When visiting the new Wedgwood UK website, you could be forgiven for disbelieving this is a company that dates all the way back to 1759. Staggering it may be to see a brand over 250 years old, embracing and flourishing within the modern web age, but that’s exactly the point.
All of that illustrious heritage and trust is truly a rare commodity, however Wedgwood must still find ways of communicating that to a modern audience. This is the core story behind this illustrious redesign and provides a fascinating partnership between the old and the new. The latter is represented here by Poole-based digital design agency Folk and its forward-thinking team, tasked with making www.wedgwood.co.uk more contemporary.
So why them? Why place such a delicate brand in Folk’s hands? Well, firstly, any aficionados of the heady world of ceramic craft will tell you they have the benefit of local experience. Poole has its own claim to significant fame within that field, with Poole Pottery still going strong at its quayside studio. Add to this Folk’s own penchant for projects spanning high-craft and boutique fashion brands and it makes a whole lot of sense. Browsing the agency’s own online portfolio you get a strong sense of theme and style that informs the working partnerships they have enjoyed.
A relaunch campaign
With Royal Albert pottery, Waterford Crystal and indeed Wedgwood’s equally famous sister brand Royal Doulton on the books it’s fair to say Folk are no strangers to a refined client base. Over a series of initial ‘kick-off’ meetings, Wedgwood set out its aspirational vision for relaunching its homeware range for a 2013 market – and you could say the designers got cracking. So let’s hear in their own words how the site was conceived and developed, along with who the team involved might invite to their very own fantasy Wedgwood tea party.
“When we first got the call from Wedgwood, we were hugely excited. They explained their digital vision for this wonderful heritage brand and it was in line with everything we believe at Folk”, begins the project manager Jon Syrett.
“We loved the fact that they were ready to fully embrace the possibilities online for their brand and had the courage to go with that.” This initial excitement quickly moved into a phase of briefings where both sets of stakeholders from each party could agree on the project ahead. “First up was the internal kick-off,” continues Jon. “This was a chance for our co-founder Paul to hand over the project to the delivery team. This was a very detailed meeting and was the job of the Producer to make sure all of the client’s aims and aspirations were detailed. Next up was the client kick-off meeting where we attempted to instil confidence in our ability to deliver exactly what they expected and what their business required.”
Once this common ground for the project had been established, the two parties would be happy to move on to the creative stuff and get the designers involved. However, as with any working collaboration between two business teams, this early close-knit approach would need to continue for the duration as Jon elaborates: “Our relationship with our clients is hugely important to us. We will have lots of questions throughout the process, as will our clients. If we are going to deliver a website that everyone loves then we need to make sure the channels of communication remain open for the full lifetime of the project and beyond. At Folk, we take a very holistic approach to a project as complex as this, so while there are two parties, we had to work together very closely and think of it like a partnership rather than a transactional relationship.”
Crucially, the prior experience Folk had on similar projects with similar clients was fruitful in anticipating the level of creative interaction they would have to have with Wedgwood. “We have a huge amount of in-house expertise running large eCommerce sites and we consider every element – not just the design and functionality. Once this very close immersion phase is satisfied we then move into a more goal-oriented methodology, but at no point do we lose the personal touch. All of our clients receive a weekly update first by email, then by phone. The purpose of these updates is for the project/account management team to explain current progress and to highlight any critical items needed for the next few weeks. These meetings are set up as an open forum where any client stakeholders can join and ask questions. Outside of these structured meetings, our account management team is always on hand to answer client questions and to request information needed by the delivery team.”
Moving on to the next phase, it became design director Tom Wittlin’s turn to guide the front-end production work. As they were dealing with such a total transformation for the Wedgwood brand the creative reins were off when it came to pre-existing style guidelines. It was therefore very much a learning process for both parties in terms of what worked visually. “I led the design on the project from our end,” admits Tom. “I spent most of my time with Wedgwood’s Brand director trying various approaches to get the look and feel right on the overall creative direction. I always feel it’s important to give everything and anything a go at early stages so we had a full spectrum of outright bonkers ideas through to plain and efficient.”
An experimental approach to selling a traditional product
This all-out and fairly experimental approach would pay dividends in setting a wider, general tone but would also make no concessions when it came to detail. The site’s look should at no point clash with an already visually engaging product and by keeping it clutter-free the hope was to improve usability.
“Every aspect was considered in depth; from the highlights in the mega menu, to the thickness of the footer divide,” Tom explains. “Minimalism was key. Owing to the multitude of stunning, colourful patterns on the products, it was vital that the design of the website didn’t get in the way. It had to be easy to use, but behave in such a way that the products took centre stage. Buttons became less obtrusive, and we hid a lot of things until you interact with it. Once we established a final look we were happy with in type, colour, calls to action, etc, we took it back in-house where the design team put together page layouts for desktop, tablet and mobile.”
On the flipside, when it came to the development phase, the overarching mantra was scalability, scalability and scalability. With anywhere between two and eight developers working on the project at any given time, the team also had to apply tried and wwwed internal working procedures to overcome the inevitable logistical hurdles. “One of our main focuses during the project lifecycle from a development point of view was scalability, so all development was carried out with this in mind,” explains James Aindow, lead developer. “This included everything from code through to our server environments and deployment procedures. Within that I would say one of the biggest challenges was the number of moving parts involved within the project.”
Those moving parts would go beyond merely supporting the site’s feature-rich and responsive front-end, but also seamless integration with marketing software and indeed Wedgwood’s bi-directional stock management system. Not only this but a number of the third-party requirements demanded strict compliance to be adhered to, so Folk were frequently required to rewrite core Magento functionality in order to meet these standards – as well as provide lots of customisations that allowed Wedgwood’s stock management system interface with the site. Another important requirement with the integration, as well as with the site in general, was speed. As Magento developers, we are always required to perform standard optimisations to Magento in order to make the site production ready.
Optimise, optimise, optimise!
However, due to the rate of communication required by the stock management system in order to efficiently process orders etc. we needed to find new ways in order to improve performance both overall as well as with the integration itself. This involved a large amount of benchmarking and reporting in order to identify potential bottlenecks in performance and, once identified, optimising processes in order to reach our final speed targets.”
Talking of final targets, every website redesign project has to have a final deadline and this one was no exception. Although as with most, it isn’t fulfilled by simply ‘FTP-ing’ the finished site, shaking hands and walking away – certianly not here. Folk advocate and offer a far smoother handover and, although Wedgwood’s new site is now live, the agency is still at hand for fine-tuning. “There was a clear line at the end of development and wwwing where we handed over the website to the Wedgwood team to allow them to fully www and get to know their site”, says digital producer, Andrew Treadwell.
“From that moment onwards, the client had full access to their site and we morph from builders into caretakers and managers. We offer a standard period of warranty from launch date within which we are working with Wedgwood to address niggles raised by us, them and their customers. We’re currently in a cycle of releasing small weekly bug fixes and improvements. Additionally we offer a full 24/7 Service Level Agreement ensuring that we always have a highly skilled team on standby, including senior developers and highly experienced systems administrators. This team ensures that the site always functions as expected and can react to any of the automated monitoring running on our live websites.” So, if Wedgwood was after a website that could sustain the company for a further 250 years, it seems safe to say it looks like they got it.