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Happy Cog redesigns AIGA

How do you redesign the flagship site of the professional association for designers? Very carefully.

If you develop green technologies, you dream of selling your idea to Al Gore. If you run a design agency, you fantasize about winning AIGA as a client. Originally founded as the American Institute of Graphic Arts, AIGA sets the agenda for design as a profession, an art, and a political and cultural phenomenon. In the world of design, at least in the U.S., there is nothing higher.

When AIGA approached Happy Cog to redesign their site, we figured we had no chance at all. With nothing to lose, we spoke bluntly.

We told them they had fifteen years of great content that nobody could find. We suggested that an emerging class of designers who needed what AIGA had to offer did not know AIGA and could not connect with its web presence. The site could do more, and had to do more, to reach these users. We said AIGA’s site above all others should make brilliant use of typography. It should be a joy to read—and it was not.

I reckoned AIGA would hire a more obviously design-focused shop. “Designy design” agencies is how I think of such places, and I mean no disrespect by it. AIGA would, I figured, shrug off our fairly harsh words and choose someone more agreeable. Instead, they hired us.

Months of intense collaboration later, Happy Cog’s redesign of AIGA has launched. We junked the old structure, flattened the hierarchy, and surfaced the content. We gave the site’s years of brilliant writing by the likes of Ellen Lupton and Steven Heller an appropriately readable home—one that demonstrates what web typography can achieve.

And to make the site as inspirational as it is educational, we introduced a second narrative to the user experience: dynamically chosen selections from AIGA’s design archives visually intrude at the top of every page, inviting designers to dive into the archives whenever they seek refreshment.

AIGA’s Ric Grefé, Denise Wood, Liz Danzico, and Kelly McLaughlin guided us throughout the process. They are brilliant collaborators. Chicago’s Thirdwave created the robust and sophisticated back-end architecture required to support our detailed and unusual design requirements.

Thousands of pages of old content, none of it semantically marked up, and none of it structured to match our new requirements, have been fairly seamlessly integrated into the new design. Naturally there are still some bugs (not to mention validation hiccups) to work out. AIGA, Thirdwave, and Happy Cog will be working to patch these little bumps in the days ahead.

I creative directed the project, but its quality is purely due to the incredible team that worked on it:

More information is available at Happy Cog and on Jason’s and Dan’s sites. Better still, just dive into the new AIGA.org.

[tags]aiga, design, redesigns, webdesign, happycog[/tags]

By Jeffrey Zeldman

“King of Web Standards”—Bloomberg Businessweek.

Principal & Creative Director, Automattic, Inc. Founder & Publisher, A List Apart. Co-founder, An Event Apart design conference. Publisher & co-founder, A Book Apart—brief books for people who design, write, and code. Have written two books, notably Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Edition. Faculty, MFA, Interaction Design program, School of Visual Arts, NY. Host, The Big Web Show. But what I really want to do is direct.