Nothing is perfect in life…at least that is the way I see things.
A painting is never perfect, or even “finished” for that matter. A song can always use a bit more polishing. A movie always has issues, dull moments, spotty dialogue, and so on.
I’m sure if you approach a creative person, whether it’s a painter, car designer, author, musician, and ask them to critique and dissect their own work, they will surely point out the flaws and tell you just how far from perfect the work really is.
Strive for perfection
But that doesn’t mean they didn’t strive for perfection!
When you are passionate about what you do and you truly want to create something that people are going to react to in a visceral, emotional, or perceptive kind of way, you have to push yourself and the piece that you are creating to be as close to perfection as possible.
Otherwise the audience on the receiving end will see through the cracks and may even come to believe that you really didn’t give it your all.
This notion of striving for perfection is the approach Firstborn takes with our interactive assignments, particularly the ones we feel truly honored to be a part of, as was the case with the Kohn Pedersen Fox website that we launched in October 2005.
However, as I noted above, nothing is ever perfect and this project certainly had its share of imperfections.
What exactly is perfect?
Yet what is perfect, and for that matter, what constitutes an imperfection?
Is something that is beautifully designed considered perfect? Can the most elegant and efficient action scripting be considered perfect? If a site launches on schedule does that mean it is perfect?
Of course not. From a sheer production standpoint, given that I’m an interactive producer and not a designer, I look at the term perfect in a different way.
My interests go well beyond the surface level (design/flash) and deep into the engagement as a whole.
For me, some of the slightest, most trivial things are considered imperfections in my book.
Delays in the production schedule, tweaks to designs that may or may not be warranted, miscommunication on our end, bending too far for the client, not explaining things clearly, and so on.
All in all, each project has imperfections that can be attributed to both the production team and the client, and that is just the way it goes.
Attention to detail
When people view the KPF website I hope that they are impressed by the level of detail that went into building this beast. The fluid transitions, the utilitarian framework, the expressive enlarged views of the rich photography, the overall precision and tactile feel, and so on.
Yet given that the end user can truly only see the surface of the website, and have no understanding or insight as to what went on behind the scenes, it is inevitable that they can’t truly fathom what it took to get this site off the ground.
Behind the scenes
For starters, Firstborn was lucky enough to win this assignment by being selected over three other high profile firms (one of which was much larger and legendary) in August 2004, over a year before the site officially launched.
We anticipated and planned for a 4 month production schedule (note: imperfection #1). This was a project we really wanted to sink our teeth into as we were thrilled to be working on an architecture site and we truly were enamored by the creative nature of KPF in general.
We saw eye to eye with this client and they pushed us to create something special for their new web presence.
The discovery phase
After embarking on a “discovery phase” in both New York and in London, a phase in which we conducted nearly two dozen interviews in an effort to gain consensus on the goals for the assignment from a marketing, creative, technical and maintenance standpoint, Firstborn’s creative team went to work on the creation of three unique design directions, while our technical team started laying out the groundwork for the robust administration tool we were building.
Once we presented our design directions, and the client was genuinely pleased with our thought process and creativity, we rejoiced a bit and felt really good about our accomplishments thus far.
We were all under the impression that Vas Sloutchevsky’s “level-based” design was very strong, detailed, well thought-out, and something that had not been seen before in the architectural website space.
Yet little did we know some of those pesky imperfections were about to rear their ugly heads.
Our client needed to review the design directions with a large portion of their team, both in New York and London, and together we determined that Firstborn did not need to be present at these review sessions (note: imperfection #2).
In actuality, we should have insisted on being at all creative reviews, but given we were dealing with a highly creative and detail driven architecture firm, we thought they’d thoroughly understand the reasons why we selected particular fonts (faces and sizes) as well as some of the other finite details in our designs.
After a few weeks of internal reviews which pushed back our production schedule (note: imperfection #3), we were told that they’ve made their selection and have chosen the direction that we all were in favor of moving forward with (Vas’ direction); however, as always, certain things needed to be addressed.
