Digital projects face all sorts of challenges. Whether it’s scope creep, tight budgets, or a nebulous value proposition, no project is ever easy (if it is, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough). Constraints are a good thing though; without them there’s a lack of guidance and “analysis paralysis” may ensue, resulting in a lot of exploration with zero forward progress.
While designing Adventure.com we faced our fair share of challenges. We had four short months to design and develop the site and we were starting from scratch – the brand didn’t even exist yet. To be successful we had to recognize our constraints, but stay focused on our business objectives. Our assets included a passionate client, an amazing batch of photography (15GBs!), and a content calendar filled with inspiring stories of adventures in far-off lands.
Show Me What You’re Working With
DT’s process is fluid. We have a toolbox of exercises but try to avoid too much rigor for fear of hampering the creative process. Typically we kick-off projects with an exercise to understand target users (aka personas). But the ADC crew came prepared with a market study that gave us the information we needed to dive deeper more quickly.
We spent the first two weeks understanding the marketplace. We scoured a dozen travel sites to better understand the industry. Our goal, however, was not to create a better travel site, but to design a unique travel experience. Our competitive assessment also looked outside of the industry at sites like Exposure and Houzz. These content-rich sites were better examples of how Adventure.com wanted to leverage content in order to inspire people to purchase the tour packages offered by their sister companies, including IntrepidTravel.com, UrbanAdventures.com and a dozen others.
We saw an opportunity to create something special by connecting the unique features of their tour packages with personal stories from the people who had been to those destinations. Whether those stories came from a celebrity like Anthony Bourdain or local tour guides, Adventure.com needed a human connection to differentiate itself from the competition. We deemed these inspiring tales, “Epic Adventures.”
Inspiring Readers to Venture Out
The concept of the Epic Adventure was simple: put the adventurer at the center of the story. We aim to inspire Adventure.com readers to push their own limits by showcasing tales of epic proportions. Sure, not everyone has the budget to visit Nepal for two or three weeks, but it’s impossible to read these stories and not feel compelled to venture out of your comfort zone in some way.
After analyzing a few of the editorial pieces, we drew some conclusions:
- They are media-rich; each post is paired with amazing photography and often includes video.
- There is often a backstory that helps anchor the narrative; although important, the backstory probably isn’t the most exciting piece of the story
- These stories often including aspiring quotes
- Sometimes there are too many photos compared to copy
- For all their similar anatomy, each story was unique
Designing with content in-hand helped us understand the implications of our design decisions. The entire Adventure.com site is photo-heavy, and these Epic Adventures would be no different. But photos without words are just a gallery, and copy without photos is just a story — we wanted to create an Epic Adventure that enticed people to action through visuals and shared experience.
Working Within the Constraints of a Content Management System
We’re no strangers to content management systems. For businesses publishing serial content like blog posts and press releases, a CMS is a great solution that puts marketers in control of their editorial calendar. But for all their benefits, content management systems also force constraints.
Since we had to work with a CMS in order to allow one Epic Adventure to be published each week, our solution was to design these pages with modules rather than as one template. This approach allowed us to look at common elements across all of these adventures and figure out how to arrange them in different combinations to accentuate the story without requiring custom HTML and CSS for each one.
Common elements, sure. Common adventures, not a chance! Our design allowed us to roll out absolutely unique weekly stories, such as a couple wandering around South America, an Irishman traveling by bike from NYC to Hong Kong and even a group of six men rowing through the arctic.
WordPress with Advanced Custom Fields
Adventure.com, along with 18.9% of the web (including TechCrunch, The New Yorker, and Time), is built on WordPress. WordPress gave us a great foundation to knock out blog posts, author pages, the about page, and even an account registration system using built-in tools upon which we layered Adventure.com’s brand in the style sheets. Built-in tools, however great, weren’t enough for this amazing brand looking to take viewers on an actual experience.
Enter Advanced Custom Fields (ACF), perhaps the most powerful WordPress plugin I’ve had the opportunity to work with. This handy plug-in has powered many of Digital Telepathy’s sites, including: Danielle LaPorte, Animation Mentor, and Elasticsearch. For Adventure.com, we used ACF to build out a custom metadata table that allows trips to be segmented by Region, Country, Trip Style, and Attractions, and also used ACF to create 15 user-friendly in-page modules that allow content editors to create compelling stories without a designer and developer at their beck and call.
The real magic though is that these components can be created on the fly and rearranged to suit the story being told by adventurers like Kenton Cool and Renan Ozturk. These digital tales of real-life adventures are each unique in their specific construction even though the building blocks from which they’re made are common.
More Adventures Yet to Come
Adventure.com is a fledgling brand; a startup within a global conglomerate. They’ve really just begun to make their mark. Every day more and more people are discovering this digital destination that is custom-built to inspire, inform, and educate thrill seekers. By analyzing traffic patterns in Google Analytics and on-page behavior with CrazyEgg we’re planning to further refine the Adventure.com site to turn it into a conversion machine!
Whaddya say… wanna go on an Adventure? Tweet @dtelepathy and @adventurecom with your thoughts!