Town and Country: An Interview

Town and Country Responsive Site

A few weeks ago we mentioned the new responsive site, Town and Country, from Hearth Digital Media.

I asked Theresa Mershon (Creative Director) and Erin Toland (Art Director) a few questions about how they found the project, what they learned, and how they would do things differently given the chance.

Q: Did the client want to go responsive, or did you suggest it? How did you sell the additional resources(time/money) required.

Responsive Design has become a business priority for Hearst Digital Media, as it is uniquely suited to the needs of publishers: our audience accesses our content from different devices at different points throughout the day. We need to deliver a good, consistent experience to them wherever and however they find us. Search optimization is key to our business, so the ability to serve one site and one URL to all users is important to us.

Q: advertising seems a strong revenue stream for t&c, how did you handle that across a variety of break points and did the clients approach to selling the advertising have to change at all?

Accommodating display advertising in a responsive build was one of our biggest challenges: we had to develop new systems for serving different ad creative to different viewports, including being able to track them correctly for our advertisers. Currently we are serving fixed-sized (not fluid) ads, but displaying smaller ads on smaller screens. All of this was new to our advertising operations group: they had to innovate rapidly in order to get Town and Country launched on time. We (as well as our whole industry) are in the early days of responsive ad support and we expect to iterate quickly as we test our current implementation and develop better systems.

Q: In the first 2 seconds on the site and an pad app pop up appears, is that because a lot of the content is paid for, or because the client is still holding on to the idea of print and monthly releases?

The pop-up ads come from our circulation/audience development group. They use our websites to sell print subscriptions to the magazines. The overlap of print magazine readers to website readers is low, and our websites have been successful in growing the print subscription base. We know through user feedback that these ads are not favored by our audience. We are exploring new ways of incorporating print subscription pushes on our sites.

Q: finally, what did you learn from the project, what were the pain points in building the site responsively and if you had your time over what would you have done differently?

We learned so many things! First, we had to up-end our product development process in order to build out a responsive site in the same timeframe we were building out fixed-width sites previously. We moved from a waterfall process to an agile process to facilitate learning, communication and faster iterative cycles. We also introduced “style tiles” and component style guides early in the process, lifting the visual style from the underlying page structure. We thought this would be a challenge as our stakeholders were print magazine editors who are comfortable looking at “whole-cloth” designs, but we found it was a very easy, well-received process change that helped us define the visual style earlier than we would have been able to do using our previous process.

We built out two responsive sites concurrently (the other site is RoadandTrack.com) and shared templates and innovations between the projects to help speed them both up. We learned it really is easier to start with the smallest screen first. We learned to sketch and prototype faster, and not to rely as heavily on high-definition designs. We also learned that the big win with responsive design is in site performance: moving into our next responsive project, performance became a top-line goal and we’ve made it the responsibility of every team member to keep performance in mind when working from requirements to final implementation.

If we were going to tackle the Town and Country redesign again, we would incorporate the concept of the “performance budget” from day one.

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