AccelerateTO is a day-long conference celebrating technology entrepreneurship in Toronto, hosting some of North America's most influential leaders. So, when we became involved with the conference as the design partners, we found an opportunity to build an online home for the event that would truly reflect it's quality, expertise, and value.
Designing for Content
Over the past year, I’ve learned that when someone says content is locked, it never really is locked. Especially when we seek to create the online home for an event. Logistical changes, last minute sponsors, and additional speakers are the reality event organizers have deal with – it’s our job to ensure attendees and the media can easily find the information that they need.
To cope with this reality, we do two really really important things in the beginning stages of a project.
We start off by spending time in an initial workshop to understand the types of content we’re designing for; great user experience can’t be achieved by designing first and handing templates over to a client for them to fit in their content. Making assumptions about the length and prioritization of content can only lead to significant design changes (breaks) later on. Chris, our lead designer on the project, used a series of exercises in the workshop to gather the most appropriate content decisions from the conference organizer, Elizabeth.
After the workshop we create a content guideline, which is usually housed in Google Docs because it’s fairly simple to accommodate a variety of different field types and for its ease of collaboration. When gathering content, we’ve learned to bold, italicize and point large arrows to the “please add every content type possible to this spreadsheet” request. Elizabeth was able to update this as the conference came together and we were able to make changes up until the very last moment.
Of course, this was all made easier by frequent communication between both of our teams. Basecamp threads, emails and frequent meetings made requests and changes easy to accommodate.
As the conference brings together North America’s entrepreneurs, influencers and investors in tech, we wanted to keep the creative professional, but retain a fun startup vibe. The art board we created clearly defined a clean, bold and friendly approach that we eventually transfered to the website.
We then translated the design system from the art board to the corresponding communication pieces (email, Twitter wall). Binding all of these pieces is important for creating a cohesive user experience that’s easily identified.
Despite the fact that the homepage displays a slew of information, the general aesthetic of the website is meant to be pretty minimal. It’s not graphically heavy – the Saul Bass-esque silhouette of the Toronto skyline is subtle and unobtrusive. The website was built to be as modular as possible, so that the template could be scaled to fit many different types of content – from speaker bios to sponsor logos – without affecting the display.
The conference agenda takes form as a fixed menu in the top right of the site and provides a clear and consistent source of navigation throughout the website.
The website is only a couple of layers deep – with the most pertinent information directly available on the top layer (the homepage). Having all the important information in one place means that users don’t have to click around much to access the information they need. This also makes the content much more mobile-friendly, which is a big win for entrepreneurs, media, and conference attendees.
Our team is out in full-force at the sold-out conference today. Andrew is hosting the “Navigating the Perils of Early stage Funding” panel, and Satish (with help from LeanCoffeeTO members) is running the “Getting Seriously Lean” workshop. We’ll be sure to have a conference summary up on our blog next week.
Best of luck to the AccelerateTO team today!