Way back in 2008, when Modernista! launched a new version of their website, I was blown away. It was such a simple idea, but it was daring and revolutionary. And it generated a ton of buzz. The site was super-simple, just a navigation layer that connected live Modernista-related pages from sites including Flickr, Wikipedia, YouTube and Google News. It’s embrace of Web 2.0 concepts startled some, but it positioned the agency as innovative and creatively engaged with the web and its possibilities. It also spawned a knockoff, Britnista, and a ripoff, Skittles (story and reactions).
A year later, in 2009, the website for Crispin Porter + Bogusky (CP+B) took a related, but more managed and controlled approach. The site places Twitter and news feeds, unedited, into their site, within a layout they manage, along with additional content they select. What’s particularly interesting is that they do this on every page. So, on the home page you see feed items that mention CP+B. On client/portfolio pages you see feed items that mention the client. For an agency that’s trying to engage audiences and change opinions about their clients, it’s a great put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is approach.
After a little sleuthing, I discovered that Tim Blount was involved in the design of both sites. So, I thought it’d be interesting to ask him a few questions…
Q: The Modernista! site was a pretty radical change from the sites they had in the past. How did the project get started? Was the site driven by a top-down desire to look at Web 2.0 ideas, or was it a bottom-up, “look at what’s possible,” project?
At Modernista! we had a tradition of updating our website every year. (The archives are still up at www.modernista.com/1, /2, etc.). The style of those sites gave M! the outward appearance of a band of mysterious, avant-garde and irreverent cultural artists, and we liked it that way. Lance Jensen and Gary Koepke were (as always) the driving force behind that agency culture. The first rule of M! was that you didn’t talk about M! — we let our work and our website speak for itself.
All that being said, the idea for the site began as a simple content management system. I had been the Flash developer on the 3 previous years’ sites, leading up to 2007, and I had the job of updating all the site content. As the agency grew and our time for internal projects shrunk, it became harder to keep up the pace of a new site every year. I developed the nav unit as a way for us to have a simple CMS that we could overlay on top of literally anything we wanted. I wanted to give us the freedom to have a traditional website (with the standard work/press/contact stuff) but then at the same time use the bottom frame to show off our artsy, weird side. We could have a new website every day if we felt like it.
I began developing the site in summer ’07 as an experiment. That year was really when social media started catching fire in the ad world. We were constantly trying to find ways to push our clients into the social space and urging transparency and “joining the conversation.” The idea for building our site using social media really grew out of the notion to use ourselves as an example for our clients. I thought it would be a big statement coming from us, who had prided ourselves on being so mysterious and esoteric, to completely pull a 180 and dive right into the social web.
Q: What was your role on the site?
I was very fortunate to have complete trust from the leadership at Modernista! and was able to see the project through from the conceptual stage to design (what little there was) to development (with some help from more experienced coders) to managing all the social media accounts. We were a small agency so I was used to performing a lot of roles on interactive projects.
Q: The site got a pretty strong reaction from people when it launched. Did you expect such a response?
Gary and Lance knew we had something big as soon as they saw the first prototype of the site. We all loved that it was more than just a tactic, but an art piece as well. At its best, I like to think that it made an undeniable statement about our industry and about the changing media landscape. Most people who liked it just thought it was a cool way to make a website. Most people who didn’t like it thought it had already been done in some other way (for the record, I had never seen any of the sites those people referenced).
The most interesting response to me was the saga that unraveled on Wikipedia. There was a big debate going on there about whether or not we were using the site responsibly. Our intention was always to let Wikipedia be Wikipedia — for better or worse, so I didn’t see a problem as long as we kept our own hands off of the article itself. The whole point of the site was to allow our brand to be defined by the web community.
Q: Why the move from Modernista! to CP+B?
I was recruited by CP+B about a month before the Modernista! site launched. I had always admired their interactive work and the opportunity to work with the great people and great brands here was too good to pass up.
Q: There’s definitely a similar embrace of the online community in the CP+B site. How did that site come about?
A few months after I started at CP+B I was in on the brief for the new site and Matt Walsh (our Executive Director of Experience Design) started out the meeting with, “Has anyone seen the Modernista! site?” I raised my hand 🙂
The impetus behind the CP+B site was similar to M! in that our strategy was to take advantage of social media, but the reason behind the strategy is different. CP+B’s mission is to create work that’s talked about, written about and ultimately has the ability to change culture, so the site is a buzz monitor that proves our success. Modernista.com was more an experiment in radical transparency.
I think I’m credited as an AD on the CP+B site, but at the end of the day, this site was Alex Bogusky’s baby. It was mainly his vision that came through in the final product — as both a site to show our work and impact on culture and a tool for our clients to see how their brand is being shaped every day on the social web.
Q: In general, what sort of projects do you like working on?
Day to day, I’m still trying to find fun new ways for our clients to break into people’s lives and be participants in culture on and off the web. We’re always trying to push the boundaries of media and technology here at CP+B and that’s what I love most about the work.
Thanks for you time, Tim!