Don’t Lack Pzazz

Janette Beckman
May 16, 2019 · 7 min read

The Best Website I Ever Had

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Stetsasonic, Brooklyn 1998 ©JanetteBeckman

We want to make this perfectly clear
We’re talented strong and have no fear
Of those who choose to judge but lack pzazz…
Talking all that jazz.
Stetsasonic, 1988

Collaboration by Mike Hartley, Web Designer at bigflannel and Janette Beckman, Photographer

– JB

I shot the cover for the Stetsasonic album in 1988 in East New York By that time I had been photographing hip hop artists ‘stylin’ and ‘profilin’ since I arrived in NYC in 1983. Coming from London the attitude of the hip hop culture seemed so positive, it had a we can do and be anything feel. Kind of like punk but without the negative spin.

Hip Hop culture re-shaped my own thinking, about my work and how I wanted to show it to the world. How I wanted to be perceived by the strangers, fans, possible clients, that would see my site. I have always tried to ‘keep it real’ and stay away from being influenced by what was trending, what people might think: to stay true to my own style and aesthetic.

In 2016 I decided I wanted a new look for my website. Looking around the www all the sites looked generic, I wanted something special so I went to have a chat with my friend Mike who designs custom websites at bigflannel. Mike had designed my first website which was by now 8 years old. I needed something fresh.

The Beginning

Our conversation was like being at the doctor. How are you? What are you here for? 😂

Mike was trying to find out what I thought I wanted / needed. I was trying to find out how much it might cost me. I knew Mike would create something unique. Question was what did I want? That is where Mike in his role as web designer and ‘web therapist’ was special.

– Mike

There are some basics I think all websites must fulfill to be good:

  • they must both have impact and provide an overview of scope;
  • they must be easy to use;
  • they leave control of the experience in the hands of the visitor;
  • the visitor should not have to navigate the navigation;
  • they should be built with a structure that supports SEO;
  • they should work well across all screens (not just mine and Janette’s, also the 1500 other screen sizes that exist);
  • they should be bookmarkable and shareable;
  • they should be updateable by the owner!
  • and most importantly to have pzazz, they should have a strong primary focus that features throughout the design.

Great design generates impact, great structure enables a quick overview of scope. A good custom web design process focuses on these two aspects of a website to produce a website with a clear story.

So I seem like a therapist sometimes. 😀 I need to know what Janette needs her website to do, what her brand is, her look is, what the scope of what she wants to achieve is, and within that, what is primary. I also need to know what her capabilities are to manage a website moving forward, and where her content is at, its website readiness, so we can plan a successful process. When I know this, I can write a website specification which outlines: site aims, site target groups, site setting (where the target finds out about the site), site content, site design and functionality, responsibilities (of me and of Janette), and of course a cost and timeline.

– JB

Right off the bat he gave me homework, a lot of it.

My task was to look at other sites, find and make notes about what I liked and disliked, think about MY vision, who am I and who do I want to attract? Am I trying to sell work as art? Am I trying to get commercial clients. How do we show the history and the archive as well as show that I am still creating work everyday.

We met again a week later Mike wanted to know how my homework assignment was going. After hours and hours of looking at websites of my photo heroes and contemporaries, photographers, graphic designers, artists … of course I knew what I didn’t care for which was most everything. Not because it was ugly or bad design or bad content but because they were mostly generic. Nothing really stood out. OK there were a couple of things : a timeline on Herb Ritts’ site was cool.

– JB’s Email to Mike, Mar 2016
“Hey Mike. Since I can’t find website inspiration turning to Blue Note album cover graphics. Just some ideas for tomorrow.”

– Mike’s Email to JB, Mar 2016
“Tomorrow I think we should think about: the relationship between site and blog; sites we love; choose visual keywords to inform my design (build on clean, clear, elegant, strong, contemporary, authority); fonts and colors; and admin sites and which are easiest / best to use.”

– JB’s Email to Mike, Mar 2016
“Ok cool. Wish I could find more I love lol.”

– Mike

Janette was brave. She knew she wanted something that reflected her not Squarespace, she knew that might cost her, she knew she had to have a strong focus.

I was excited. I know my best websites come from a true collaboration, and JB was offering it alongside strong and beautiful work: I felt like we could produce something special.

The Edit

Who do you want to be?

A website is basicly like your Tinder profile. Are folks visiting it going to swipe left or right? Are you going to get a chance at a relationship (some continued contact), or will folks just move on before they have even spoken with you.

The stronger the primary focus of a site, the more likely we can get a swipe right: websites are shallow interfaces, people forget what they are doing in about a tenth of a second, space is limited and complex sites confuse people and make them feel stupid. We have a really small amount of attention directed towards us and we want to make sure we don’t confuse it with too many competing stories, the stronger the focus the better.

JB has two sources of revenue in her work, assignment and print sales. Which was to be primary?

– JB

Know your audience. Try not to bore them. Edit to who you want to be.

I really want to be known first and foremost as a working photographer, then as an artist with a great archive of hip hop and punk images for sale though my new gallery Fahey Klein.

So we came up with NEW WORK and HIP HOP, PUNK, etc to make a clear distinction between the two careers. The work comes first.

– Mike

The Concept and Design

I wanted the site’s impact to come from an image bleeding to the browser edge, as big as the browser window. Given the range of screens the site would be seen on, I had to reconcile that some screen shapes would break JB’s artistic vision: when bleeding to the edge of the browser, depending on the browser and screen shape, parts of the image are not displayed. We discussed what photographs work well in this content (those with a strong focus at the center) and at what point JB’s artistic vision was compromised. We designed and built the site to allow JB to specify (for each image) what screen sizes (desktop, tablet, mobile) an image could be displayed full bleed, as opposed to contained within the browser.

– JB

I loved the idea of full bleed, even though we had to discuss specific images that worked (and didn’t work) within that format. It was a learning process.

– Mike

JB had really liked a timeline on Herb Ritt’s website. I thought this was a super way to cement JB’s cultural significance: she shot punk and hip hop, she shoots youth culture and rebels. How do you work in a Stiff Little Fingers cover? Using a timeline. It says a lot about the cool.

– JB

After a few months of intense meetings, discussions about design, content, research, reflection, editing, cups of tea, reviewing Mike’s many design drafts — we came up with a format that was unique. I loved it. My next task was to provide the formatted images for Mike to create the site.

Next up was a series of one on one tutorials on how to use the site. Its so important to be able to show your latest and greatest immediately in NEW WORK while you are excited about it.

– Mike’s Email to JB, June 2016
JB we are ready to launch. Please check this final version and let me know any revisions

We Go Live

How to let everyone know about the new site ?

– Mike

Links to your site are as important as what’s on your site, position yourself, hone your point of view and tell stories using a blog and social media so that people have a reason to link to you.

But its important that you remember though
What you reap is what you sow
Talkin all that jazz.
Stetsasonic, 1988

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