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A Website By Other Means

“We’re trying to refine our color choices,” Phil says. “If something is timeless, we give it a black and white color scheme: the natural neutral. We’re using a black frame for things that are upcoming, to convey that it’s somewhat in the dark. If something is open now, we’re using a really saturated green.”

From the other end of the table, Gary adds, “Most of the stuff you scroll through will be gray, and then when you stumble upon something green you’ll understand you’ve stumbled upon something that’s happening now.”

“We’re using bright saturated colors to give a contemporary feel,” Phil puts in. “A tone that balances dry, quirky, and confident.”
Miranda: ica03_home10.10

Miranda: ica03_home10.10

Around the table, heads begin to nod, getting it. We’re in ICA’s conference room, and three of the designers from Other Means are talking us through what will be, very soon, our amazing new website! ICA has been talking about getting a new website for quite a long time, and now—money raised, ideas brainstormed, designers selected, staff surveyed, site mostly built (each step lengthy, arduous, intricate), we are getting a truly exhilarating sneak peak at the future.

There is a way in which I am amazed by this whole presentation—how rigorously and thoughtfully this team has wrestled with every decision. It’s not just the colors, but also the typography, the size of the search box (big!), the flexible format of the images on the home page (goodbye to conventional grids). And of course the CMS, or content management system, which they built from scratch for us; they’re calling it the “OMS” for “Other management system.”

In another way, though, this deep thinking doesn’t surprise me at all, because this is exactly why we wanted these guys! A year ago, interviewing as part of their bid for the job, they were so articulate about how they saw what we wanted in a website—more clear-eyed, in some ways, than we were ourselves. We hired them because we felt they saw who we were and would make a website that truly reflected our essential nature. How that was possible, we didn’t know. Now it is coming clearer.
Miranda: exhibitions

Miranda: exhibitions

A couple of weeks after the preview meeting, Gary is back at ICA, this time with Ryan and Vance, to speak to our Board of Overseers. (Phil is up in New York teaching his op-ed illustration class at Pratt.) I take the opportunity to ask some questions about Other Means and what their philosophy is.

It all began, Ryan says, when he was living in Switzerland. He and Vance (who had gone to school together) and Gary and Phil (who ran a previous design studio) were “thinking about starting a club to promote work we liked. And then we thought, maybe it would be best to make the work we thought should be seen.”

What kind of work was that?

“Idea-driven,” is one way they put it, meaning that a site should look the way it does—and function the way it does—for clear reasons, not just because people are comfortable with a certain kind of website.

“It was upsetting to us to see a lot of arts institutions redesigning their websites and all looking the same,” Ryan says.

“We want the site to be easy to use,” Gary says, “but we don’t want that to override things that would be fun to use, or interesting to use, or rewarding to use. If you constantly give people things they always use, you don’t get anywhere.”
Miranda: Guys at table A

Miranda: Guys at table A

Two of the central themes of ICA’s website are connection and discovery. If you scroll down the home page, for example, you’ll see first (as you might expect) the current exhibitions, followed by the upcoming programs and various posts about what’s going on at ICA. Then, however, something unexpected happens. There’s a kind of—a jump I’d call it—into what Other Means describes as a “reveal”: a space where something from the past pushes forward into the present. As the designers met with ICA staff over many months, Chief Curator Ingrid Schaffner suggested putting archival images into the reveal along with written information. So, you might see a picture of Andy Warhol at his 1965 ICA opening, or a list of all the ICA shows Karen Kilimnik has ever had work in, or an installation image from 2012’s First Among Equals—something connected in some way to what you’ve just been looking at.

And then, if you keep scrolling, you’ll get to something else—something still connected, but perhaps more tangentially: a description of the 2007 Carlos Garaicoa show; an image of Jenny Holzer’s 1983 Parking Meter Stickers at 30th Street Station; a photo from an old Miranda post. A bit of historical flotsam floated up on the virtual sea of the website just for you.
Miranda: ica03_reveal3.10.10

Miranda: ica03_reveal3.10.10

Scrolling to discover, Phil called this process at the earlier meeting: “If you scroll once, you get to something close. But if you keep scrolling, it gets deeper.”

Now Gary says, “The way that all of these people and exhibitions and programs that have come through these buildings in the past fifty years have been somewhat automatically connecting through people and images—that’s a major part of the experience of the site.”

Discovery and connection: two things we hope happen when you walk into our galleries. But now—even if you’re on the other side of the planet, or it’s the middle of the night, or you’re at home on the sofa with that unmistakable restless dry-throated longing for art—you can still get that experience! You can wade into our brand new, deeply thoughtful, Other Means-made space and see what the sea of ICA washes ashore.

ICA’s new website will launch in time for ICA@50! Screen shots from the beta version in this post are works in progress.

To stay up to date with everything washing ashore at ICA, email miranda@icaphila.org.
Other Means On ICA’s New Visual Identity