By Apprentice Creative
Jamin Still is an illustrator, author, and friend o’ mine. I was excited to get to work with him to make his new website a reality. We got to collaborate quite a bit on the overall style, and the finished product features unique design, and improved usability. His new site looks like you walked right into his world of paintings and stories. I used a lot of custom edits to make it super easy to navigate, and got to add some ornamental styling that really ties his aesthetic together throughout the site. We even got to the end of the project and still like each other! Can you imagine such a thing?But enough stalling, check out the video and post below to see more of how the project came together. Also, don’t take my word for it, visit Jamin’s site and check out his work.
In the beginning, Jamin asked about moving his current store off of a 3rd party platform and on to his own website. He didn’t like that the store took visitors to another site and wasn’t styled to look like his current site. It also didn’t allow him much control over the way his products were displayed or described. To top it off, the service charged a fee when he sold products.
We took some time initially to brainstorm what a better store would look like and what improvements would make the store more user-friendly and owner-friendly to manage. I build ecommerce stores with WooCommerce, and I like how easy it is to customize the themes and functionality. It’s also free to use and doesn’t take a cut of sales, unlike some other template or store solutions. Jamin wanted to be able to add products, make basic adjustments to pages and posts, and collect taxes and orders without changing POS systems from what he uses at shows. WooCommerce made all these options available, so we started on a simple buildout.
I provided an initial estimate for Jamin based on the idea that we’d add the store as a site connected to his current site. It would have some really basic styling changes added and would otherwise be pretty vanilla. He wanted to display more information about the paintings than the previous store would allow, so I added some attributes that he didn’t have before. After a week or so of trying to figure out how to style the site, I pitched Jamin on an idea to incorporate Hibaria, the world he designed for his stories and paintings, into the style and navigation of the site. I envisioned a navigation system based on the watercolor map he painted of the islands. By turning that image into an interactive map, we could let users explore the map by navigating like they would on a Google Earth map, and then they could click the regions in the map to visit the product pages of the paintings and read the lore associated with the region. We also settled on a parchment design for the background, so that when someone visits Jamin’s booth at a show and then visits his online store, they would feel like the stepped into a storybook. I really like feeling transported when I visit a website, and I think we managed to create that atmosphere on Jamin’s store.
As in every creative endeavor, there are setbacks and obstacles, and part of the process is working around and through those obstacles to make something beautiful and useful. Sometimes they even turn out better than the original idea, because you can’t really have creativity without constraints and limitations. One of the problems on this project came up when Jamin and I decided that instead of adding the store as a link to his current site, we would migrate the whole site over to the store, and create a new website that combined the old with the new and integrated them seamlessly. Or at least that was the plan. I don’t know how exactly it happened, but for some reason when I moved the new store from the subdomain to the normal domain, (store.jaminstill.com to jaminstill.com), the whole thing broke and then the old site overrode the new one. It was a dark day, in which I spent hours on hold with support who were unhelpful and tried my best to figure out what had happened on my own. After a 20-hour day, at 2:00am I finally discovered how to fix the problem and get the site up and running.
Every agency and developer out there talks about how they’re professionals and experts and brilliant amazing geniuses who do no wrong and never make mistakes. Maybe a couple are. But I’ve met and seen and worked with plenty, and no matter how small the project, something will go wrong or a mistake will be made by some party at some point in the process. I don’t think that means a developer is bad or unprofessional. What matters isn’t whether a mistake is made, but how quickly and smoothly the mistake is fixed. I like to think that even if I can’t be the best web developer or graphic designer or videographer, I can at least be the best mistake-maker. So once the problem was solved, we moved on to one last bit of super-custom-complex-coding to tie the map, products, and stories together just a bit more.
In the End
At the end of a web project, I like to do video tutorials that explain how the site works, how to navigate the backend, and where to look for specific pages and settings. This helps a lot when you don’t want to build your site, but you do want to be able to manage it and not call your developer every time you need to change a price or text on a page. I also add some plugins to the site to make it faster and more search-friendly. Now that it’s all done, Jamin and I both like the way the site works, and we’re both continuing to add content and updates.