20 for 20: Twenty Years of Designing Websites
I actually remember the first time I ever heard the word “website”. It was in the fall of 1995, and I was a sophomore design student at Louisiana State University. I got elected Secretary of the Graphic Design Student Association and while attending my first officers’ meeting, one of the officers quipped, “You know… we get a free website as officers of the GDSA.” I had no idea what he was talking about. I inquisitively asked, “What is a ‘website’?”. He explained it to me, and I shrugged my shoulders and thought to myself, “What the fuck am I supposed do with that?”. How does having a website relate to getting a degree in graphic design? In 1995, design-wise, every website in existence was pretty much an abomination of taste and decency. I wanted no part of it. I was in school to learn design, not to become a programming engineer. Who knew that within two years, designing websites would become my primary source of income for the next twenty years.
The first website I designed was in the summer of 1997, during my first internship at Barousse Design in the old Masonic Temple office building at 333 St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans’ Central Business District. John Barousse was (and still is) an excellent mentor — providing me with careful guidance and the freedom to explore my young, ambitious and somewhat clueless design sensibilities.
On the second morning of my summer internship, John handed me a big yellow book called “Designing Web Graphics 2” by Lynda Weinman (the eventual creator of Lynda.com). I went home and devoured it. By the end of the week, I had launched my first personal website on geocities called “The Cozmic Zone” complete with big, honking red beveled navigation buttons. John still calls me “sb cozmic” (my geocities username) to this day… which always cracks me up.
Immediately after graduation in May 1998, I began my first “real world” job at a small marketing firm in Dallas, TX, which was 98% print design and marketing collateral. This “website thing” had taken humanity by storm, and I was witnessing 20-somethings becoming millionaires overnight. I needed in on that action. By the winter of 1999, a close buddy from design school, David Warren, easily converted me to “The Dark Side” by hooking me up with a job interview at i.con interactive in the Dallas Infomart. It was here that I forged lasting relationships with individuals that have partnered with BCBD to this day.
The first important website project we did was for the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League. The Stars had just won the Stanley Cup that year. We asked Stars fans what they wanted to see on the new site. There was an overwhelming request for “Mike Modano’s face… really big”, so that’s what we gave them. The biggest challenge at the time was download speed. This was before “broadband”, so large images took forever to load — it was a risky move. We skirted around the issue by making the images grayscale to decrease the file size, which thus became a feature of the overall design. The limitations of the young web often meant “function over form”, which is the opposite of how I was trained as a visual artist.
Here it is in all it’s glory. You can even see how bad the image compression is to account for its scale!
Funny story… I saw Mike Modano (above) shopping in Soho two years later. He must have thought I was a freak because I followed him into a store like I knew him “personally” by designing this!
To be an Internet professional during it’s infancy was absolutely insane. Job recruiters called us on our direct lines daily. It was very easy for a young designer to take advantage of jumping ship for a bigger salary, which I got by going over to Rare Medium Dallas in January of 2000. I remember they were one of the few global internet firms besides Razorfish without an “nt” suffix in their name (ala Sapient, Scient, Viant, Luminant, etc). I think the trend came from the word “efficient”, which none of them really were at the time!
My first dose of the insanity came on my second day. I had to fly to the Rare Atlanta office to design a simple home page. Thinking back, were web files too big to email back then? I’m still scratching my head at this. The Atlanta office had two perfectly talented designers. They were just as puzzled as I was to my presence there after only one day on the job. A few totally unnecessary, but totally fun work trips to NYC came next.
After three months, I was shipped off to be a transitional creative director for the newly acquired Rare London office. I was 24 years old with no idea how to manage myself, let alone an office full of 30 and 40-somethings. All I knew was how to design stuff sorta good. After the initial month of finding my feet, surviving a dramatic food poisoning ordeal, and learning some Cockney rhyming slang, the Rare London team began work on this gem… a gratuitous lifestyle portal for Müller Dairy complete with weekly horoscopes and a book of the month! They sell yogurt.
It took us most of the year 2000 to make this. It probably took so long because were downloading mp3s from Napster all day, followed by downing pints until the pubs closed at 11pm. Basically every day. This pic is of Rare Medium London in the summer 2000. I can see we didn’t have quite the same perks that the Dallas office had, but I really miss this “lot” a whole lot more.
Alas, all good things must come to an end as they say. By the time I got back to Dallas (twenty pounds thinner and with blonde highlights) the Internet bubble had burst. We were all unemployed by April 2001, so I made the snap decision to pursue my life-long dream to be in New York City.
That summer, with my new titanium Apple MacBook in tow, I pounded the NYC payment looking for design jobs and picking up any freelance work I possibly could. I clearly remember the look I would get every time I tried to explain to a potential employer that “my website IS my portfolio”. That didn’t get me too far. No one was hiring web designers, and I had virtually no professional print work to speak of. If it wasn’t for my LSU connection Marc Daigle — who got me my first full-time freelance gig at Cosmopolitan magazine — I probably wouldn’t have made it past six months. New York can chew you up and spit you out, but I’m still here. Thanks, Marc.
After a year in print publication design, I yearned for the glory days and perks of the Internet boom. I eventually landed a job at a small web design shop in The Soho Building that had really skinny business cards. Unfortunately my skinny business card was the only company perk. The real lasting treat, however, was the person I got to sit next to everyday — an extremely gifted designer from Switzerland with an amazing laugh and an unparalleled amount of enthusiasm. I got exposed to the beauty of Swiss design from her, and I was always inspired by her clean approach to typography. Today Tina Roth Eisenberg is a famous designer and entrepreneur — widely renowned for her Swiss Miss Blog and the companies she’s launched such as Tattly, Studiomates, Creative Mornings, and Friends Work Here. I consider Tina an old acquaintance and a key person in my evolution as a web designer. I miss hearing her daily chuckling! Nevertheless, Tina’s enthusiasm couldn’t rub off on me, and I was justifiably fired after only a few months. They had us doing page templates for a diabetes site all summer long. Blah.
At this point of my career, I joined the second incarnation of SME Branding — the most renowned and trusted leader in sports branding and design. This is where I would begin my schooling in logo design and brand strategy. While we didn’t do much website work there in 2003, I did get to create one of their first websites alongside one of my old school pals from my i.con interactive Dallas days, Octavio Licon.
This is the first site we built for SME back in 2003. BCBD launched SME’s current site as The Art & Science of Branding in March of 2016.
But if I can pin-point a time where I flourished the most as a website designer, it was during my time at Interactive Partners from 2005 to 2008. iPartners, now known as Canvas United, is led by President John Kaminsky who has an extraordinary knack for assessing creative talent and driving them toward innovation for clients such as BBC Worldwide, Showtime, Madison Square Garden, and IFC.
So without further ado, here’s BCBD’s 20 for 20: Twenty noteworthy websites I’ve designed over the past twenty years (ok, it’s more than twenty, but I’m from New Orleans where we have a thing called “lagniappe”).
For the past 20 years, Scott Bellina has amassed an extensive portfolio of brilliant art direction and design. Before founding BCBD, Scott honed his craft as lead creative in top agencies located in New Orleans, Dallas, London, and New York City. Moreover, he has provided award-winning creative for clients such as Nike, adidas, Cosmopolitan, Showtime, BBC Worldwide, Madison Square Garden Entertainment, the National Hockey League, IFC, eMusic.com, Fuse, Samsung, Temple Turmeric, Qello Concerts, the New York Rangers, and the New York Yankees.
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