Our first website turns 10

As another year begins, it’s natural to look back and reflect. And it just so happens that 2013 marks the 10-year anniversary of Imaginuity Interactive under its current leadership. I could wax on about the lessons learned, the roller coaster that is starting your own business, and the awards we’ve collected over the years.

I’d like to look back at the very first project we completed as a company way back when, the Nasher Sculpture Center website. Over these past 10 years it has become abundantly clear clients who appreciate the significance and power of digital end up with the most successful projects. But we’ll save that for another blog.

The Nasher Sculpture Center was nearing completion and generating national excitement. The center needed a dynamic website to launch with the opening. Imaginuity CEO Corbett Guest and I were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with Raymond Nasher on a few occasions to discuss his vision of the museum and sculpture garden. And thus was my first experience  with a client who, though in his 70s at the time, had the foresight to understand the importance of the online space. Mr. Nasher’s challenge to us was twofold: build an online presence that reflected the spirit of the physical museum, as well as provide the audience with unique ways in which to experience sculpture.

Merging experiences: museum and website

The solution for portraying the physical museum was to weave the unique architectural features of the sculpture center designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano into the framing device, the skin, of the website, while featuring the work inside the framework. This would mirror the relationship of the art to the building.

  • We incorporated the curve of the ceilings into the navigation masthead.
  • We took photography samples from dozens of textures onsite and used them throughout the website, whether it be travertine marble or the species of grass used in the garden.

A challenge when building a museum for sculpture is creating a space that is appropriate for the work. Sculpture is created to be seen in an indoor or outdoor setting. Rarely both. Depending on the materials used some works can only be shown indoors. Others are entirely too large to fit inside a modest sized building. To solve this Mr. Piano had to create an indoor setting for the interior works, and a connecting garden to showcase the outdoor work.

Interiors and exteriors, online

For the site, we solved this by building a tabbed system near the bottom of the page with two settings. “Go Inside” and “Go Outside.” Depending on which was selected, the setting of the home page would change to take the user inside or out. This was necessary so that the indoor and outdoor works could be scaled properly to their surroundings, which would help give the viewer an immediate sense of the size of the artwork.

We took it one step further and had the art start from a distance and then brought it closer to the user through fading the piece in and out. This again mimicked the experience somewhat, allowing the audience to see the full size of the work in relation to its surroundings before seeing it more closely.

Allowing the viewer to really study the sculpture online proved a lot more difficult. Sculpture is different from painting in that one isn’t looking at a flat, dimensionless work. Sculpture uses scale, materials, texture, and detail in ways painting does not. We needed tools to allow the user to experience these attributes.

The year was 2003. And while Flash wasn’t brand new, it was still in its infancy. We knew, however, that at the time the only way to build what we had envisioned was through Flash. The problem was we had no one on staff who knew the software, and there was no Lynda.com-esque online training resources at the time.

So we rolled up our sleeves and learned while we built.


Site tools from scratch

The tools we created sounded simple enough. The first was a detail-specific tool, which allowed users to move a small box over the image of a sculpture, which then enlarged the contents of the box in a frame to the right of the artwork. At the time this wasn’t being done anywhere online. You can now find this type of tool on almost any retail site [What can I say? I have a thing for Little Black Dresses.]

The second tool was a zoom feature. Again, it seems rudimentary now, but at the time was again revolutionary. And like the detail feature, the zoom is now used by dozens of museum websites.

The site was received with great accolades. We won some awards for the site, including the Communication Arts Site of the Week, which funny enough doesn’t archive prior to 2006. [Trust me. We really did win.]

Of course, 10 years is an eternity for a website. Most sites have a shelf life of three years or less now, and that’s optimistic. But when I look back at the Nasher site, I’m impressed with how it has stood the test of time. Sure its heavy use of Flash won’t work on the Apple iPad and iPhone devices.

This site was built four years BEFORE the debut of the original iPhone. And the site was built to be seen on a 800×600 resolution monitor, which at the time was the most used monitor size. Now it looks a bit small on most of our monitors.

However, regarding concept and design, I believe it remains contemporary. As digital professionals, that’s one of our golden rules. Whether it’s a logo, brochure, website or packaging, the goal is to create a solution that remains timeless, never trendy.

When I look back at the Nasher site, I think we have fulfilled that requirement.

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