How do you consolidate an ever-expanding franchise into a single home on the web?
Robert Kirkman’s hit title The Walking Dead began as a single monthly comic, but unless you’ve been hiding in an abandoned sub-basement – a good choice if zombies have attacked – you know that the character-driven post-apocalyptic zombie title has exploded into the zeitgeist and become much more. With video games, trade paperbacks, novels, toys, collectibles and a massively popular television series, The Walking Dead is now an entertainment juggernaut.
But success comes with certain challenges. As The Walking Dead grows, there’s been a tendency for its online presence to become “scattered.” Fans often create their own content, and while fan sites, blogs and wikis help grow the audience, they can distract users from official content. Likewise, new Walking Dead products – like the top-selling App Store game The Walking Dead Assault – have their own online presence, resulting in many “official” The Walking Dead sites. With the fan base being directed to multiple sites, Skybound Comics found control of the franchise difficult, and their revenue streams were being threatened.
It ultimately became clear that The Walking Dead required a definitive home on the web, a portal that would serve as hub for all things The Walking Dead. We worked with Skybound to define what this should be, and how it could best help them retain control of their creation.
Sometimes less isn’t more
There’s a trend on the web to minimize content. Why use fifty words when ten work? While we often support this approach, it was evident that The Walking Dead fits into a category currently dominated by an equally viable trend: abundant, evolving content.
Fan sites often benefit from this strategy. Where other sites work better if they focus on providing basic information about a company or a product, when we’re dealing with a product that truly engages its customer base we often find that providing them a ton of content will keep them excited and build brand loyalty. And this is certainly the case with fans of The Walking Dead – they’re always wanting more, whether that be new wiki articles on the characters or news about the TV show or commentary on upcoming issues from Robert and his team.
Understanding that we were designing an information-heavy site, CommonGround Creative immediately identified several project challenges. First, we would need to design the site so that users would have a good experience, whether they were looking for specific information or simply browsing. User interface and user experience – what we design nerds mythically refer to as UI/UX – would be crucial. Secondly, while comic book characters typically enjoy empires of endless financial resources, there are few Tony Starks or Bruce Waynes in the comic book industry here in the real world. Skybound would need the ability to grow the site and add new content in a cost-effective manner – adding a new product or article couldn’t cost them thousands of dollars. This would require a modular, flexible design with a user-friendly backend, allowing Skybound to make frequent content updates internally.
Identifying these sort of project goals and solutions is something we do at CommonGround Creative every day. With websites playing an increasingly important role in how companies portray themselves and their products, it’s vital to get your website right. If this sounds like a bit of product placement in the middle of a case study about a zombie comic book website, maybe it is. But it’s important to point out that hiring a quality agency like CommonGround means that your project is thought through, from branding to UI/UX to visual appeal. We wanted Skybound to enjoy a site that would meet their needs for years to come, not receive a final product that didn’t meet their needs.
The Walking Dead is a visual product, so it already had an established look. Robert Kirkman and his creative team had, in a sense, done a lot of our legwork. Our creative team knew that a successful site would build upon their hard work, not attempt to redefine or overshadow it. Our creative team approached each page with this understanding.
Whether the larger, “hero” images or smaller tiles, our creative team worked to adapt existing visual assets to the website. We wanted to maintain a balance with the images, drawing from the comic, television show and other products in a way that conveyed that a visitor was on a site for ALL things Walking Dead, not just one aspect of the franchise.
We used background imagery to enhance the site without cluttering it. Each section was given its own background, chosen to visually represent that individual section. A zombie horde on the homepage adds a sense of peril and excitement, and while it’s not exactly “subtle,”it doesn’t draw attention away from the content. These images enhance the user experience on large displays, while disappearing on smaller mobile devices without compromising the user experience.
Developing a modular site
In the “old days” – think ten years ago…basically ancient times – you could either have a site that was beautiful but static, or one that was flexible but looked like it was designed by Mrs. Kelley’s 6th grade art class. (Ten points for catching The Walking Dead reference there.) Websites today are all about being frequently-updated, evolving sites, but this has to be cost-effective. Most companies can’t afford to spend thousands a month redesigning their site over and over.
A solution that we fully embrace at CommonGround is the use of web technologies that allow for modular sites. Think of it like this – remember that tank where Rick and Glenn take refuge in season one? Websites in 2005 were like elaborately crafted models of that tank. Each piece was handcrafted, painted then glued into place. The final product looked great, but you couldn’t change it without breaking it. Today’s websites are like Lego versions of the tank – individual pieces or whole sections pop right out. If you’d like the side of the tank to temporarily read “Long live the Governor” or “Shane sucks” in graffiti script, you can do that.
Returning to the more pertinent example of the site itself, the modular design allows Skybound to frequently update and alter the site internally. When they partner with Hyundai in a promotion featuring a chopped-up Veloster zombie-killing machine, they can feature it on any section of the site they want, dropping that content into the desired section.
Modular sites mean that outdated content can be removed, and fresh, engaging content added. It keeps visitors coming back, which not only increases site traffic and SEO, but builds brand loyalty and retains customers.