Yesterday and today the Ganapati Kulam held a two-day intensive kick-off meeting with three members of Happy Cog, a leading web-design firm that the monastery hired for a complete, professional redesign of this Himalayan Academy/Kauai’s Hindu Monastery website using funds raised during last year’s Digital Dharma Drive.
Happy Cog has offices in San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York (visit their website and check out their list of featured clients). With us are Kevin Sharon, Creative Director, Rawle Anders, Client Services Director, and Greg Storey, President of Happy Cog West.
Other key players not onsite with us are Founder and Executive Director of Happy Cog, Jeffrey Zeldman and the Project Manager for our project, Blythe Goodell. Blythe listened in on Skype during the proceedings here. Surprise! Blythe spent the first seven years of her life on Kauai!
Greg Storey had his own web development company, Airbag, before merging with Happy Cog and heading up the West Coast branch. He gave us marvelous ideas of powerful ways we can use our TAKA blog to extend the reach of our content delivery to more people around the world.
Greg helped design a new Happy Cog service called Sprocket, which they will provide to smaller organizations for a more affordable price than their usual waterfall site design process. He was instrumental in taking on Kauai’s Hindu Monastery as the first test case for this new web-templates-in-six-weeks workflow. So, thanks truly go to our 2010 Digital Dharma Drive donors and Happy Cog for making this possible. Beyond the crucial look-and-feel redesign and upper-level consultation on user experience that the Happy Cog team is participating in, this project will organize our vast library of publications and other digital assets and present them with a refined user experience that will allow any visitor to the site to locate and experience the content they are looking for quickly and easily, as well as discover and explore new and related content that they may not have otherwise run across before.
Kevin Sharon, the creative director, took the lead in most of our sessions in the past two days, having set up the agenda for the ten hours of meetings we had together.
Kevin started off with some interesting and effective exercises. In one 10-second intuitive reaction test, the Ganapati Kulam staff were exposed to about a dozen web sites and asked to grade them on a scale from one to ten according to how much we liked the design and presentation and thought they might relate to how our site should look and feel. In another exercise we were asked key questions, such as, “On a scale from 1 for nostalgic to 10 for modern, what feeling do you think the new site should convey?” “On a scale from 1 to 10, should it lean toward text or images?” “On a scale of 1 to 10, should the look be earthy or ethereal.”
Sketching exercises were some of the most important and interesting of all the exercises. We break into pairs and sketch out a new home page on giant two-foot post-it notes. Here Sannyasin Senthilnathaswami, who will manage the project on the monastery side, works with Rawle Anders on an idea for a page layout.
Acharya Kumaranathaswami works with Greg Storey.
Paramacharya Sadasivanathaswami works with Kevin Sharon.
All exercises were timed; after ten minutes of design time, each team had two minutes to present their ideas to the whole group.
Kevin guides the discussion: “What do we all like about this particular design? What elements work?”
Sadasivanathaswami comments on his theme of wanting our viewer to come face-to-face with content (video, slideshows, books, etc.) as soon as they arrive on site.
After a break, we all switch partners and draft ideas for another page template for the site.
Senthilnathaswami and Sadhaka Satyanatha present a minimalist design during one sketching exercise. A consensus starts to build as we all find agreement on key elements. This is what the Happy Cog team is looking for to give them the solid ideas and feelings they will take into the actual design phase of the project. One of these is to have a “hero,” a large, impactful graphic element, on the high-level pages. This is a large video, photograph, piece of artwork or slideshow that spans most if not all of the top section of the web page.
This team is extremely focused as you can well imagine. After five hours of intense concentration and discussion, they joined us for a lunch and a tour of the monastery grounds and Iraivan Temple. Seeing our property gave them a very good idea of the “look and feel” of our center here in paradise.
Kevin finds the stone ball in the mouth of the lion in a pillar of Iraivan Temple.
Greg at the temple entrance
Rawle tries his hand at stone carving.
Today, day two, we spent another dynamic morning reviewing results from the day before, examining and talking about the example sites we rated in more detail, discussing what we liked and didn’t like, and engaging in another sketching exercise along with an in-depth discussion on basic site navigation, a crucial aspect of this project.
Sadasivanathaswami presents Greg Storey with a traditional shawl to honor him on his departure.
Rawle is very tall! Kumarnathaswami give him the shawl. They remarked that our way of saying farewell is far more fun and interesting than how they usually depart from a client meeting.
Sivakatirswami and Kevin
There is no way to describe how successful this series of meetings was. We have collaborated remotely a lot in the past, but what transpired in the ten hours we spent together with this team will open some amazing doors for the future of internet delivery of the Sanatana Dharma’s deepest cyberspace resource. We couldn’t see it happening another way. It takes the magic of being together and creative, dedicated experts all working in sync.
In the next six weeks, this process will continue—with Greg, Rawle and Blythe in San Francisco, Kevin in Philadelphia, the monks in Kauai—with design iterations and feedback and more, until mid-October when the final page design templates will be delivered. In the meantime, our team of monks here will also work with Andre Garzia, our web application developer in Rio de Janeiro, on the massive database that will hold and serve the vast library of content on the website, preparing it to interface with Happy Cog’s gorgeous designs. When everything is tied together, you will see a momentous change here on our website, and we are sure you’ll like what you see—and what you can do, browsing and searching and discovering dozens of books, hundreds of videos, over a thousand audio talks and more.