Mon 16 Aug
Well-respected online information architecture magazine Boxes and Arrows announced an open redesign contest last month, the deadline for which was extended until just this morning. I found this out last Friday, when my Behavior colleague, Chris Fahey, suggested that we try to put together a submission.
Initially, I resisted the idea of taking part in this, mostly because of all the work that it was going to involve. The I.A. documents they provided were appropriately high-level for an audience of devoted, would-be contestants ready to finesse every little detail for themselves. For me, on the other hand, they were sufficiently lacking in detail that I knew it would take me a huge chunk of my weekend to sift through all the brain challenges required to get a coherent set of comprehensives designed.
Still, I somehow found myself blocking out my Sunday afternoon for just this purpose. In the early afternoon, I got on the horn and on instant messenger with Chris, and we tried to make sense of the chunk of work before us. We started out basically from scratch, trying to develop a new set of wireframes that would address the interface with a much higher level of specificity and provide a blueprint for the three comps we had to do, all the while trading them over the ether to compare notes. Around 05:00p, we were ready to start pushing pixels in Photoshop, and aside from some breaks for food, we pretty much continued right up until 05:00a the next morning.
It was a back-breaking process, as I literally hit the sack just before dawn with pains up and down my spine from the egregiously poor ergonomics of my home workstation. But it was fun, too; I was having a good time and feeling incredibly productive — in the zone, so to speak. Throughout all fourteen hours of it, I never found myself particularly tired or felt that I was dragging along, most of which I can attribute to feeling incredibly enthusiastic about the work we were doing.
I’m pretty happy with the final product, which can be seen here below and also, thanks to Chris’s early morning industriousness, with annotations directly overlaying the designs on this extranet. To me, anyway, they look like a compelling online magazine, though I’m not sure we’ve got a particularly stellar chance to win. In the scheme of all possible solutions, ours has to rank among the most conservative.
This is mostly due to the fact that we tried to put forward a proposal that would require the absolute minimum in alterations to the Boxes and Arrows editorial workflow (if any at all), something that I think is very important to a volunteer-run magazine. We also made a conscious effort to preserve the existing Boxes and Arrows brand as much as possible, extending it rather than subverting it.
It’s difficult, from the contest announcement, to get a good idea of whether this is what the magazine’s staff is looking for. I hope it is — even if they don’t pick ours, I still hope they’re thinking along these lines, because, in my estimation, it’s the shortest, most efficient and most productive path to successfully redesign Boxes and Arrows.