Behind the Site: Firstborn for Dentsu Network

Jul 25, 2011Design

One of the most interesting sites I’ve posted recently on siteInspire is that for the Dentsu Network, designed and developed by New York agency, Firstborn. We catch up with them to find out more about what it took to create the site. — Daniel Howells

In a few sentences, tell us a bit about Firstborn.

Firstborn is a digital agency headquartered in New York City. We are strategists, designers, producers and technologists who share a passion for creating great ideas and translating them into engaging, intelligent and innovative user experiences.

To me, Firstborn have been primarily Flash focused producing hugely visible brand sites. The Dentsu Network site appears to be a change in direction for the agency, adopting CSS3 and HTML5 as the primary technologies use. Is this indicative of a new direction for Firstborn?

We would say it’s indicative of our willingness to use different platforms and technologies to achieve the desired results. Even though we have a long history with Flash, it doesn’t mean it’s always the right solution or that we’re not considering other approaches.

As a team of designers and developers, how are you learning and adapting to the rapid change in the web design landscape?

We do projects and learn through doing. Each project gets better by pushing further each time. We stay up to date on the latest changes little by little so we never get left behind. It’s important to allow for testing, protyping and “playing around.” Most experimenting happens with in projects because it is hard to predict what each project will require.

Tell us more about the Dentsu Network website: how did the project come about?

Firstborn recently became a part of the Dentsu Network. It’s been really great so far—Dentsu Network West is made up of a collection of likeminded companies that offer different things. After adding Firstborn as one of the digital arms of Dentsu, they approached us about creating the site. The entire network will be featured on it.

How do you manage to sell the creative concept to, and manage the expectations of, presumably the many stakeholders of the Dentsu Network?

The site was really a collaborative effort. Because we’re part of the same company, essentially, it felt more like a partnership than an agency presenting to a client. The process was quite enjoyable without a lot of obstacles.

We created a simple presentation of creative concepts and most importantly there was a ton of trust involved with this project. Dentsu Network West was an amazing “client”—they treated us as the experts and let us do our thing.

Could you briefly tell us what Firstborn’s typical process, from concept through to deployment, and what are some of the useful or unusual learnings from the project that you can share with the design/array audience?

The first step is always a discovery phase where we dig into the brand (or business) to determine what makes them (or the product) truly unique. This can involve the client in collaborative brainstorm sessions or be a process that Firstborn takes on and presents findings and concepts back to the client. Once everyone is signed off on the conceptual direction we begin the sitemap and wireframes. For Dentsu Network West, the concept was based around a vertical scrolling HTML experience – a way for us to introduce Dentsu Network West by telling the story of their past, present and future – so we jumped right into design after the initial sitemap phase. From there we move through design, development, content creation and population as well as quality assurance testing before launch.

"This is an iphone photo from a whiteboard sketch of the site layout, which was in turn used for wireframing and site design"

"This was a proof of concept board to show how the site would navigate up/down and left/right. You'll notice that subsections actually move right within the browser, and if you make another navigation selection on the left nav bar you are taken to that main section in the "story". The subnav here is thought of as 'sub-story' off to the right of the main up/down timeline."

For the Dentsu Network site we also took a “launch and then rollout additional content” strategy in order to prevent lingering in the development stage for too long because of heavy content considerations. So, the site will grow with more offices and talent in the coming weeks as well as a custom content management system for easy site management.

Dentsu Network is the most future-obsessed agency network in the world; which means looking to all of the ways people communicate and interact with content digitally. The Dentsu Network West site was built for browsing on a desktop or tablet and a separate mobile version was created to optimize that experience. This also meant taking a progressive enhancement approach where we give the best experience possible to each operating system and format.

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