un-Flashy site that captures the shop's personality while serving up all the information one could ever need on its work and people -- as well as opinions on all things creative, including lunch. Beyond being a highly usable source of Barbarian insight, the site feels like one you might choose to visit when it isn't a school day.

What they were thinking: "We had four or five things we really needed to accomplish with our new site," says co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Rick Webb. Those included conveying the group's perhaps hard-to-define identity in the industry -- "to show that we're so much more than a production house," says Webb. They also had to show "all of the work. The Flash, the technical, the strategic, the creative. Next, we wanted to highlight the breadth and depth of the talent and thinking here, to show people how the company is so much more than just Benjamin and me. Next, we absolutely needed to showcase and drive home the fact that we are not just unafraid of the internet, but that we can execute just about anything on it. It's a huge point of differentiation for us, and it needed to show. Finally, we needed a place to house all the common questions that people ask us. Our business is a lot different than the traditional advertising business: We get basic questions all the time like 'How do you guys work with us,' and 'Do you do x?' or 'What do you guys think about social networks?'"

Regarding the design, he says: "Bold, simple, informative, useful, and accommodating of massive future growth without a redesign. We also wanted to impart our attitude and tone -- fearless, a bit pedantic, and almost hopelessly humorous, right down to the Monty Python reference and Tony Wilson shout-outs on the home page. And the logo that couldn't possibly be made any bigger."

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Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and Creativity-Online.com. E-mail her at tiezzi@creativity-online.com.
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