Some projects turn in to a labour of love. Word Of Sport falls in to that category. Of course we always strive to ensure that all clients receive the same professional service. However, it would be disingenuous to say that some projects don’t grab us as designers and developers more than others. Word Of Sport did just that. The history and passion of the client was infectious and appealed to us all from the very start. It was a pleasure to collaborate with everyone concerned.
Some of you may recall once upon a time hearing about a small specialist sports bookshop with a huge reputation on the Charing Cross Road in London called Sportspages. You may have stumbled across a reference to it on the back pages of a newspaper, or read about it online via The Times, ESPN or Sports Illustrated who called it the “world’s coolest bookstore”. If you never heard of it before then to quote the former manager Liam Doyle in his introduction to Word Of Sport:
“its influence far outweighed its somewhat humble surrounds”
Sportspages was subsequently bought by a competitor then closed shortly afterwards. The loss was not only felt by the legions of sports fans and journalists who would stop by there for a chat and maybe a book or two but by the staff too who, in some cases had spent the best part of a decade creating the unique atmosphere of the shop.
Word of Sport is the next chapter in the story. The staff who created the slightly nerdy but welcoming and knowledgeable atmosphere are those behind Word Of Sport. We feel uniquely privileged to be involved with trying to re-create the shop online.
Word Of Sport is not just an online store. It’s a ready-made community and publication produced and written by sports fans, for sports fans. We've attempted to create a serious yet easy to use interface to help visitors find just the kind of niche books and specialist titles they would have found in the original shop.
We also added a community section to enable customers and fans to share their reviews and opinions with others, just like they did in the original bookshop. Members also have their own member area and profile to share their own unique insight in to sports writing with help at every stage to ensure they don’t miss a title or a review. We also included our own weblog application, modified especially for the site to enable the staff to share news, reviews and sports opinion with everyone.
The whole range of technologies applied to the site are interwoven. Book listings include member reviews and references to weblog reviews. The community’s own contributions are an unmissable part of the browsing experience for visitors. Although, of course, the primary objective of the site is to be successful as a business, it has been absolutely clear from the start that the community would be a core feature of that. We’ve stretched the original brief as far as possible to encourage and highlight the contribution of members who want to be involved.
Web Standards driven methodologies have been used at every stage. Semantic Information Design Ethics were at the heart of our approach. Accessibility is a key component of that resulting in some interesting conversations with the payment gateway providers Protx. The site uses relative EM values throughout - sometimes called an ‘elastic’ layout allowing it to stretch with users defined default font size. We've aimed at meeting and sometimes exceeding Priority 2 conformance to the WCAG and the site has been manually checked as thoroughly as budget and time allowed. We would encourage any users with specific requirements that have any concerns to contact Word Of Sport and we will respond or make adjustments as soon as we can.
The shop application was built from scratch based around our own existing store software. We included Microformats wherever appropriate including over 1500 specially created tags — chunked down in to more palatable groups like teams — to describe and access items more usefully. The weblog is a modification of our own Axi weblog software. All other functionality of the site was created specifically for Word Of Sport. It’s amazing how much we’ve learnt, applied and been able to share with the client in the process; A further reason why this project has been so satisfying to work on.
The site is hosted by us using a bespoke package of features put together specifically to give Word Of Sport a scalable, responsive solution to their projected needs. As is the case with the code development, we will continue to work closely with the company to adjust and improve all aspects of the service in the future.
We approached the design with the contrast between the old and the new firmly in mind. Modern sports coverage is high–gloss and and flashy. Crisp graphics and sleek lines. In contrast most conversations about sport take place in less glossy bookshops, dusty bars and pubs or sitting rooms in front of the telly. The passion of the fans pays for the high–gloss and fundamentally this is a site for the fans. The design and typography of the site was constructed to reflect that.
Serif fonts were mixed with sans–serif. Serifs are used for headlines and titles with small caps used for main page headers that hark back a more genteel era of sporting knowledge. Sans–serif fonts fill in the detail. The palette is partially muted but clean. Gentle but clear contrasts are used to make browsing and reading the huge amount of content as easy as possible. We’ve tried to create a serious sporting atmosphere where fans like us can come to read, share and buy. We hope you think so.
As the designers, developers and hosts we’ve put our heart in to the project. However, the final result would be completely different without the input and dedication of others involved.
Specifically, the professionalism and skill of Ivor Conway of Neuchi who provided project management and continues to provide the online marketing services to Word Of Sport. Last but not least, not forgetting the spellbinding knowledge and dedication of Liam Doyle of Word Of Sport itself, who’s passion for the site and the books it holds were inspiring throughout.
Whether you’re a dedicated sports book collector or merely a fan who’s never bought a book we’d like to encourage you to visit Word Of Sport and take part yourself. Such specialist retailers appeal to the nerd in all of us and we’d like to recommend supporting this one if sport is your thing. We hope you have fun!
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