I’m fresh back from New Zealand where I took part in FullCodePress, a knock down, drag out, web design competition to make a website for a charity in 24 hours.
The competition was put on by the wonderful folks at Webstock and pitted teams from New Zealand, Australia, and the US against one another. Our teams were each paired with a charity, who was only revealed when the competition started. From there, each team took whatever assets the client brought along (all in various states of completion, or, uh, viability); copy, photos, and loads of information, to make a complete functioning website in a single day. Whatever the case, we were tasked with giving them something to be proud of, and a way to reach their given audiences.
Team USA storms the halls in the wee hours of the morning, both as an intimidation tactic and a means to fight off sleep. Actually, this was just one of our hourly coffee runs.
Our client was the Timaru Mental Health Support Trust, a mental health drop-in centre at the Victoria House in the south island that provides wellness programmes to people with mental illnesses. Our clients, Willian and Garbux, from the Victoria House were amazing; they weren’t that knowledgeable about what the web could offer them and didn’t have an existing website, but we’re completely open to collaborating with us and trying out some new approaches. Mental illness is a difficult topic to discuss and to depict, we knew we had a tremendous amount of work cut out for us from the get-go.
Luckily, I was fortunate enough to be on a team with some absurdly smart people: Jennifer Bove as project manager, Liz Danzico as user experience advocate/information architect, Karen McGrane as content strategist, Dan Mall as front-end coder, John Ford as programmer (as well as arm wrestling champ!), and myself as designer. We bought every American flag we could find in Wellington, and were ready to kick some ass.
Ready, Steady, Go!
I won’t talk too much about the process, Dan and Liz already did a good job of that, but will just say that things went surprisingly smoothly. Given the time constraints, any traditional process wouldn’t do, we were all doing work concurrently because we couldn’t sit around waiting for different phases to finish. Luckily, everyone on our team was so sharp that it just worked.
For my part, I was responsible for the website design. Our client had a somewhat confusing name, and one that most of their patrons never used anyway, so we renamed them the “Victoria House” and prepared a new logo. You can see a video of me here talking through their old logo and the new proposed direction. We brought some of their imagery to the forefront to put a human face to the Victoria House, and managed to work some colors from a print brochure into the site.
We rewrote much of their copy, gave the site a simple and flexible architecture, and some really tight markup. One of my favorite bits happened on the backend: we completely overhauled their events calendar, which is one of their largest forms of outreach, previously done as a intense Excel spreadsheet printed handout. We moved them into Google Calendar and set WordPress up to pull the contents of the calendar in and associate them with unique pages for the various events. Now they’re able to update one calendar and use it for the web or print.
The Long Haul
At the end of the 24 hours, hopped up on coffee and adrenaline, we somehow had a complete website (you can see the dev site here). Obviously, we weren’t able to do everything we wanted, but what we were able to accomplish in that time will make a tremendous difference to the Victoria House.
I am extremely proud of the work we did, and of the opportunity to work alongside some of the smartest folks I’ve met. The end results (from all three teams), were nothing short of amazing. And the effect of these three charities getting good, clean, functional websites to further their causes can not be overstated.
We may not have won, but the clients certainly did, and that was the most important competition of all in my mind; beating back the worries of money and time to deliver something truly good to truly good people. I remain humbled and enlightened by the entire experience, and wish all three clients the best of luck for the future.
Thanks to Mike Brown, Tash Hall Lampard, and all of the wonderful Webstock people. You did an amazing job organizing, covering the event (tons of great photos, videos, and blog posts), and keeping us all awake and caffeinated. New Zealand remains of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, just chock full of kind people, and every Webstock event is one for the history books. Congrats to the talented teams from New Zealand and Australia, and everyone involved, I won’t forget this experience anytime soon.
Also: I’m having complete flat white withdrawal.