Gaia Online came to Blue Flavor looking to improve the user experience of their wildly successful online community. However, with a very creative internal team and an astoundingly large and active audience, this was no run-of-the-mill project. What it did turn out to be was one of the most interesting, fun and unique projects the Blue Flavor team has worked on to date.
A Tradition in Social Media
Over the course of the project we developed a great working relationship with the internal team at Gaia and we’re betting they can tell our story here better than we can. We took some time to talk to Gaia’s President James Cao, and Jakob Heuser, Software Engineer and our Project Manager, about the project.
Jakob talks about the challenges Gaia was facing and why they came to Blue Flavor for help.
“In the Social Media space, building a web site that stands out is a really difficult task. Gaia has, for the past 3 years, had a very unique member base, totaling over 4 million registered users. However, the site had grown so much that our team no longer knew how to manage the navigation or how to create a design that would appeal to our large base. We had three principle concerns:
- Make it possible to find everything that Gaia had to Offer
- Rebuild the front page so that someone can “get” what Gaia is about quickly
- Provide an overall look and feel that could appeal to a larger base than our anime-centric crowd while still maintaining its roots.
“Finding Blue Flavor for us was nothing short of a miracle. We needed a design firm that understood our users, and not just in the abstract sense. The core of the Gaia experience is the earning of virtual items as a representation of status and success in the community- a concept that not many people we talk to understand.”
Blue Flavor brought not only knowledge of “peoplecentric” web design and development and a wealth of experience with online community, we brought the empathy and skills to get to know Gaia’s audience. Oh…and a healthy interest in the gaming concept behind Gaia helped too.
Or, artists vs. designers. ;0)
Gaia had quite a few interesting challenges creatively, not the least of which was a very large highly opinionated and invested audience. On the inside they lacked a unified direction, but had a wealth of creative assets, talents and vision. Blue Flavor stepped in to provide that direction, as best we could, and at the same time tried to respect and mesh with the tradition and creative energy Gaia’s creatives brought to the table.
We began with a complete realignment of the site which we expressed not only in design, but in many creative conversations with Gaia’s team. Our goal was to provide them direction, some education about the web and design for experience and community, as well as deliverables their internal teams could work with. We wanted to mix our understanding of their community with solid design principles and the imagination their artists brought to the table.
Jakob talks about the specific deliverables and addresses Gaia’s unique situation:
“Our primary deliverables were a new look and feel, a new navigation, and a new / refreshing way to present the Gaia concepts. After 5 redesigns in three years, our art team had come close to the end of their creative rope, and the site needed new life. From Blue Flavor we got all of these deliverables, and we couldn’t be happier.
“While the back and forth was a bit cumbersome at times, it was very helpful to have an outside hand guiding the project. By the end, many of our artists understood basic concepts of design for the web which has made many of our current projects much smoother.”
A Good Working Relationship Is Important
We feel a good working relationship is very important for all projects, especially when you’re not in the same physical location, and with Gaia it was doubly important. They had a bit of a short timeframe in which to get the work done, as well as team that was as diverse in schedule as they were in creative talent. Jakob tells us how it worked out:
“Blue Flavor was incredibly easy to work with. The team was very understanding to the changing environment of an Internet Startup, and was able to adapt well when deadlines or requirements changed on the fly. By keeping us up to date on changes to the project’s timeline and budget, we were able to meet our internal company deadline for the redesign perfectly.
“The amount of communication was superb. Knowing that Blue Flavor was constantly working with us was a huge asset as opposed to the typical “do project and come back in 3 months” approach a lot of groups have.”
And if that wasn’t nice enough, James Cao give this endorsement, “It’s a pleasure working with you guys. We have worked with quite a lot of consulting/contractors, and I’ll say the Blue Flavor experience is the best so far.”
We enjoyed working with you too, James!
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