We decided about 18 months ago to create a new kind of website here at Hammock.com. As individuals, we were using lots of new online media approaches and technology — and were incorporating them into work we were doing for clients. Our site, while attractive, was not a reflection of where we are — as a company or as individuals. So we headed into a new direction.
[After the jump, read more about how Hammock.com is evolving.]
Early on in the process, we decided this: Hammock.com will never be a finished product. Its design and features are not set in stone — actually, they’re not set even in paper. So what you see today may not be what you see in six months. We still have a long list of ideas of features, content, resources and information we are planning and working on. Our company’s services are expanding and we’ve already started developing new parts of the site that will support those new endeavors.
Despite having no end in site, having our new approach up and running for a few months has given us the time and experience necessary to affirm some of our long-held beliefs and to — by being our own nightmare client, at times — learn from our mistakes.
Here are just some of the lessons we’re learning:
1. The desire to do everything gets in the way of doing anything: This can be seen everywhere from an over-designed page to a section of a website that looks good on the edges but lacks any depth.
2. There is no way to discover if something works or not — without doing it: We’ve tried some things that appeared to be no-brainers that have failed miserably.
3. When you can pull off something technically that matches up with your philosophy, only two or three people may ever notice, but they’re the ones who matter: This site would have been way easier to create if we’d have used more conventional content-management software and approaches typically applied to a site of this scale. However, we were committed to developing the site using easily available — and mostly open-source — software and techniques. Because we took the trouble and time to do this during the development phase, we now have a site that every employee can contribute to in their own, unique way. And we’ve developed approaches and processes that, while enterprise sturdy, are comparatively inexpensive to other alternatives.
4. By choosing to view Hammock.com as a work in progress, we freed ourselves from having to get it perfect the first time: Or the second or third time, for that matter. Just today, we’ve reworked several navigational issues we found were bothering us. On a few pages, we discovered we were saying the same thing in three places. We were trying to help visitors by giving them several options to find what they were seeking. But in doing so, we were confusing them with too many options.
5. We believe in teamwork, but sometimes a designer’s got to design and an editor’s got to edit and a programmer’s got to program: The nature of our work — media development — requires a lot of individual talent, but also the skills and processes necessary to blend the work of those talented individuals into products requiring high levels of collaboration. When developing a complex online project, one of the keys to success is knowing when to collaborate and when to let an individual execute something solo.