Project Update: Sacred Art Website

[Note: the site referenced in this post is no longer live.]

One of the things I hope to do on this blog is to document the process of the freelance design projects I do both on my own and through Design:Intelligent.

Back in November, I launched a website for a great little store in Roscoe Village called Sacred Art. Owner Sarah Chazin opened Sacred Art in 2006, intending to make the art of local Chicagoans accessible to their neighbors and create an alternative to the traditional art gallery. Instead of the stuffiness of those spaces, her store has the friendliness of a neighborhood shop, and showcases over 50 Chicago artists in every medium you can think of, from photography and painting to jewelry and textiles. There are pieces to fit every budget, providing everyone with the opportunity to own original art.

I had originally designed a small one-page site for Sacred Art back in 2006, then a group of local students offered to create a slightly larger site for the store as a class project. While Sarah certainly appreciated the students’ generosity in building that site, it became clear that if she wanted to continue to grow her business, she would need a more consistent, user-friendly website. Also, she would need to be able to update it herself, with few technical skills and on a young business’ shoe-string budget.

At our first meeting with Sarah, my Design:Intelligent partner Katie Petrak and I worked to identify who we were trying to reach and what sort of information would be contained on the site. The goals we identified for the site were:

  • to let artists know how they can submit their art for consideration to be sold in the store
  • to promote other services that the store provides, such as art rental, commissions, and hosting private events
  • to highlight the many wonderful styles of art for sale in the store
  • to promote events, such as classes and “meet-the-artist” opportunities
  • to inform visitors of new arrivals to the store and other announcements

The first two needs could be easily solved by static webpages. The last three, however, would require some ingenuity in order to meet both the “low or no cost” and “little technical knowledge” requirements. Sarah didn’t have the budget to pay for the time that would be required to implement and configure custom scripts for her site, nor did she have the time or inclination to learn the technical skills that could reduce the cost for installing those components.

So we looked for cheap third-party solutions. Her events calendar could be maintained for free on the very easy to use Google Calendar, then fed to her site via GCal’s talent for producing RSS feeds. We found a similar work-around for the update feature, by using a feed from the free Blogger blogging platform. For the image gallery, we turned to image hosting site SmugMug, which gives Sarah the opportunity to easily upload and organize images; for a small yearly fee, we would be able to customize the look of the SmugMug site to match that of the rest of Sacred Art’s site.

The next stage of the project was to create a new visual design that would be adaptable to these solutions, and would also more accurately reflect the character of the store than the Apple-esque gray text on a white background that had previously comprised the site. Katie devised a design with a rough, hand-made feel that manages to be slightly funky but still clean enough to not feel cluttered. The color scheme is based on the colors of the Sacred Art logo and the unique dark green that covers the store’s facade.

Finally, it was up to me to build the actual pages, combining the design with the technology. The site was launched the day before Thanksgiving, the deadline we had set so that the site would be up and running for the holiday shopping season. Sarah is extremely happy with the site, and Katie and I enjoyed the process of creating something for a business that we really believe in. I think it’s a great case example of how, with a little strategic planning, good websites don’t need to cost an arm and a leg.

Confessions of a Reluctant Blogger

I swore I’d never do it.

Since I filled a hand-made journal given to me by my oh-so-artsy high school girlfriend with the painfully earnest poetry of a grunge-era teenager so many years ago, I’ve resisted the diarist’s urge. After my brief flirtation with chronicling a life that had barely begun, a diary seemed self-indulgent beyond the point that even my less-than-abstemious twenty-something self could tolerate. When people started posting the prosaic day-to-day minutiae of their lives on the (then-new) World-Wide Web, I was even more skeptical; it was clear to me that everyone’s lives were in fact a lot less interesting than they themselves thought they were. The launch of technologies — like Blogger, for example — that were devoted to democratizing the weblog form beyond those who knew how to make webpages seemed like just another brick removed from the crumbling wall between the private and the public — reality tv for the web medium.

And so I sat out the beginnings of the blogging revolution, satisfied that I was missing nothing. Why, then, after so many years of resistance, have I taken up the virtual pen now?

  • Legitimate business reasons. Blogs have become an important part of the “starfish” promotional strategy of many businesses, politicians, bands, and so on, since they a) generate a lot of frequently updated content for search engines to latch onto; and b) give readers a reason to return to your site. If I’m going to use this site to promote my professional life, it makes sense to leverage this technology.
  • Organizing one’s thoughts is, uh, what’s that word? Oh yeah, good. In these days of information overload, keeping track of the contents of one’s mental life can be difficult. I find that with so many things competing for my attention, it’s easy for some of them to slip through the cracks. Writing down my impressions of, for example, new developments in design will help me remember and sort them out, regardless of whether or not anyone else reads them. Like Montaigne’s essais, blog posts provide the opportunity to examine, question, and evaluate the sea of signal and noise that often threatens to drown us. And unlike a traditional journal, a blog makes one’s thoughts searchable.
  • They’re here to stay. Like it or not, blogs have emerged as arguably the most widespread application of the information revolution. If I’m going to position myself in the marketplace as a web professional, I need to have as much experience with them as possible.

So in this space, you’ll find musings and notes on some of the things that make me tick both professionally (design, web technology and culture) and personally (mostly music, with the occasional diversion into my previous life as an academic studying the history of religions and Bollywood film). If, from time to time, you do me the honor of reading my ramblings, I hope they prove interesting and that you’ll occasionally take the opportunity to leave some comments.