Kelly: So welcome to the very last episode of Thrive for 2018. I have no idea how quickly this year went by but it has, and today I'm super excited to have one of my really, really good friends Christina Hagopian on the show. Christina is president and creative director of Hagopian Ink, which is a luxury and lifestyle design firm specializing in branding, e-commerce websites and email marketing. So today we're actually gonna talk about something really interesting which was her recent experience in overhauling her own agency's website. So thank you so much for coming on the show today. I'm so excited to chat with you, and I'm ready to dive in.
Christina: Thanks for having me, Kelly. It's always good to talk.
Kelly: So I guess we should start from the beginning. Which is agency owners have this thought in their mind that they should be looking at their website every couple of years, but it's always that thing that kind of gets pushed to the back burner. So what was, I guess the impetus or what drove the decision for you to actually take Hagopian Ink and sort of look at it as a client and relaunch the entire thing from the ground up?
Christina: Well, our old site was approaching that five year mark and in the world of design and web design, that's an eternity. There's so much that changes in that amount of time and it was starting to feel like we were building much more complex and more beautiful websites for our clients than what we were representing ourselves. It's like that old adage, the cobbler's son with no shoes. It was becoming a pain point, and it was starting to feel that it was time, and I wanted to attract the right clients too, and I felt it was hindering that.
Kelly: And was there something with the previous website that wasn't, like you said, attracting ideal clients but was it really bringing in much business?
Christina: Well, our site has always been a validation of who we are. Most of our work really comes through referrals and people that know of us or been introduced to us. That's certainly something we're trying to change and get found a lot easier, but that was something that was even a hindrance even in the introductions from a mobile design standpoint. It was that first generation mobile and it was starting to feel first generation.
Kelly: Got it. So the other thing that I think is interesting about your story with this overhaul is that you are such an incredibly talented designer but you actually decided to hire a designer and just take the role of creative director for this particular project. Why did you feel that that was important for actually seeing it through to fruition?
Christina: Well, thank you for that compliment. I appreciate that. But honestly the business started with me as the designer, the lead designer, but I've been in the role of creative director for a very long time, and it was one of those things where I might be the lead visionary, but it's not good for me to be in the weeds or in the details, especially I was just too close to this. It was never going to get done if I was the designer. I would have second guessed myself through every step of the way and I really felt it was important to get a fresh perspective. I was a little too close to the process the last time, and I needed to let go a little bit and get a fresh viewpoint.
Kelly: That's really interesting, and I'm glad you use the word let go because I think that a lot of agency owners, even if they are coming from a creative background or not themselves, they do sort of get mired in the details and they feel like they have to have control over every little aspect, and I think the point that you're making is bringing that fresh perspective and collaborating with another designer or a couple of other designers, really just change the entire trajectory of the project and the outcome and the result.
Christina: It's so true, and we're about to launch a new Instagram feed, and I had another designer come on board for that, and I have to say I don't want to make more changes and we have such, it's just going to be this evolution where, where is the brand leading and how can we tell our story in a new fresh way, and it's actually very exciting to have somebody else come in and show you a whole new perspective and make it more fresh than what you envision yourself.
Kelly: Right. Right.
Christina: Two to three heads are always better than one. That old adage.
Christina: Like I have to get out of my just own viewpoint.
Kelly: Right. Right. So I have to imagine that there were probably a couple of challenges along the way. Whenever you undertake a project especially one that's completely relaunching from scratch all the way down from design to copy to functionality across the whole board, there had to be a couple of challenges. So I guess the question is can you share what some of those challenges were and I guess, talk a little bit about your experience in actually having the courage to take on Hagopian Ink as a client.
Christina: Well, I realized really quickly that it was not going to get done unless I made this a major priority and made myself a client. So one of the most important things we did was to not take on any new clients for the month of July and August which is normally a slow time for the year. People are on vacations, the city clears out. I'm not going to as many meetings. I'm traveling. So delegating these tasks and making it a project plan and actually blocking it out completely and allowing for that breathing space was essential. But the biggest challenge was culling sixteen years of work and editing and making a story that is fresh for 2018, now 19.
And the remarkable task of, we don't have one server that has all of our projects. I have multiple backup drives and it was like musical back up drives. And now my task for 2019 is to make one cloud where every single project we've ever done is on, because it was a nightmare going through the projects itself. Now also getting those original source files to make sure they were really beautiful and new flow in telling the story of each project in a very fresh way. So taking something old and refreshing it. And also editing down those case studies, what doesn't serve us anymore. I had emotional connections to some of these projects or clients, and yet they might not be the work that we want to do moving forward. So it was that painful moment where it's like we have to take that off. We have to edit that. We have to curate our work. And show our best face.
Kelly: Right. Right. I love some of the things that you just said especially being able to recognize that you had this emotional connection to some of the work because maybe back then if it was twelve, thirteen years ago, you were the designer, and so you were really mired in those details, and so it was very close to you and letting go of that emotional connection is so important. And I think that's really hard for a lot of agency owners.
Christina: It really was. It really was the biggest challenge.
