Friday, March 6, 2009

Special Weekend Edition - Case Study

Introduce yourself and your project.
My name is Nicole Kuhnlein. I am an interactive producer at McKinney in Durham N.C. We just launched our new website,

What were the goals for the new site?

McKinney is all about reinvention and the site is a perfect example of this.

First and foremost, we needed to figure out our audience, so we focused on our three key users: future clients, future employees and new business recruiters. From there we realized the unique goals for each type of user and defined our functionality around their needs. For example, as a prospective employee you would want to know what the space looks like. You’d also want to know what the people are like. We went above and beyond the ordinary to present photos and videos of our space and videos of our employees. Of course, all three user personas would want to see the work, so we created a filtered view of the work to allow for a custom sort depending on the user’s needs.

We built the site for scalability through a custom content management system as well. We considered our needs well into the future so we don’t have to refresh the site all too often.

Where did you guys get your inspiration for the new site?

We were inspired by so many things! We found fun navigational examples on European architecture websites and full screen video on Nike’s website and various FWA sites of the day. We also wanted to fix some wrongs from our last site, like making sure the back button returns visitors to the last page within a Flash site and deep linking URLs, which allows users to drill down to exact pieces of content.

We created the “confessional videos” as a way to showcase our awesome McKinneyites. In these videos we candidly answer some pretty random questions! This wasn’t an original requirement, but something that organically occurred amidst everything else. It’s a true slice of who we are, where we come from and what we stand for. We’ve organized them on the site by the question–i.e. “Any advice for a new hire?” See it here:

What story were you trying to tell with the new website?
The story is pretty straightforward: build a beautiful site that showcases our work, our people and what we believe in, all while focusing on the importance of having true conversations. All of the specifics around that story make up a great interactive showcase: Flash and Papervision working together seamlessly, full screen high-definition video quality and full screen print images with zoom in/zoom out features and a bot that we endearingly have named the conversation engine (CE) with over 5,000 custom questions and responses about McKinney. The CE answers questions and navigates users to the most pertinent section of the site. The conversation is the vehicle, but the content is the story.

What technical, logistical or budgetary challenges were presented during the project?
Ha Ha! I’m still living off the high of a successful launch, but thinking back, there were definitely challenges. The Conversation Engine presented its own set of challenges. We were learning a new programming language, AIML (artificial intelligence markup language) and troubleshooting the learnings across four time zones (CA, NC, Poland, and Japan). At the same time, we were coordinating a team of copywriters to write Q and A’s and having the linguists program the multiple variations of how the questions could be asked on the site. This was a first for everyone involved.

Our decision to integrate emerging technologies brought on some other challenges. Flash and Papervision don’t always play nicely together, so we refined the floating content areas until they were perfect. A custom physics engine was added to ensure accurate depth of field. See an example here:

We were also dealing with some pretty hairy logistics. Communicating our needs, revisions, reworks, schedules and more revisions via Skype with a team of Polish speaking programmers was tricky at best. I know Othersource, our development partner would agree with me on this! But, we knew we were building something that hadn’t been done before. We’d take turns reminding each other that it takes time to learn, test, resolve and refine. Our schedule was affected but there was no way around it.

How valuable is the new site to the agency? Is it your main form of external communication?
Very valuable! It literally speaks for us and we’re happy about that. We’re constantly feeding the CE new questions and answers based on what our users are asking. If we don’t have an answer to your question, it doesn’t go unheard. This site needs assistance from our users to make it smarter! And let me mention, we also launched a blog to go along with our new site: These two sites are a great example of how we all “live interactive” at McKinney.

It’s also very easy to reinvent with this site. We can modify the home page with full-screen video, animations or images, thanks to our robust CMS. We have the capability of building freestanding pages without having to revise the architecture too. We’ve got some pretty good legs thanks to this redesign. Thinking in terms of cost for revisions, this is a huge benefit for us.

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