You might've noticed that the NeonMob site is looking a little different since late last week. There's a lot of new stuff, including a new homepage design, a new user onboarding process, a new artist stories page, a new welcome to NeonMob set, and new intuitive Collect buttons across the site. The mastermind behind the new look and features is NeonMob co-founder/designer, Rogie King. Rogie and the NeonMob team worked tirelessly behind the scenes to roll out the redesign to make the NeonMob experience even better.
It'd be an understatement to say Rogie is a pretty creative guy. Aside from helping bring NeonMob to life, he's an illustrator, a designer, a developer – and to top it all off, a family man. He's a force on Twitter and Dribbble, and is frequently interviewed by blogs, podcasts, and IRL at conferences. In fact, Rogie will be emceeing the upcoming Creative South design conference focused on branding and design in the digital age that's taking place April 9-11 in Columbus, GA.
But for those of us who won't be able to make Creative South in April to talk to him in person, I asked Rogie a few questions about the NeonMob redesign process, including how and why it happened.
How did you know it was time for a site redesign?
To be honest, we’re always redesigning. We try things, we gauge how well they are doing, and if they’re not delivering, we try different things. The short answer to all design tasks at NeonMob is that we’re always iterating, tweaking, and making things better.
With our previous design of the NeonMob homepage, I had this zany idea that we could let collectors open a pack of art prior to even signing up — I thought that if people could experience the thrill and rush of opening a pack and getting a rare piece of art, they’d see how much fun it was. I think the long and short of it was that I was wrong. As much as it seemed like a good idea, digital art collecting is just so new a concept that people were confused as to what it was and why they’d do it. They needed a clearer picture before jumping into doing it.
A lesson that can be learned is this: most of the time, the simplest and most straight-forward approach is the best one. We’ve learned this one the hard way. Uber-creative, far-reaching ideas – while fun and perhaps cutting-edge – tend to be difficult to implement, have a metric-butt-ton of associated tech debt, and are much harder to understand for users. Another way of saying that is the more moving parts to a machine, the more likely it will break, the harder it will be to understand.
With our new update, we wanted the design to be straight-forward, honest, colorful, and fun – just like NeonMob. Our community is all about gawking at and having fun around awesome, ever-changing art, and we wanted the art to shine through in the design, and it definitely does.
Where did you start in the process? I’m sure you had lots of grand ideas that you had to pare down and organize. How did you reign in all these big ideas into a clear vision?
One great thing about working with a team is that not all ideas have to come from you. If you’re humble enough to realize that, you don’t have to do it all. We’re all here for the same reason and any great idea can come from anyone. That said, this process was all started off by some intuition by our CEO — the dude that came up with this whole idea from the start, Mike Duca.
Mike is fantastic about seeing the big picture, and complementarily, I tend to hone in on details and come up with spontaneous, creative ideas at a micro-level. We’re a great pair in that way. He’s not so close to the code/aesthetics so that he can see the problem areas more clearly and come up with some fresh ideas.
Mike initially presented a very pared down wireframe identifying how he saw the new homepage and onboarding. As a team, we all provided insights, critiques, and even more ideas. Not all ideas are received well and can be dissected by the team, but overall, Mike’s thoughts on the new direction were very well received and seemed to remedy the problem areas we were having.
Moving forward, it's a design and share process, and absolutely not without its hardships. Getting creative and thinking about things you’ve thought about for three years in a new light can be especially hard, but that’s where being with a team really helps. You take a stab at designing an idea and bounce it off of them. Maybe they see holes you didn’t. Lather, rinse, repeat as needed.
What tools were most helpful in the redesign?
We use a myriad of tools from Sketch app for visual design, CSS3, Angular.js, and Slack to convey thoughts. Sketch is fantastic because it is very web/UI centric. Sketch has the ability to easily create vector objects that can be exported as lightweight .svg files as well as any necessary .png or .jpeg images needed for website assets. Screenhero is a great little screensharing tool to demonstrate UX. Of course, we all keep our code on Github and each team member can "pull" the new website branch to view it on their own local server and feel out the UX.
Two of the most noticeable things about the new homepage are the vibrants colors you used and the cool animations that really bring to life what NeonMob is all about. What were the inspirations behind the animations and the color palette?
NeonMob is about the intersection of art and technology. As we’re stepping out into the world of collectible digital art, one thing seems certain, digital collectibles possess a key strength over their analog counterparts: Animation. We’re super stoked that we can offer fan-dom and collection around animated art. It feels fitting that the sections showing off portions of our site should be animated as well, although I’m certain that there are a great many awesome things that we could’ve done better to showcase animation as well.
Similarly, it seems appropriate that a site about art feels at home with the art it showcases: colorful, vibrant, and fun! An argument might be made that the design of the site should take a backseat and let the art it features do its job, but NeonMob is a plucky gang. We wear our colors on our sleeves and since the copy on the site has a spirited tone, we also wanted that to show through in our design.
Previously the site was mostly dark, in hopes that the artwork would stand out from the dark background like many photo sites, but I think that overall it gave off too foreboding a tone. This time we went with gradients and color. Lots and lots of gradients. The web is way too damn flat, and its time to take our gradients back. Personally, I’ve always squirmed a bit at making websites that follow modern trends fully. I like to push beyond and make something rad, regardless of whether or not it fits within current design trends.
What advice do you have for others who are about to do a site redesign?
The simplest big picture is key. It’s easy to lose hours/weeks/months on a design, just to find out that it all is wrong. In other words, if you have a big motor on your boat and you hit the gas, sure, you’re flying, but are you pointed in the wrong direction? You’re only getting to the wrong place, faster.
Don’t just redesign if you don’t know why you’re doing it. Take the time to really ask questions, focus on the big picture idea, and really hone in on and refine what you want to create. Sometimes the obvious things in your head aren’t that obvious at all to a first time visitor.