Design, Inc., Emily
Cotler, Creative Director
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The Making Of...
Creating the visual look of eloisajames.com
by the Creative Director of Waxcreative Design, Emily Cotler
The creation of an author's website is a complex, creative task that takes months and a whole team to complete. Perhaps the hardest part of the design is creating a signature look—the visual landscape that gives a web visitor an instant feeling for the author and her work. Creating that look demands a meeting of minds between the author and the web designer. You can imagine how difficult that can be: an author's natural medium is words, but the designer has to turn those words into a gorgeous visual landscape, evocative and yet easy to use.
Eloisa's site was about as challenging as we have ever tackled. She didn't just want a new look for her site, she wanted it to invoke the ethereal, utterly romantic beauty she had seen in European fashion magazines. She wanted an essentially print feel in a fluid, web environment.
She sent three tearouts from a magazine. She loved the roses sewn on fabric in figure 1, and the "tissue-y" feel of Figures 2 and 3. We had something to work with—but then Eloisa threw me a curveball: "I want there to be an element of history... I don't know what yet, though." I shelved the question of historical detail for the moment, and started working with color.
We started by playing with flowers. We found a few gorgeous photographs of blossoms that were almost perfect, showed them to a photographer, Deborah Sherman, who then set up a custom photo shoot for us, setting the lighting in such a way so as to allow for a light and tissue-y feel. Her photographs (Figures 4 and 5 are just two of the many) were the perfect launching point for shaping the collage. Then one of Waxcreative's fabulous designers literally began painting with the images in Photoshop. In the end, there were over 30 layers of flowers and pieces of flowers and leaves. Figures 6 and 7 below show part of the collage with various layers turned on and off, and Figure 7 shows the main area with at least ten layers turned off!
The collage turned into a gorgeous swish of color and flowers set to catch the drifting romantic feeling of the tear-sheets Eloisa had found. Then we began to apply content such as Eloisa's name, her photo, and the navigation. One problem cropped up: in the middle of the collage, four of the layers transpired to look like a baby's bottom! See best view of said bottom in Figure 9. Notice on the final home page, there is no bottom, ah-hem.
We went through over 25 refinements getting the home page right. The treatment of Eloisa's name evolved from a flat state (Figure 8) with an added dimension I call a "pillow effect." The navigation was giving us a lot of trouble. Everything we did felt as if it were just sitting on top of this spectacular collage. Pretty, but un-integrated. And of course, the historical element was still missing.
I pressed Eloisa for more of her personal insight and vision on this elusive historical element (without her input we would have definitely come up with fantastic ideas, but we wouldn't have been budgetarily responsible). She shot us an email: "Could we do some sort of lettering like the old medieval manuscripts have?"
Um, can anyone say "out of left field"?
Eloisa led us to links on the web from the Duc de Berry's psalter from the high middle ages. And as luck would have it, I had additional images from that time period in several books in our studio as well. We began drawing vines. Many many vines. Somewhere around the sixth or seventh vine we landed on the style that solved our navigation challenges. Figures 11+12 show some early versions, including how we tried to create the navigation on a vertical pole. Finally we came up with the idea of the horizontal pole and voila! Our navigation challenge was solved.
From there we wove vines, flowers, and bits of collage into a jewel-box of a website, one which maintains that all-important romance & history look and feel on every page, while marshalling the enormous amount of ever-changing content that makes up eloisajames.com.
We're so happy and proud to launch this site. If there's something you would like added to the site, please don't hesitate to contact us - Eloisa's site is always a work-in-progress. Enjoy!