Kelly: Yeah. So talk a little bit about the process. How long did it take and what do you think if you would have done anything differently, what would you have done differently?
Christina: Well, we started the mood board process in the middle of May and that was to just figure out the color, the type pallet, the key design elements, things that we do all the time, getting the right look and feel and getting that excitement level like, ooh, this is new, let's get excited to do something. And wanting it almost to take down the old site immediately once you have the fresh face. And then June, July, was when we started to build the main templates and August was when we handed over everything for development, and we launched the end of September. So it was about five months total, but the real heavy lifting was like I said that case study development and really writing and rewriting the copy, getting the right copy development and the right voice. If I were to go back, it would be to organize those key studies throughout those sixteen years in a much different way.
And I also feel like I think we did a lot of things well, recognizing that once we made ourselves a client, we did the exact same process. So talking to our clients, finding out why they selected us versus others, looking at our competitors, how are we going to differentiate. We didn't want to look like every other design firm. I don't want to just be Helvetica and like super minimal. We are a brand ourselves and we have a voice ourselves and people come to us for a distinctive point of view in the luxury and lifestyle market. So we wanted to be sure we were communicating that.
But there were some things like making sure usability. I remember you mentioning, when you saw the preview like I really wanted that hamburger menu because it looked cool, and your feedback was that's not helping your clients get to what they need to quicker, especially on a desktop. Thinking about every usability aspect from beginning to end. And also from a development standpoint making sure that we were building on a platform that was going to be really easy to edit and add to and making sure that that those systems were in place and the forms of the CSS were in place so we can be nimble and edit and keep adding content, which we’re very excited about.
Kelly: Right. So I just want to touch on two things that you said. So the conversation that we had about usability which was really interesting because at the beginning when I started Thrive, I had Matt Kelly on the show and we talked about the fact that so many agencies choose I think by default this hamburger menu specifically on desktop and we talked about the usability issues of that and that actually the conversation with you is what reminded me of that episode with Matt. And it actually inspired a blog post which was about dropping the hamburger menu and your pipeline will thank you.
On desktop, if prospects have to click three or four times versus though one time that they can hover over a primary navigation tab and then just click on whatever that they're looking for, that's a lot of time that you're saving them and just from a user experience perspective I think that's really important. And I think you've done such a great job with the usability of the site. I mean everyone if you're watching this and later on you want to take a look at the site. It’s hagopianink.com. It's stunning, it’s beautiful, but it's also really functional so I think that there's so many things that you did really, really well with the site.
And it's very different from most agencies because most agencies are that minimalist look and feel, and I feel like that has become sort of the norm, unfortunately. And so, it is really refreshing to see that you took the brand seriously. So yeah just wanted to touch on those couple of things.
Christina: Thank you. Thank you for that. I mean, I remember having a moment of silence for a hamburger.
Kelly: You poured one out for your homie.
Christina: Because it actually it looked a lot more beautiful, but we have to make decisions on the usability that aren't about beauty, and design has to function, and design has to lead to action. So those are really important things that we do for our clients. We have to do it for ourselves too.
Kelly: And I would argue that usability is just as beautiful as minimalism.
Christina: It’s very true.
Kelly: So as we’re starting to wrap up a little bit, the other agency leaders that are out there and they already have in their marketing plan for 2019 or sometime in the year, they're thinking about overhauling their own site because they're at the same point that you were earlier last year or earlier this year. What were the two biggest lessons or takeaways that you would share as advice for people who are actually going to go through this process?
Christina: Really thinking strategically for your intended audience, what's going to differentiate you when someone Googles and finds ours, looking at two or three different type of agencies that do the exact same thing? How are you speaking to them? How are you guiding them? What work are you showing, that's going to attract them? Really articulating that very, very clearly and putting a stake in the ground for your point of view and not being afraid of editing and that curation process. We almost over edited. Now we have to put a little bit back in but I'd rather do that than the other way around, really making yourself a client- number one priority and carving out the importance of it and having a project timeline that you can implement and just getting the right team in place, people that my team was incredible to this.
Kelly: So though the last question I would have, it's pretty specific, I know that you took Hagopian Ink on as a client, but did you also go to the point where you decided, I'm only going to use external resources and I'm going to actually create, you said timeline, but did you also create a budget allocation for it as well?
Christina: I did. I did. I mean, all of my teams are always assembled. It's more of going back to the right players and bringing them together for this one, but having a designated production that was just cutting all of the project images, gathering them, the writing, that was like a whole other key piece. So making sure that each of those team members, I was the project manager so I had to make this a super strong commitment and that's usually where it falls. The agency owner is saying this is something that's going to get done and it has to get done by an x amount of time and I had a certain date and I'm not going to go in to Q4 without this.
Christina: Super important.
Kelly: Yeah, awesome. Well thank you so much for being here. Now everyone has to go check out hagopianink.com, and feel free to send Christina your feedback, your comments, or any additional questions that you have if you are thinking about going through this process or you already have that in your marketing plan for 2019. Her email is c@ hagopianink.com, and Christina thank you so much and it's always awesome to talk to you, and I'm sure we'll see each other soon.
Christina: Thanks Kelly.