Genex (now Meredith Xcelerated) has been Acura's digital agency from the very beginning. The last major redesign of the primary dotcom in which I was involved was in 2006, and we set out to redefine what a car site could be. Given the Acura brand's focus on advanced technology, as well as their desire to be perceived as a more luxurious automobile, we had a fantastic opportunity to push the design envelope.
The result was what today would no doubt be a tablet app. Big, cinematic imagery throughout, with a minimized frame and navigation. Gone were the pages of long-form prose in fashion at the time. The content was broken into short, specific chunks. To make browsing easy, created a cascading nav system, much like the Apple OS, that allowed for clear access to all these chunks. Users could "gather" the bits of information they found useful into a saved profile, and every chunk linked to related content if available.
The technical challenge was huge. We wanted to create as rich an experience as possible, but that would require Flash, the bane of SEO. The lead developers, Jon Ruppel and Brian Drake, created an elegant solution...an entire "ghost" framework written in html, seen only by the search engines. As a result, every "page" in this huge Flash site could be indexed and bookmarked. We showed it Google and they loved it!
Another benefit of creating the site in Flash was our ability to fully integrate v2.0 of the fantastic Acura Interactive Showroom. The Showroom too would be a tablet app today. Users could explore the features of each vehicle, opening and closing doors, changing interiors and manipulating all manner of controls.
From this core brand platform, sprung a host of unique microsites dedicated to individual vehicles as they were launched. Once in market, these microsites were seamlessly embedded in the dotcom as experiential modules.
Lead designers: Chip McCarthy Wilson Yin Kelly Kliebe Eric Wegerbauer
Acura.com: TL landing page
Acura.com: RL gallery
Acura.com: Features& Options
Acura.com: Safety & Security
Acura.com: Feature detail
Interactive Showroom: Intro
TL Experience microsite
RSX Experience microsite
In 1996, Designory had the chance to work with long-time client Mercedes-Benz on the launch of their new E-Class sedan. This vehicle represented a huge shift in the MB aesthetic and brand, and they were eager to leverage emerging digital techniques to really emphasize the change. As part of an extensive marketing program, we also developed a couple of really intriguing (and highly awarded) digital pieces.
Based on the concept "It's Time.", a CD-ROM distributed prior to launch presented users with a long tapestry of thumbnail images. Five days before the car was unveiled, sections of the tapestry began to unlock. Users could then click on each thumbnail to reveal an image, video or sound clip. Once played, each thumbnail turned transparent, in turn beginning to reveal tantalizing bits of the vehicle behind. On the fifth day, the entire tapestry was unlocked, and users watched an original five-minute video introducing the new E-Class.
A second piece served an entirely different purpose. Mercedes-Benz is all about engineering, and the new E-Class was tour de force of innovative features and technologies. More importantly, they are all part of an integrated system, and often serve more than one purpose. To bring these technologies to life, we created an application housed on two diskettes. (Remember those?) Users could peel away layers of the car to reveal various features. They could also view each layer through the different lenses of Reliability, Comfort, Performance and Safety. Often, the same feature would appear in different views, revealing a different aspect of its function.
Amazingly, there were hundreds of these factoids packed onto to those two diskettes in less than 5 megabytes of space! The set was packaged with the vehicle brochure, which was able to focus on more emotive and aesthetic reasons to consider an E-Class.
I still love both of these pieces, in all their 256 color glory. They are both really engaging interaction models that I think would be even more effective in today's tablet environment.
Lead designers: Chip McCarthy Hiro Niwa
How do you engage fans in a franchise that hasn't seen a new film in 10 years, headlined by a star that's not supposed to age? Fortunately, we didn't have to tackle that second one, but we solved the first with an incredible Flash site for Terminator 3. Launched in early 2003, before anyone had really heard of Facebook or even Myspace, this site was conceptually FAR ahead of its time,
integrating a host of what we would now
call social media features. Wrapped in beautifully executed Flash animations and sound design, the site truly felt like an extension the films.
Leveraging the concept of the Skynet core (the artificial intelligence chip that led to killer robots), the site presents itself as a massive database. Once registered, fans could create a public profile, submit artwork and comments, as well as rate everything else. All content was color-coded as originating from the studio, a guest artist, or the fan community, and every item was attributed to its creator.
As part of our plan to get fans re-engaged and re-energized about the pretty dusty storyline, the site was launched months earlier than is typical for film sites. This allowed the studio marketing team to use it as a test platform of sorts, floating out content to gauge reaction. Comments from the site had a profound effect on how the film was ultimately marketed in trailers and advertising.
The one big miss? Despite our urging, some months after the film premiered and the site was retired, the studios simply discarded all of the registered user data! Hard to imagine that happening today, but at the time they just didn't see how it could be useful.
Lead Designers: Eric Perez Paul Hikiji Mike Kellogg.
Our ongoing work for Benjamin Moore began with a much-needed redesign of the dotcom. The site served three different audiences, so a modular, CMS friendly design was must. Part resource portal, part e-commerce site and part idea book, this was a really interesting information architecture and content strategy project as well.
Once the primary site was on its way, we settled into creating a series of microsites, each celebrating a seasonal palette. While all based on a core template, each had unique visual theme, and was tied to other marketing materials.
Lead designer: John McHale
Other "Oldies But Goodies"
A smattering of odds and ends that I find interesting for one reason or another. I've worked on hundreds of sites and applications...if there's something you're specifically interested in seeing, please just give me a shout!
A very deep, list-based site that manages to feel open and elegant...no small trick. Designed by Paul Hikiji
Designed by John Finnell, with some beautiful animation
effects from Patrick Mullady
A very early example of a highly templated system designed to be easily rebranded for large 401k clients.
Better Homes & Gardens
Visual study for a complete overhaul of BHG.com. This was an enormous IA and content strategy project. Designed by John McHale
At the time, a very forward-leaning, modular site design for pharma company Proxima. Designed by Peter Zellner
My first experience working with an online publisher. An incredibly complex challenge balancing usability, aesthetics and the business need to display lots of ad units! Designed by Reilly Cheung
A Mighty Wind
One of many, many film sites we worked on at Genex, the eclectic, retro design of the Mighty Wind site really captured the vibe of the movie. Design by Ness Higson
A nice little site for a fairly awful movie. Designed by me, believe it or not.
As games became more like movies, so did their marketing. With our success doing film sites, we were approached to do quite a few game launch sites as well. This one was truly creepy.
Call of Duty
We designed the marketing sites for several versions of COD, but this was one of my favorites. Designed by Wilson Yin
Herman Miller: Acrobat
A REALLY early web project to market a unique new desk system from HM. Campaign also included a CD-ROM and video. Designed by Chip McCarthy
CD-ROM introducing the Herman Miller Acrobat. The desktop could easily move from inches off the ground to standing height. Users dragged the desktop up and down to move between sections...navigation that's also a product demo. Love that.
Paul McCartney Tour, sponsored by Lexus
A nice microsite with a mirrored navigation scheme. Designed by Wayne Fujita
A really artful approach to a business consulting site, way ahead of its time. Designed by Wilson Yin
TCM Summer Under the Stars
Our second year designing the site for this summer TCM staple, we created a unique interface based on the "star finder" wheels we had as kids. Designed by Ness Higson
Scion Virtual Manual
An intriguing program that started as a CD-ROM in every car, then moved online. Every quarter, we would produce a series of short videos explaining the features most often asked about in Customer Service, adding them to all the previous videos. Today, the whole thing would be on YouTube!