Imperfections #4,5,6 and 7
And so began the back and forth of pixel pushing, font changing, bounding box pixel width shrinking, and an endless string of emails explaining what a pixel font was, why it was necessary, and why the point size could not be enlarged (note: chalk these up as imperfections #4, 5, 6 and 7).
While this was a collaborative exercise in an attempt to make this site as perfect as possible, it did take its toll on not only the creative design for the site, but our production schedule as well, which was now a few weeks behind schedule (this always tends to happen when there is not a hard launch date that needs to be hit).
The funny thing is, all of this was going down right around this time last year, and then the project came to a grinding halt. The content wasn’t ready (note: imperfection #8).
Working openly with the client, we decided to stop production on the assignment for a specified amount of time in order for them to garner all of the content necessary to complete the production of the site (over 50 projects and over 500 corresponding images).
Once everything was handed over, it became apparent that there were forms of content, and ideas about how this content was going to be displayed, that wasn’t entirely in harmony with our design structure and approach to the user experience.
Yet, the client had a point and we had to make slight modifications to our design in order to accommodate some (not all) of these items (note: imperfection #9).
At this point Spring was quickly approaching and we were pushing hard for a late March launch date.
Imperfections #10 through debugging
All of the content had been inputted into our CMS (every stitch of text and every image can be edited, removed, reordered, etc. via our admin tools) and we spent weeks on debugging the site, and let me tell you, there were some nasty bugs (note: imperfections #10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18…you get the picture).
Hand over and launch dates
We wrapped the site up in a pretty little bow and handed it off to our client, who by now felt as though they were a part of our team.
Weeks passed. Emails were sent regarding the status of the launch. “Soon” we were told. End of April. Wait. 4th of July. Hold on…management needs to approve all the copy and images (didn’t this happen in February when you sent over all of the content?).
August 1 became the new launch date. Great! We start getting excited and even told our friends at FWA that we’ve got a cool site coming their way.
Not so fast.
London goes on holiday in August.
OK…September 1st sounds good to us…almost a year to the date of when we officially started the engagement.
Hang on…something is wrong with a couple areas of the site….the client can’t update the intro paragraphs in job listings.
More testing and debugging. Fixed. Launch it already.
Still ready for launch
The site was quickly becoming old news and it hadn’t even seen the light of day yet.
We got word from our client….they are just changing out two of the case studies and then it will launch.
It’s now October 10th.
Will this thing ever launch?
And then it happened…it went live. Like a shuttle into outer space. October 26th, 2005, almost 14 months from when we first stepped foot into KPF’s New York office.
Everyone in the Firstborn office in Hell’s Kitchen breathed a sigh of relief so loud that our KPF colleagues could almost hear it on the corner of 57th and 6th.
After what appeared to be a never ending project, we launched a site that was as close to perfect as we could have made it. And you know what; we love it, imperfections and all.
Things in life are never perfect and once you come to terms with this you can learn to appreciate things for what they are.
Schedules shift and change, client’s may not love your selection of font choices and modifications may need to be made, perfectly proportioned boxes and lines may need to be adjusted or even removed, and promised launch dates change so frequently that you might begin to think that all of your hard work will never be realized.
Maybe it is perfect?
But then you take a step back and think about what you accomplished for yourself and your client, and you start sharing it with your friends and colleagues.
Sure enough, people begin to respond to it and they sing your praise.
You hear things like “that site is some hot shit,” and “that site is really inspiring and it makes me want to push my designs further,” and “looks perfect, great navigation, really nice” and my personal favorite “it’s the tits.”
And then you say to yourself, maybe it is perfect?
About the Author, Jeremy Berg
Jeremy Berg is the Executive Producer for Firstborn Multimedia. In August 2005 Jeremy relocated to Los Angeles to head-up their new west coast office.
He has produced numerous award-winning projects for Firstborn over the course of the past three years, including:
Roth Time, and many others.
While he misses New York he is encouraged about the prospect of building a thriving operation in Los Angeles and has already launched two high-profile sites in a short amount of time.