A New Platform
Although 8th Light has a London office now, visa issues initially delayed the move and forced the team to work from Chicago—six time zones and almost 4,000 miles from where IDEO and Royal Academy were located for the project's duration.
Intent on getting a good start regardless, 8th Light flew IDEO's designers to Chicago for about a month of intensive work and planning. During this time, 8th Light's craftsmen were able to build a positive working dynamic, and make more granular assessments of the technology required to create and maintain this new vision for the site.
Very early on, 8th Light realized that the website's reimagining would have to go deeper than just IDEO's design. Instead of retrofitting an existing content management system (CMS) to fit the Royal Academy's needs, they decided to build an entirely new CMS from scratch.
"They were expecting to utilize an existing CMS system," explained 8th Light craftsman and project lead Jim Suchy. "But I looked at it, and it would've cost so much more in the long run. There's no way we could've done the things that we did and reacted the way that we did... They would've been handcuffed if they had tied themselves to another system."
With a more precise plan in place and IDEO back in London, the teams experimented with other solutions for their distance.
"We tightened the feedback loop much tighter," Suchy said. Whereas most project teams would demonstrate the work they had accomplished each week, the 8th Light and IDEO teams would meet over Skype or Google Hangouts each working day. This helped the team stay focused and much more closely aligned on the project's evolving vision.
They also experimented with different working hours, in which "they would work late or we would wake up early, just so we would have more hours to contact them," said 8th Light craftsman Steve Kim.
While the developers built the custom CMS to handle the site's backend functionality, 8th Light design craftsman Chris Peak operated within his own set of constraints to align with—and adapt to—the Royal Academy's existing visual identity—originally designed for print. "They had very rigid rules for typography, color usage, and layout," Peak said.
All of this created a set of complications that strained the site when it was going live. Luckily, Suchy was working out of a shared office in London for the project's final months.
"In our longest days, Jim just came and squatted in our office," Sharp said. "[8th Light has] a dedication to making something that's really perfect, rather than something that will just ‘do the job.'"