Q + A With BigWheel Designer Mariell Utsman
BigWheel’s new site is a beautiful representation of what happens when collaboration has the time and space to thrive. Each team member contributed to the site’s final version -- and feedback played a key role throughout the process. One of the main drivers of this collaborative spirit was BigWheel designer Mariell Utsman. Utsman’s nearly 20 years of experience shined as she shepherded the site throughout the design and development process. Her guiding principle throughout? Listen.
How did you feel when you learned BigWheel was investing in a new website?
Excited and overwhelmed! I've worked on several internal websites and it's always a challenging process. There are so many people involved and so many stakeholders. BigWheel's old site was basically a reskinned version of the DMG Bluegill site updated to include the BigWheel brand after our firms merged. So this was a nice way to put that branding into play, as opposed to just using a pre-existing skin and applying colors and verbiage to it. We were also lucky to have the full support of BigWheel’s owners who pretty much gave the design team free rein throughout the process.
From a design standpoint, how did you approach that first meeting with the team?
My job is to listen and understand what different stakeholders want. So it was really trying to hear everyone's point of view; to see what they liked and didn't like, and where they saw the site going in the future. I focused on taking in feedback and trying not to dismiss a single person's thought process or desires.
What would you encourage other designers to keep in mind when designing an internal website?
Come prepared with a list of questions! And even if your train of thought isn’t what someone elses is, it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. I try to remember that someone came to me and asked for my skill set. So all I can do is listen to what they need and apply that to what what my standards are. So ask lots of questions, listen, and figure out your goals. For the BigWheel site, our goal was to keep it more minimal, to make it easier to use, and to get the joy of our brand across. But also to showcase everything that we’ve done. It didn’t need to be this massive site to achieve that. My goal was to build a shell that functions, is easy to use, and that all of the other creatives can plug their amazing ideas into.
How did you approach the wireframing process?
I listened and took notes. And I tried prioritize what the team thought was important. In a lot of the meetings, we talked about hierarchy and the level of importance of everything on the page. It wasn't just me in my own little world. We included the creative director, developers, content writers, and anyone else involved in the project. Les (a BigWheel developer) is really good at site structure and organizing content the way it needs to be. We have years and years of experience working together. I also made sure to take notes and meet with all the creative stakeholders, not the owners or the marketing coordinators. It was meeting with the people that are actually going to be doing the work. Then I just started. I started with a blank screen and, like usual, with the navigation. Getting feedback from team members was a huge part of the process. Every project should be a team effort. Nobody's by themselves -- ever. The more eyeballs on it, the better.
How did you select the colors, font, and overall aesthetic look/feel of the site?
The colors are based on the original BigWheel branding our team developed, the yellow, blue, and gray. My challenge was finding a creative way to display those colors that the user hadn't already seen in relation to BigWheel. The font choice, a clean san serif, was because I wanted the site to be a creative shell and easy to build upon by everyone on the design team. For instance, the sliders throughout the navigation menu - Sara (a BigWheel designer) created the sliders using fun colors and fonts. If I built a site that already had a funky font throughout, It would have clashed. The goal for this site is to be a way to display what we do: the design chops, the quirky writing, the animation. And to let everybody have fun while we're at it.
What’s your strategy for gathering feedback from stakeholders? How did you protect the integrity of the design while still encouraging collaboration?
Before I showed the major stakeholders I had tiny meetings with the creative team. Those meetings gave me the support to present my work to the leadership. During review meetings, when someone gives me vague feedback, my job is to dive into it and fully understand what they like or don't like. Everything is so subjective. Just because someone doesn't like something doesn't mean it's not valid. Also, it's amazing what you can do when time and budget are where they need to be. You have the ability to really create because there's less stress to get it within a certain timeline and amount of hours. I feel like everyone who creates, from copywriters to developers, is putting so much thought into it. You're putting yourself into it. Everything is knowledge based and that takes time. You're not going to get it perfect every single time. Every bad idea is a stepping stone to something amazing. It's exploring. It's putting color and words and imagery in a cohesive way on a screen that is digestible.
What are you favorite things about BigWheel’s new site?
I really like the team page -- especially the use of color. The layout gives everyone their own individuality. From picking a photo of anything they love to including a quote. You can learn a lot about someone from a photo or a quote. I also love the fact that when you refresh, the layout stays the same but the order in which the team members appear varies. There's no single person at the top.