Redesigning RustyBrick.com: The Process and the Challenge

When I first heard I had an interview with a web development company called RustyBrick I immediately rushed to see their web site. As the site loaded I kind of stared blankly at the page. I was not impressed. The whole layout seemed outdated; bordering on bland.

Original RustyBrick Site
This is the original design of the site.

Upon being hired it became apparent that the site did not reflect the culture of RustryBrick or our clients. I was working on really exciting projects, some groundbreaking, with a really great group of people equally passionate about their work. There had been attempts, as I later found out, to revamp the site but none had been rolled out.

One particular redesign showed a series of people chasing after a guy holding a glowing brick. I didn't get the marketing message behind this. Were they angry customers? Was it just a bad neighborhood? Why were the golden goods being kept away from them? I actually surprised myself as to just how far I took my speculation of the hidden meaning of the brick. It soon became clear to me that in spite of having been developed in flash and HTML I didn't want to salvage any parts of that design in a future redesign.

After a few months at the job the subject of the site invariably came up. I did some research and some design attempts early on but between the influx of projects and other priorities the site redesign was pushed back until a couple of months ago.

I wanted to design a site that was clean and elegant while keeping with our brand. Another huge consideration was a way to feature our portfolio where the work would really shine. One of the key things I underestimated was the differences in design sensibility and expectation that existed between Ronnie and Barry.

One of the earliest versions of the site redesign was done in a collage style that felt a lot less "professional" featuring torn pieces of paper, hand drawn elements, an emphasis on caffeine and handwritten, note style fonts. I cleaned up and modified this look until it became apparent it was headed towards the trash bin. A couple of valuable sections emerged, however, like an emphasis on "the team" and on mobile iphone apps. While the staff loved this look Barry and Ronnie were not convinced.

Rustybrick Take 1

Moving on to take two I opted for a completely different approach. I went slick, fresh, green, shiny, web 2.0 with a large emphasis on portfolio images to carry the site. This was the least successful attempt lacking any of our brand colors which were essential to engaging Barry and Ronnie. Each attempt came weeks apart as I worked on various projects for clients. The green version of the site was redone in various colorways until it was obvious the design would not be adopted. Getting Barry and Ronnie to agree on a cohesive look was challenging.

RB redesign take 2

Finally, it seemed they both agreed on the gold, quadrille pattern on the old site. They both loved that look and wanted to keep it going forward. I have to admit I was disappointed. Perhaps I was a bit jaded. It seemed that pattern dominated the very site that I was running yelling and screaming from. By this time I was feeling a bit of creative burnout on the redesign. Ideas ran the gamut. Screenshot after screenshot was discarded as I sought the right mix of design elements and flexibility to include all of our content. The site needed to be able to grow gracefully. That was a primary focus.

The final take was much simpler than earlier attempts. I went with a warm colorway and pages that were open. Our site has a lot of text and incorporating that into the final design in a way that would not overwhelm the page was crucial. We used sIFR to substitute regular html text with Futura Condensed Medium for titles. The typography itself became a strong design element along with the dark, rich wood texture and the splashes of orange. The mobile site was designed hand in hand with the web site to create a cohesive branding experience.

The new site features our work in bright, lively vignettes, puts our blogs and news at the forefront and features our mobile apps front and center. The new design is expandable and will grow with our needs while capturing and channeling the classic RustyBrick feel.

My favorite page? The 404 of course! http://www.rustybrick.com/404

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3 COMMENTS

posted by Barry Schwartz on: Aug 27, 2009 09:30pm

Yea, I was Mabe's worst client. ;-)

posted by mike on: Aug 27, 2009 11:01pm

Barry - I have so been down that road. Team decided they're doing the redesign without my input now. They've promised to show it to me when it goes live:) Mabe - thanks for the article - it was a fun read. Keep up the great work - you guys have an awesome team!

posted by Barry Schwartz on: Aug 28, 2009 06:04pm

Just a heads up, I shared more screen shots of even older designs at my personal blog at http://www.cartoonbarry.com/2009/08/the_rustybrick_designs_that_di.html