An internal website redevelopment, turned journey of self-discovery, test of the boundaries of creative endurance and lesson in failure.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

Despite the growing list of full digital services we offer, web development is still the backbone that allows us to confidently stand tall. So when it came time to redevelop our own site we were, of course, ambitious. Not only was it important to demonstrate our competence in the latest technologies and approaches, we wanted to make sure the message was on point and our creativity and attitude was smeared across every pixel.

We weren’t just building a website, we were asking ourselves fundamental questions about who we are and what we want to be. In addition, we were deconstructing other sites, searching beyond digital for inspiration, trying to uncover fresh thinking so we could make something truly creative.

I posted this message to the team at the start of the process to get us thinking about how we can break some paradigms.

I posted this message to the team at the start of the process to get us thinking about how we can break some paradigms.

We had a lengthy conceptual discussion thread on Basecamp that eventually included input from just about every member of our team. As we started driving into a wall we decided to change course, move past the conceptual talk and get into the details, hoping the big picture would reveal itself if we worked from the inside out. Designers cranked out style tiles while the broader team brainstormed interface ideas.

A wireframed map of the initial site takes shape.

A wireframed map of the initial site takes shape.

It was early September when we had to take a giant pause and focus on client work until the end of the year. The process picked back up in January of 2014 when a concept finally took shape. It was simple and timeless and found a great intersection between the feeling of print magazines and cinema, an area we wanted to explore in our pursuit of something progressive.

We were on track and began an iterative development process where leadership, designers, developers, strategists and the video editor went back and forth working out each section of the site. It was finally coming different. It felt different to us. Exciting. A perfect representation for how we want to be seen. What we didn’t know is that we were driving along the edge of a cliff and starting to teeter off.

It’s exhilarating when you can stay within that margin, the brink between crazy catastrophe and head-turning creativity. But as soon as you start to stumble and you’re faced with the fall you begin to re-evaluate your decision to be there. We were 80% of the way done before we acknowledged that we were starting to slip. That last 20% would require too much time, too much resources and all for a website that was too progressive for wide accessibility.

A peek at the website that never was.

A peek at the website that never was. The full screen, immersive experience was to rely very heavily on video to guide users through our story.

We were building a website that was heavily reliant on an expensive and time-consuming multimedia gathering process (one which we aren’t getting paid for), was incapable of being made responsive to smaller screen resolutions and was overly dependent on cutting edge web technologies to work consistently for everyone. We needed to balance user experience and accessibility with the unique design components. Afterall, it’s not a piece of art, it’s a resource for people to get to know us and the work we deliver to our clients.

In late April we accepted the reality that we were causing major headaches for ourselves while falling short of some of our original goals. We decided to throw it all away and start over. In short: we failed.

It takes some guts for me to publicly admit failure in our industry. If we are truly going to be a daring agency — and not just use the word as a hollow sales pitch — we have to concede that the risk of failure is sometimes breathing down our neck. The difficult part is knowing when to change course (not letting sunk costs dictate decisions) and be able to successfully rebound and finish the project.

How did we rebound? We went back to the drawing board and quickly concocted the current iteration seen at brink.com. This time it came together in 6 weeks because we knew what we wanted and how to get there.

Are we happy with the end result? Yes. It’s a great representation of our technical abilities and most importantly, it tells the story we want to tell.

Are we going to be making a stir in the creative community with it? Painfully, no. The artists within us are tormented by this. We wanted big waves to reverberate across the corners of the web from the mighty creative stone we hurled at it. Perhaps that’s impractical, or even irrational. But it’s that itch we can’t scratch that fuels us.

Through this process, we’ve learned that failure is okay, but it needs to happen earlier on in the process. That ideation and experimentation should happen in smaller bursts with self-imposed time limits. That it’s important to treat ourselves like we would our clients and stick to our own processes. And not to lose sight of the other goals in the quest to achieve one of them.

Here we are naked and exposed. Our tale of two sites is one of frustration, struggle, failure and redemption. So why am I sharing this story? To promote more honesty among our industry. Not every project goes smooth and that’s okay. Let’s use our struggles and our failures as teaching moments not just for ourselves but for our clients. Rather than tell you that BRINK never fails, instead I can tell you that when we try bold things failure is often inevitable. It’s how we rebound that should define us.

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