For the past 7 months, I’ve been hard at work with Natural Curiosities, a collective of artists and artisans working under the creative direction of Christopher Wilcox in a beautiful studio in the Jensen Recreation Center, here in Echo Park. They have evolved from roots in archival giclée printing and silk screen to application and specimen art, gold & silver leafing, aging and paper treating, and hand watercoloring. They have a specific aesthetic celebrating a time when both scientists and artists were constantly observing and cataloging nature, and they’ve brought this around from archives of illustrations to three-dimensional recreations and objet d’art. With all these new developments afoot, it was time to do a little identity refresh, and refocus the web site on communicating all the exciting news in more of a real-time way.
Starting with research, we did a full company-wide brand exploration. You never know what you might find when you interview everyone in a company, but it was exciting to see how passionate everyone was about their work and the family environment in the art house. They all offered great ideas and perspectives that we incorporated into a report, and further refined into a brand brief to guide the project. Natural Curiosities had already developed a lovely logo and wordmark, so the job of standardizing its ratio, lockup, and uses was easy.
identifying the challenges
The main goals boiled down to 2 things: create a marketing strategy that would communicate the brand philosophy, and design a web site that would serve both the marketing strategy and the clients. as a wholesaler, the clients of natural curiosities are partners and external sales rather than consumers, though the site is used as a catalog to consumers as well, and has to serve both markets seamlessly. The previous site was very strong on products, but needed more of a bridge to the promotional engine and client relations. Research told us that people really love interfacing with the staff and studio, so another goal was to bring more of that experience to the surface of all communications. On the technical side, this site was built in Drupal and would stay in Drupal, but had to become far easier to update by employees.
a dynamic, art-focused home page
One of the first challenges we faced was how to pull specific pieces out of the archive and showcase them. With a catalog as big as that which Natural Curiosities sells, even after a streamlining, we’re still faced with many collections and sub-collections, relying on the user to find them either by browsing or searching. In reworking the home page, we decided on a 5-image slide show, showing a full-screen close-up of any one piece of art that Natural Curiosities would like to feature, with each linking to the appropriate product or collection. Previews from the art house is their way of visually showcasing breaking news or exciting products, which is very easy to update on the fly.
the art catalog
Our first task was to map out the art catalog, which was no small feat. Flow charts, graphics and full wall murals were involved! The general feeling was that the categories and collections were not intuitive enough, so we reworked the names, resorted the art, refreshed the overall collection [adding new pieces, retiring others] and stacked it into a grid of highly-colorful art folios to reiterate the sense of archive. This is a main landing page for regular site users, so it has become more inviting, and easier to use.
enhanced search and products pages
Another section ripe for opportunity was the search function, which wasn’t returning as many results as it could, and showed the results more like data records than art. We installed a module that would perform a wider search, give the user options to narrow the search by category, and suggest alternatives, with results coming in as large thumbnails for quick preview and selection. The product pages have been rearranged to be image first, support information second for visually-driven clients. When authorized users are logged in, pricing and buying options appear here as well.
setting the mood
With clients in mind, we decided to add a design & interior-focused section to put art in context into the spotlight. This is a more extensive slide show which offers Natural Curiosities another way to showcase products, overlay editorial and cross-link styles from inspiration shots to related collections or blog posts. It’s also the first of a few more client-partnership aspects we’re building into the site.
a look inside
a new & improved blog!
As another, more dynamic opportunity for communication, we’ve introduced a new blog with a unique layout from the rest of the site, and an editorial calendar to fill it with sources of beautiful design inspiration, product showcases, video posts and news missives. The blog is going to be a pivotal point of the communication strategy, as another place to bring clients into the natural curiosities experience.