Tips For Conceptualizing and Designing a Standout Website

March 31, 2016

By Libby Peterson

Ever felt you’ve outgrown your website, like your online presence no longer aligns with how you envision your brand? It might just be time for a makeover. Here, we chatted with wedding photography maestros Justin and Mary Marantz and pro designer Jen Olmstead of TONIC SITE SHOP who together launched the Marantzes’ newly refurbished website.

The Dilemma: Keeping Up With An Evolving Brand

Justin & Mary Marantz: We had launched our first brand back in 2008, and it was perfect for who we were then: quirky and playful. The problem became that we weren’t really getting seen for our work the way we knew we could be. If you held up our brand and our latest work side by side, they looked like they came from two different people. And in a very real way they did, from the 2008 version of us just starting out and the people we’ve grown into since then.

With this new brand, we wanted a sophistication, elegance and iconic feel that had definitely been lacking, something that would not be different just to be different, but a site that would really get people’s attention and also get them thinking about what we get to do with our lives as photographers.

The Mission: Refinement Makeover

Jen Olmstead: Justin and Mary came to me with the most exciting email I’d ever received—an introduction, a commission and a heart attack all in one: “It’s something like London at night in the fog, black & white images, with lots of gray tones, possibly browns & leathers (but not necessarily), romantic, yet moody images and text. Lots and lots of fun text! Think Restoration Hardware meets Burberry meets Vanity Fair meets Brooks Brothers. With some quirkiness of Kate Spade & J.Crew, and a bit of the romanticism of Tiffany’s thrown in there for good measure!”

What Justin and Mary really came to me with was years of late nights and long conversations figuring out who they were and who they were not. They already knew what their brand would look like; they just hadn’t seen it yet. I took their inspiration, developed a mood board, and began the process of developing the J&M crest.

J&M: It was only about an hour after our first session when we had our new logo. And it was the strangest thing: looking at it was like coming home, like finally finding what it should have been all along. It was the very first time we were seeing it, but it also felt like it was a lifetime in the making.

When it came time to reconfiguring the prospective client experience online, the Marantzes turned to Jen Olmstead to help present something that’s more “them”: a moodier black-and-white style, sophisticated spirit and belief in photography as a way of beholding a legacy.

The Execution: Building The Forever Brand

J&M: Communicating our vision to Jen, these are some of the elements we wanted to add to our new site:

1. Helping clients understand our Why. We have a section called “The Legacy,” which is like the cinematic movie preview of our website; it pairs our most signature images and words, what we think this generation of storytelling should stand for. “The truth is we don’t just take them for our brides…we take them for her granddaughter to find one day,” is one of them, and “at the end of our lives we will look back at the work we’ve created—this legacy that we stand for—and know that this work always mattered. That we left…something behind.”

2. Sharing our story differently and the love we’ve known. “Around the World with J&M” and “At Home with J&M” contain photos and looping in-motion videos of us framed within filmstrips. And the “Silver Frame Stories” section at the end of The Legacy features words and a photo Justin took of my grandparents holding their wedding photo in a silver frame taken 62 years earlier.

3. Making our galleries stand out. Within each of the photo galleries are quotes from us about how we see love because of the way we see it in each other (“And just like that, just by taking my hand, he’s always been able to make the world make sense again”). In other words, if you want these photos, then you have to hire the eyes that took them because no one else will see the world quite like we do.

4. Having video transitions with quotes between pages. We featured a video of us twirling around on our 2008 site, and it’s so cool to see how things like that got a grown-up makeover and carried over to the new site. It’s like paying homage to the brand (and the us) that came before, rather than pretending like that era never existed.

5. Providing different “worlds” to explore. Jen is the queen of making all these different “rabbit holes” for the viewer to go down further and further into your site. When you click over to the World of J&M, it’s almost like another site within the site; you can choose whether to watch our video, see images from our traveling, see images of us at home, read our story or see our style guide (iconic fashion items that we love, like my grandma’s pearls or a Burberry trench).

The entry page reads “Photography for people who believe in love, because for us, it always started with love,” and that one sentence really set the tone for the whole site, says Olmstead.

JO: The entry page reads “Photography for people who believe in love, because for us, it always started with love,” and that one sentence really set the tone for the whole site. Each decision we made had to flow from that well. A too-exclusive-sounding phrase in “The J&M Bride”? Cut. An image there just for the sake of being pretty? Gone. The first thing you’re meant to click from the homepage? Not the galleries, but “The Legacy,” a stunning frame-by-frame explanation of why J&M do what they do, and easily my favorite part of the site. Every detail was considered, and each line of text has such a distinctive tone that the whole site ended up with a voice, I think. I only used three font styles, but playing with scale and combination throughout made the entire site feel more like a Vanity Fair spread than a “wall of text.” It was a lot of effort, but now, people tell us that all of the type is one of their favorite parts. I love that you can almost hear Mary reading “The Why” and that you can see Justin in the galleries and the intention behind every section. There’s a heartbeat, and it’s all their own.

The Effect: A New Design In Action

J&M: We were looking for brides and couples who were classic and love Audrey Hepburn, but not stuffy and also love Halloween like we do, who love black-and-white photography, who are probably getting married at a mansion and who love classic architecture. The very first bride we booked after we launched the new site is the epitome of the classic J&M bride: she dressed up as Audrey Hepburn for Halloween, she’s getting married at a mansion in Virginia and we did her engagement shoot in NYC, she loves black-and-white photography and even wore a black-and-white dress for the engagement shoot, and she is an architect who loves classic architecture! I mean, WHAT? It’s pure craziness what a brand with both intention and heart can do when it’s put out into the world!