Our agency is brimming with big thinkers, problem solvers, and creatives who care deeply about the work we do. But when you work closely with both product and process, it can be tough to tackle internal initiatives with any semblance of objectivity. Not to mention the chorus of divergent (if valid) opinions. While an excess of ideas might seem like the dream, it can be easy to become paralyzed by options. The result? Creative gridlock.
But as an agency, it’s still important that we treat our own projects with the same weight and commitment that we give to our clients’ requests. This year, a small corps of creatives banded together to rebuild the HZ website. Rather than simply diving in, the team took careful measures to approach the task as we would for a client—attempting to remove any bias or subjectivity and instead focusing on our goals, who we are as an agency, and how we could build the definitive HZ web experience.
Here’s how we did it.
1. Figure out who you really are.
When kicking off a new project with a client, we always recommend a thorough discovery process. So that’s where we began—with a series of internal immersion sessions.
Before discussing concept, design, or approach, a group of nearly a dozen HZers met to discuss our agency as a whole. Individually and together, we jotted down a list of words and phrases. We mixed, matched, combined, and scratched out until we’d created a messy word collage that spoke to who HZ is today—and who we hope to become.
2. Narrow your focus.
Our next task was to find order in the chaos. We bucketed our thoughts into themes until a pattern emerged. Before long, we identified four motifs: We are storytellers, we make great business partners, we are nimble, and we are independently owned.
We used these ideas as inspiration, tapping four designers to lay out four unique web designs.
3. Establish a point of view
Through the iteration process, we merged elements from each of our four preliminary designs into a single concept that cut to the core of what we do.
While combining multiple directions into a single execution can sometimes muddy a brand’s message, it helped us to clarify something different and powerful that sets our agency apart. Rather than losing our message, we had uncovered a new truth. It’s not just that we are great storytellers, that we make good partners, that we’re nimble, and that we’re independent—it’s about what these differentiators allow us to do.
With that, we landed on a new line and a creative treatment that helped illustrate how these different pieces come together to create something more engaging, dynamic, and incredible than the sum of its parts.
With our concept in place, we were ready. We let our creative impulses run wild, but maintained a few key guardrails: Make it interesting, make it clear, make it concise, and make it matter.
5. Lead with the work.
We love what we do—and we’re proud of every bit. Our previous website focused too much on selling our personality and office life, rather than placing an emphasis on the work we do. When it came time to go back to the drawing board, we unanimously agreed to give prime website real estate to our case studies and client work. We also chose a more prominent placement for our blog and social channels, offering visitors an immediate access point to our brand.
6. Guide your audience.
The website was designed to guide audiences through a carefully organized experience. It’s clean and easy to navigate, yet elegant and considered. Each component offers users an opportunity to take an action and explore a different part of the site.
7. Personality and culture are everywhere and nowhere.
Our culture is a huge part of our agency, but it isn’t something that lives only in beer club or at after-hours events. Who we are influences our work, shapes our environment, and weaves its way into all of our interactions—we wanted our culture to permeate our website in a similar way. You won’t find a “Culture” page on the new hzdg.com, but you’ll see how it manifests throughout the entire experience, down to the 404 screen.
8. Optimize & polish.
With the bulk of the work behind us, we worked to perfect the details. There were dozens of tweaks, reviews, and regroups as we worked to iron out kinks.
With everything in place, we placed the new design in the hands of the dev team, letting them work their magic to create a seamless experience for desktop and mobile. While the coding crew was hard at work, our creative unit shifted gears toward refreshing the agency reel—storyboarding a new concept that would echo the website’s new look and feel. The reel isn’t quite ready in time for the launch, but will make its way onto the site in phase 2 of development.
We had initially hoped to debut the new website some months ago. As our ideas grew, the timetable shifted. But it was more important that we launch a website that we were proud of than to push it out the door before we were comfortable. One of our initial rules, after all, was to make it matter.
There are a million ways to build an ownable, dynamic, and exciting website for an agency like HZ. We think we landed on one of them. And we hope you agree.