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The Erskine redesign: the blank canvas

Today I’ll mostly be talking about our physical design process and decision making behind our recent redesign of our agency site, but I think a little bit of backstory is necessary.

Version 1 of our website was designed and built (around 2.5 years ago) when both the web and Erskine were very different from what they are today. Almost two years since it’s inception, it was out of date in terms of content, design and mood, and needed to attract bigger, better business more effectively. All valid reasons for a redesign I’m sure you’ll agree.

So when I first sat down in front of a 1200x2000px blank Photoshop document, I thought I had a clear vision of what we needed to achieve. The problem was, we didn’t really treat our own project in the same way as we would a client’s.

When we typically work for clients, we usually don’t open Photoshop or Fireworks until half way through the project, and when we do we’ve been through an intensive planning process that leaves us little doubt as to what’s going to go on the canvas.

Yet there I was, getting stuck in without a thought to the structure, the IA or the eventual purpose of the site. I guess I was excitedly trying to find a visual approach that clearly said “Erskine”. As you can see, I didn’t find it - I was frustrated and very pissed off.

A compilation of failed approaches for the erskinedesign.com website

Another problem that we encountered in the early days of the project was the lack of time the team (including myself) had to spend on the project sometimes it would go weeks on end without even being talked about. I know this problem is a common one we’re all too busy making money to spend time on our own stuff but it was a pretty debilitating factor.

These two major drawbacks (lack of planning and lack of time) pretty much killed the project before it had even really taken off. Cue all focus on client work again.

A few weeks down the line, we decided at one of our infamous monthly meetings to get our shit sorted; I was scheduled two days a week to concentrate on our site, and would get other team members involved when necessary.

This was a massive turning point, and I’d advise anyone currently working on their own site to do something similar: when you block out a set number of days each week where you effectively won’t be making money, it’s a lot easier to crack on and get things done.

Design-wise, I used this new motivation as an opportunity to finally define something that we could work from. Not a wireframe or a masthead or anything as specific as that, but more of a loose composition that ticked the appropriate boxes.

To this end I started working in a vacuum, disregarding for the moment how what I was creating would work on the web. My aim was to use existing and speculative content to create something that:

  • Sold our work, ourselves and our clients in equal measures
  • Hinted at our brand and our ‘feel’ without actually using our logotype
  • Looked fucking good

A composition that would portray these points effectively would give us a really nice foothold from which to leap into a proper design process, with all the usual Erskine bells and whistles. Thankfully, I was having a good day and managed to crank this out, which I think did the job pretty satisfactorily.

An initial Ben Saunders case study composition for erskinedesign.com

So that was our “hell yeah we’ve cracked it” moment. In a future article I’ll chat about how we developed this composition into a more considered approach, the revisions we made and how attentive we were to detail. See you then.

Erskine Design
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