I'm grateful for the time I spent in Oklahoma because of all of the people I met along the way. When Zac offered me the job he was worried that making the transition from Chicago to Norman would be difficult, but to me, the people around you are what make or break the city. And even though I only knew five people when I took the job (all current or former Old Hat employees) I knew everything was going to be okay.
These people are friendly! Even Okies who weren't currently living in Oklahoma made me feel welcome in their state by connecting me with their family and friends still living there. David Brown's parents even called me up to invite me to dinner a few days after I got town. When I wasn't able to go home for Christmas two years ago, a friend's parents took me in for the day. The people here are just plain nice. And they have an amazing sense of pride for their state. They want you to love it as much as they do.
It's no surprise that everyone is coming together to rebuild Moore after the tornado hit on Tuesday. So many people in fact TV reporters were telling viewers that they didn't need any more help on the scene just hours after the destruction. I've never heard something like that, but knowing the people in Oklahoma, it made total sense. Okies like Zac looked for additional ways to help so Jared designed this shirt with all proceeds going to the rebuilding efforts. We are grateful to our clients and friends who sent along their thoughts, prayers, clothes and donations this past week. The support in and around Oklahoma is incredible!
In my three years living in Oklahoma (driving through Moore every weekday to get to work), I tried to see as much of it as possible with roadtrips to Oral Roberts, University of Tulsa, Oklahoma State, Robert's hometown of Paul's Valley for the Noodling Festival ...
... and most recently, Alva - home of the Northwestern Oklahoma State University Rangers. Our trip to Alva was only a few days after a crazy snow storm that left most of the town without running water, which meant our lunch at Pizza Hut included bottled soda and paper plates. The town didn't shut down. They just found another way to get through.
The meeting that day was for a focus group to present our proposed marks for a branding project we'd been working on. The Athletic Director, Andy Carter, filled the room with a great mix of University officials, athletic department staff and student-athletes to make sure the work he put in with us truly encompassed Northwestern Oklahoma State University. As we got to know everyone during the meeting, most of the staff have been working there for many years, some even decades. Even the student-athletes had deep roots to the schoolwith parents and siblings being alums. This identity was not something they took lightly, and that's what we liked about the project. Because of that love for the school and our understanding of that connection, we were able to get the feedback we needed to produce the best marks for the final product. Aaron led the discussion that got them talking about the identity of the school and what people should feel when they see these logos. With our experience working on campuses for so many years, the conversation flowed with everyone feeling comfortable to share openly about where these marks were headed.
On our way back to Norman, Aaron, Jared and I were talking nonstop processing all of the information we received. We were on the right track and couldn't wait to put the finishing touches on the products. Once everything was approved, the guys put it all together into a graphics standard manual to tell the story of the Rangers. These updated marks are now available to print on merchandise, fields/courts, student-athlete letter jackets, as well as other avenues to increase revenue, build brand awareness and strengthen the ties with the community and alums. And these are Okies we're talking about, so when you think about strength within a community, it's a pretty serious thing. And that's what I love about Oklahoma. We're grateful to Andy Carter for bringing in our branding crew of non-Okies for such an important project for his school, his community and his state. But welcoming outsiders is just the Oklahoma way. And I'll always feel like part of that state no matter where I live because of it.
Know what's difficult? Running a business. Raising children is tough, sure. But the results of your failures aren't quite as immediate. If you screw up in raising your kids, you probably won't realize it until they're meth addicts or shooting at people from a clock tower. Running a marathon is difficult. But it's difficult for 18 weeks leading up to it and then for 4 hours during (or if you're a complete stud like me, 3 hours and 35 minutes). Running a business is always difficult. It never gets easy. No matter how well things are going, there are always new challenges. Back me up here, Trip Durham! And if you screw up, people lose their jobs. If you screw up BIG, you lose everything.
One of those difficulties we face every year is how to be properly prepared for the onslaught of "busy season" for the upcoming year. Right now we're in our "dead season" which doesn't mean that we don't have lots to do. It just means that compared to August, September and October, the spring months are a breeze. But Old Hat has been around for 9 years and each year we have seen exponential growth in the amount of work that we have coming in. And it seems like each year we are understaffed through those busy months. What I am faced with each spring is making sure that we are properly staffed for that time period but not OVERstaffed. We don't want to be put in a position where we have to lay-off someone after the busy season ends because we don't have enough work. We also have to decide when to bring in new people in order to train them and have them ready for busy season. If we hire too soon, we're putting money toward an unnecessary payroll expense for someone that doesn't have anything to do. If we hire them too late, busy season comes and they aren't properly prepared. So every May/June, we have to decide who we're hiring, how many people we're hiring and when to bring them on. Hire too many and we spend too much on payroll and profits suffer. Hire too few and everyone is miserable all fall because they're working too much.
Growing is painful at times. And even though you can analyze past successes and failures, study your numbers, etc... it's all just a big guessing game. Sometimes I guess right and sometimes I guess wrong. I've gotten better at it over the years but last year we had the biggest jump in growth we'd ever had and there was no way to know it was coming. It seems to have just happened. Do I prepare this year for that level of growth? Or do I prepare for what we had typically done in prior years? Or is this the year where it all levels out and we hardly grow any?
