Reimagining Pitchfork’s biggest event experience within a constantly-evolving rollout schedule
Since joining Pitchfork in 2013, my involvement in Pitchfork Music Festival Chicago has grown from design production to leadership, and has covered just about every type of design assignment you can imagine.
From designing the merchandise booth and everything within it, to owning the end-to-end digital and print products, even coordinating with the union workers during production week to ensure the stage banners are hung properly, it’s been a wild ride to say the least!
The Primary Objective
Design a fresh interactive brand experience for Pitchfork’s 11th Chicago Music Festival that drives ticket sales, traffic, and audience engagement.
Taking the creative & interactive lead one last time for this particular Pitchfork endeavor.
For the purposes of this case study, I’ll focus on my role as Art Director and Interactive Design Lead in 2017, the festival’s 11th year in the running and my last year owning these responsibilities before moving further into management. Forty artists would perform on three stages across three days.
After spending a week at the NYC offices collaborating with a Condé Nast product designer, I had to finalize the art direction and move into designing the responsive website mockups. My key stakeholders were the President and the Editorial Director of Pitchfork, and I collaborated closely with an in-house engineer on the integration of each phase of the announcement rollout, including the app design through a third-party vendor.
Wireframing & Prototyping
Partnering with the Condé Nast designer for a discovery phase gave me a chance to focus more deeply on the user experience up front than ever before, rather than solely relying on my intuition and rapid researching.
Together we walked through the scope of the project. I shared my historical knowledge of the festival rollout so he could better understand what we were up against, and he helped me visualize user flows and shed light on new ways of thinking about the festival website.
It was a challenge for me to dedicate the entire week to this phase of the project knowing how much design work would be waiting for me upon my return to Chicago, but it was also refreshing to finally have an opportunity to approach the product design roadmap properly, rather than diving in head-first as we’re usually necessitated to.
These exercises with the designer helped lay the groundwork for me to carry on with the art direction and visual design independently, and it was great to have another product design brain to work with, even if only for the first phase of the project.
Part 1 — Problems
If my experience working on this event for the four years prior taught me one thing, it’s that sporadic announcement and lineup changes happen often and at the drop of a hat.
So keeping that in mind in addition to the wide range of other projects I was responsible for at the same time, plus having both of my creative leaders recently leave Pitchfork (making me officially the most senior creative for the company), I had to be especially strategic with my design approach.
Over the previous several years, we incorporated some element of handmade grit with bright, “summer-y” editions of our standard red, green, and blue color palette (representative of our three stages’ names), appealing to the dirt/grit of the festival lifestyle.
These have all been beautiful and served our purposes well, but I felt that it was time to break out of that overarching direction we’d followed for so long. I wondered, how might we push the branding into something that feels totally new, but maintains a relevant appeal to our audience?
Part 1 — Design Solutions
The graphics needed to be quickly and easily editable for the long list of deliverables they’d be utilized for, so I devised a design direction that supported those needs while refreshing the brand for the new festival season.
I came up with a grid pattern designed as a dynamic foundation for creating all visuals in a way that kept the branding fresh throughout the entire festival rollout. This also supported alternate color combinations and palette adjustments for partnership activations.
Overall, this direction significantly decreased design production time, while maintaining our brand’s expectations for exceptional creativity and quality.
Some people loved it so much they went out of their way to let me know. This note in particular came from someone I’d worked with on the festival for years. Having never heard him mention an opinion of our design work before, this one felt extra special.
Just wanted to say that this year's art design for the fest is especially great. One of my favorites from the years. Great work from you and your team.
Part 2 — Problems
To meet an we objective established for the recent overhaul of Pitchfork’s editorial website, we were tasked with better integrating our events within Pitchfork’s ecosystem, starting with this iteration of the Chicago festival. This would undoubtedly lead to better visibility, and hopefully serve as a cost-effective driver for ticket sales.
The challenge: striking the right balance of similarities without compromising the unique brand differences between Pitchfork and its Chicago festival, avoiding a snowfall effect into an overabundance of information for both audiences.
Part 2 — Design Solutions
I looked for elements of Pitchfork’s new website that provided ease and flexibility that would become brand components special enough to feel unique, yet basic enough to share with its brand extensions.
Housing the entire festival site beneath the full-width navigation bar of the editorial site created an instant visual indication of organizational hierarchy.
Flexible, Standardized Grid System
I used the same grid established from the editorial site redesign for this festival website so proportions and spacing of various design elements would feel a bit familiar.
Our Beloved Walfork
Incorporating the Pitchfork’s new sans-serif typeface Walfork as the festival’s secondary brand font give us broader font-setting capabilities.
Working with the engineer to tap into Pitchfork’s new artist tagging system, we were able to pull editorial content about artists playing the festival into its website through slightly modified card modules and artist profile pages. We even reused certain interactive elements like the “Read More” arrow that pokes to the right upon mouseover.
On the Pitchfork editorial side of things, I looked for opportune moments to call a user’s attention to a artists mentioned around the site that were booked to play the festival.
One solution was to add a primary navigation item for our individual events. Keeping the type settings consistent with the editorial navigation, but adding a subtle color-shifting animation to the festival item, I found a way to elevate the festival’s presence without distracting from the reading experience.
This solution became one we were able to reuse for our Paris festival and other events moving forward, each one animating between their unique brand colors.
Another implementation we made was a homepage hero card module takeover for the full week leading up to the festival weekend. We set it up as a countdown and link directly to the ticketing engine.
The Final Outcomes
The design solutions for the 2017 festival led our teams to tighter collaboration, faster production, and a rebrand that once again helped keep Pitchfork’s focus on pushing creative boundaries within the oversaturated festival industry, all while remaining agile and keeping costs at a minimum.
My work created a cohesive brand across all festival deliverables: ads and partnership activations, digital assets for web and social media requests, promotional videos I commissioned, livestream assets for our internal Video department, and so much more.
The festival website and app saw greater traffic and engagement than ever before, with:
851k unique visitors to the festival section from the lineup announcement on February 2, 2017
91% of people surveyed visited the festival website
over 5,200 users downloading the app, spending an average of 21:32 minutes on it
Our efforts to increase Pitchfork’s editorial content by elevating the connection to the festival led to 1.53MM page views of festival content on pitchfork.com, another successful accomplishment.
This project was a great practice in the art of delegating tasks at appropriate times. It reminded me of the importance in communicating openly and being resourceful when faced with an intimidating wall of challenges. When I trust my own strengths as I do with the people around me, I can accomplish great things.
Interested in checking out some archives of the festival site? Sure thing! I’ve listed them here, along with some accolades received for my direct contributions. We have been nominated or honored every year my work was entered.
2016 — Webby Awards Nominee for Best Visual Design: Function
2015 — Webby Awards Honoree in Advertising & Media for Best Home/Welcome Page