Building ArtHit, a canvas for everyone

I first met Anneke Verschuren — founder and CEO of ArtHit — last March. My wife met her through mutual friends here in Singapore and they immediately got along. Anneke told my wife about her ambition to build an online marketplace for art, accessible to everyone and that’s how Edenspiekermann came into the picture: we could potentially help Anneke build her new brand.

This is what happened between mid April and the official launch of Arthit.com in the last week of September 2016.

Forming a team

When it was clear to me that ArtHit could become a major new client for us, I immediately started to look for help. We could develop a new logo and brand identity for ArtHit with our existing team, but we wouldn’t be able to build a state-of-the-art website in Singapore without additional team members.

I knew I needed developers — both for front-end and back-end — and I needed a UX designer. I started off by connecting with my colleagues in Berlin, Robert and Spiros, to talk about an approach for this project that could work for us.

Discussing a suitable approach for ArtHit with Spiros

We worked together on creating a tailor-made proposal for building the ArtHit website and my Berlin-based colleagues also helped to answer Anneke’s tricky technical questions regarding our first proposal. Together we decided it would be a good idea to have one of Berlin’s digital development directors fly to Singapore to help kick off the project — if and when it would turn into a real project.

In May I flew to Amsterdam to visit family and also to visit our Amsterdam office. While I was there, I told some of the AMS team about this opportunity and Peter Curet — one of our talented developers there — immediately said he’d love to be involved and come to Singapore to help. This was good news since Berlin found it quite hard to free up one of their developers for the anticipated 3 months duration of the project.

In the last week of May and the first week of June, all team-related puzzle pieces fell into place. Kars Alfrink — a Dutch UX/game designer living and working in Singapore for 8 months — joined the team for the first phase as UX designer. Aishah Zahari took over from him about 4 to 5 weeks into the project. Peter joined us in Singapore from mid June until mid September, working predominantly as back-end developer, building the core functionalities of the site, the database, the content management system, the email workflows and last but not least: integrating the payment system.

Richard, Anneke, Kars and Jasmine at the start of the 2-day kickoff workshop
Kars filling the office walls with Post-its like a boss

Jasmine Lee became the lead visual designer for the brand identity and the website interface, with Vietnamese intern Trang helping her from mid July until early September. Richard Bausek from our Berlin office helped us preparing and facilitating the kickoff: a 2-day workshop in which we would define the scope of the project and lay the foundation for the process ahead.

During the kick-off workshop, we decided it would be wise to add a second developer to the team, focussing on front-end development, making life a bit easier for Peter and giving the team more ‘velocity’ as a whole, meaning we would be able to achieve much more during the 4 ‘sprints’ we had planned so far, based on the approved quotation.

Luckily for us, Zell Liew, a freelance developer I had worked with before, happened to be available for the duration of the project and I hired him for the front-end work. The team was now complete and ready to start!

Working agile for the first time

During the planning and proposal stages of this project, I had decided that this would be a great opportunity to start working ‘agile’ in Singapore; a way of working that our teams in Berlin and Amsterdam had been engaged in for the past few years but that I had never experienced myself. I knew about it, I understood the principles, but never had ‘lived’ it.

Sprint 0 — defining the brand identity and translating the first user stories into UX designs
Co-designing the homepage during sprint 3

Richard and Kars taught me on the job what it would mean to run an agile project. Working scrum style, with epics, stories and a backlog, with sprint boards, with planning poker to define—as a team—the amount of points each sprint would take. And with daily stand-ups, sprint reviews and sprint retrospectives to keep everyone connected to the bigger picture and to surface possible impediments.

At first it seemed like a lot of bureaucracy to me, but every element of this way of working fell into place during the first 2 sprints. From sprint 3 onwards, the team truly worked as a self-steering organism. It was great to see this happening and it made me feel proud to see things coming together as I had hoped.

Korean BBQ dinner at the end of the kickoff workshop

Giving ArtHit a face and a voice

When we started the process in the second week of June, we only had a name: ArtHit. Not the most beautiful name around maybe, but short, to the point and available as dotcom domain, important for a commercial endeavour like this one. We also had a fairly concise business plan which Anneke had been working on since February with a clear direction for the brand positioning and first outlines of typical users of ArtHit.

Based on these Jasmine and I started the design process of the new brand identity. We explored different references and moods for the brand and shared them with the team and Anneke during the kick-off workshop.

Personas and mood board sketches

It didn’t take long before a promising direction was chosen, based on a simple graphic depiction of an easel which can carry canvases of different size and colour. The shape of the easel is halfway an A and an H, referencing the start capitals in ArtHit. In logo animations we visually explain this concept.

It’s (a)live!

Exactly 3 months after the kick-off and 6 design/development sprints down the road, we soft-launched Arthit.com. When the database of paintings hit above the 300 mark and we had solved a few pesky bugs, we officially launched the site to a broader audience. Go check it out for yourself and see whether we succeeded in truly creating A canvas for everyone.

(And while you’re at it, also check out the case study on our website.)