Putting Some Heart Back Into the Web

August 26, 2009

Boerne Wild West Day is hands-down my new favorite website. The thing that really set this project apart for all of us was the high amount of creative freedom we were granted and the strong level of enthusiasm that followed. For "creatives," hearing the words "do whatever you want" is like unwrapping that amazing gift you really wanted but didn't think you'd get on Christmas morning. I imagine it's how a hair stylist must feel when a client goes in and tells them they have no idea what kind of hair cut they want, but that they trust them, and to "go to town" on their hair. Sometimes you just need to trust your stylist.

Ideation and Design

Because we were given less creative direction than usual, brainstorming was more important than ever. One of the first design elements we knew we wanted to incorporate was a high-res, full-width background image. I had been admiring a design article called 80 Large Background Websites for a while, and we quickly realized the BWWD event venue, Enchanted Springs Ranch, was chock-full of some pretty incredible architecture. The western movie set would be perfect for our background, but only if we used the right images.

Our designer, Andrew (who's coincidentally an avid photographer), has recently been hyping HDR photography. He's captured some stunning images with this technique and thought it would suit our subject well. So off he sent our resourceful and intelligent summer intern, Mr. Robert Kuykendall, to Enchanted Springs Ranch after a crash course in HDR.

Robert returned from the ranch with some terrific shots, and we were able to start editing the images in such a way that Andrew could arrange the buildings for a background that would fill even the widest of monitors. I've documented a condensed version of the process below:

The background image served as the starting point for the remainder of the design. The website has a definite "western vibe" without the hokeyness often accompanying western themes.

Building the Nooks and Crannies

I find that writing about the development portion of projects comes much less naturally for me. This fact irks me because coding is my job. It's what I love. But, the reality of the matter is that code just isn't as sexy as design. You can't see the code ... not on a site's surface, at least. And even if you could, you wouldn't understand it.

But as an "internet surfer" you do see it! It's the things that make a site stand out. Many times, well-written code is what gives a site its cool factor. It might just be you're not aware those zippy effects you see in your day-to-day web-browsing experiences are buried deep inside external JQuery & PHP files.

What I do want to point out about the Boerne Wild West Day site is the use of image hovers, image maps, and cycling content. Did you notice the boot in the logo gradually lightens and the buttons in the sidebar seem to "glow" when you move your mouse over them? It might seem like a small detail, but it's those kinds of things (if used in moderation) that make a site special. Pay attention to those things. Somebody worked hard on making them happen.

Brainstorm Freely

In April, I attended a lecture at Trinity University (my alma mater) by British comedian, John Cleese. He spoke primarily on the fact that humans are creative by nature—even the people who think they're not. Speaking to a packed house, he said, "Don't treat your brain like a computer; it's much more interesting than a computer." And I couldn't agree more. I hope visitors to BoerneWildWestDay.com get a sense of the enthusiasm and the heart that went into the site. I think the event will be pretty great as well.