My life literally revolves around websites, well at least my work life. Everything we do is working towards our next project. The processes we have built are setup to make us better at our job. The funny thing to me is we established the processes based on websites we have built for everyone but Old Hat Creative. Now it is time to build a site for Old Hat…
Project Initiation: To me this was the most interesting aspect of building our new site.The last Old Hat site was completed before I worked for the company, before a lot of the people who now work here were here.Everyone who has any stake in the site, had an opinion about what it needed or did not.Features that were important (Random Animal Noises) and those that were not (I know he is disappointed but we did remove the Date with Geoff from our store).My job going into this is to be able to listen to what everyone wants and turn it into what everyone needs.Each division needs the website for a different reason and all of Old Hat needs it for the same reason.
Information Gathering: At this point we have heard a generalized description of what everyone wants.We know what is most important as a whole but need to drill down to why.Why does our CMO want to be able to send people directly to a page with our entire on site photo shoots?Why does my developer want to change the way we input and organize our client list?Why does Zac love those animal noises?
Within each change there is a goal that someone has in mind. My developer wants to change how clients are organized. Our CMO wants to be able to market easier. She wants to have a list of products we have easily accessible with quality images that explains why YOU might need that product. She wants us to be able to sort everything we do, quickly and easily. Zac really just likes animals… I guess.
As I mentioned before each request has an end goal. We may not always be able to give them exactly what they want but we can give them what they need. Maybe we do not give each product a page but give each page a sorting option. Allow people to pick and choose how they want to sort things so they can easily find the examples of products they need. Change the way we input content and clients so it is easier to build the database to hold all of that information.
Presentation of Concepts: Now that I have listened to everyone, it is time to start building this out.Dustin is incredibly important in all of this.He is THE web designer and had the opportunity to listen to what everyone wanted as well.He now has to turn all of these requests into something pretty.
This is where decisions start to get made and requests start to get culled. Some things are over kill. Why do we need to link to twitter four times and have a feed on the home page? Dustin is great at visualizing the site as we have these conversations and always produces something amazing. Unfortunately, his amazing design is not the end of the road because regardless of what he designs it still has to function. After he completes every design we sit down with our developers and walk them through how we envision the functionality.
This is the part of the process where there is the most give and take. We want it to look this way but it will hurt the functionality. Developers think in terms of programming and functionality, not always design. Development is always a chore and we want to make sure the design we use makes sense to the users, while functioning like everyone needs it to. In the end however, this is a project that we all get excited about. Rarely do we get the opportunity where our developers can do fun things. If you are reading this blog, you know Old Hat and you know that we have fun but a site like this is fun because it challenges our team. It gives them the opportunity to do something they never get to do and if there is a new programming technique that most website budgets cannot afford; they might get the chance to do it. Our developers always want to do something awesome but some times they have to be realistic.
Every website is different. No matter what, there is some different aspect that will change with each site. This is a big reason why we use Drupal. It is an open source CMS and allows our developers to build custom modules or take existing ones to make changes.
After the brainstorming, the planning, and debating it is time to present the first drafts of the site to everyone involved.
Revisions: I have a love/hate relationship with this step in the process.We talked with the stakeholders about what they wanted and planned for their requests.In a perfect world, we nail it, and there are no revisions.Pigs also fly, there are never tornados in Oklahoma, and Robert’s hair looks like that as soon as he wakes up.
Back to reality, there are always revisions, usually, about two rounds of revisions. Everyone has a vision of what their requests will look like and those visions may not match Dustin’s. Sitting down with the stakeholders at this point is good for everyone. We will walk them through the design, explain the functionality, and make sure we have included the important elements. Once we go over it, we take their revisions and go back to Photoshop.
Production of Deliverables: After we have concluded the revisions stage and have received the design approval, it is time to start programming.Before we start programming we usually sit down with the developers to map out how we will program the site.Talk about what aspects are most important and look at the time frame we have.
Programming for most websites is a four-week process. Programming for the new Old Hat site has been a seven-week process. Typically other projects come up in the middle and our developers have to bounce around but big projects always mean someone may be working on the same site for the next two months.
Once we finish the initial build it is time to start testing. There are entirely too many web browsers available. Of course there are the major players; IE, FF, and Chrome but then there are many other obscure browsers out there. We only test the two most recent versions of the major browsers. Fonts render differently in each browser. There are a few standards but you never know what IE is going to present you with. There is a reason you will NEVER catch a developer using IE. We still have to look at the site on different computers, browsers, and devices to make sure it looks good. We also have to go through the entire site on those other browsers to make sure the important content is available no matter how you look at the site.
Once the testing is done and we have checked for other errors we send the link to the client and have them go through the site. This usually causes us to go into another testing phase as we try to recreate any issues the client is seeing on their end.
Delivery (TODAY!!): Old Hat Interactive mostly delivers its products to the web.Launch day can be both exciting and nerve racking.Typically, I wake up at least once in the middle of the night before launch day, worried about some aspect of the site I forgot or we did not build.It is always a challenge to keep myself from calling a developer.That is part of the excitement of launch day.We get to help our clients display a new website to the world.Something we built will be visited by 100’s of people that day and our work will be tested throughout that time.We work with our clients to determine a time for the launch and make sure everything is setup properly.
Today we launch the new Old Hat site. It has definitely been a process. In the end we created something that should help everyone on our staff as well as our clients. Take a look around, see what you can find, and let us know what you think.