When we moved Hyperakt to Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood, we were so excited by all the new-to-us restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and creative spaces. Our Senior UI/UX Designer Eric Fensterheim had the idea to make a simple, user-friendly neighborhood guide.
Inspired by designer-curated guides like Scouted and Wallpaper, we set out to create On the Grid: a reliable resource that captures the true essence of the places we love through beautiful photography, candid descriptions, and design-driven curation.
Here’s a look at how the project started, how we’re growing it, and what’s next.
Start small, but think big
On the Grid launched with just one neighborhood, but it was built with expansion to other neighborhoods in mind. We first launched On the Grid in April 2015 with Gowanus, Brooklyn. Powered by Siteleaf, a nimble CMS with a super user-friendly interface, adding content to the site was a breeze.“Start small, but think big.”
Pushing for the simplest possible interface, we stripped navigation down to the essentials and kept our writing short and sweet. As opposed to most other city guides, we wanted the star of the show to be the reportage style photography.
Starting out with just 2 templates, the neighborhood grid page and the individual location page, we settled on navy blue as a neutral, constant color for all typography and iconography. This would allow future curators to have the freedom to choose different background colors should we expand the site to more neighborhoods.
By curating Gowanus ourselves, we prototyped the idea and tested processes so we could effectively support others helping us expand to new neighborhoods. The curation of Gowanus effectively set the tone for all future content.“Once you build a product, it’s 99% about community management and engagement.”
Growing from the inside out
As soon as On the Grid launched, we started asking our favorite NYC creative companies to join us by representing their own neighborhoods. Fortunately, a few companies took us up on it and helped convince us that we weren’t the only ones who thought this would be a worthwhile endeavor.
They each took on other neighborhoods to curate, which meant that we had to rethink our landing page to allow our users to access them and prepare our CMS for new users to upload their own content.
In designing the city landing page, we had the opportunity to project greater ambitions and show other designers that we were set up for including every creative neighborhood in NYC. We also wanted to think ahead about the possibility of expanding to other cities. We loved the idea of illustrating city travel posters and featuring them prominently.“Money is not the most powerful incentive.”
Since neighborhoods would all be represented by different colors, we settled on the navy blue for the background color. We built on the illustration style of the icons to create the Empire State Building, which occupies a substantial amount of the page and stays fixed in place.
The right side of the page scrolls to display color tiles representing each neighborhood and crediting it’s curator. Working out the responsive states of the site at different screen sizes and making sure this system worked well for cities with different numbers of neighborhoods were the greatest challenges we had to overcome here.
If you build it, they will come
We launched the NYC landing page in May with the East Village, by The Original Champions of Design. We also featured tiles with release dates for the neighborhoods we knew were in the works: Little Italy and Nolita by Barrel, and South Street Seaport by Wasabi Rabbit.
From that point forward, announcing future neighborhood release dates became a key engagement tactic for On the Grid. By building anticipation for content we didn’t yet have published, we were able to show our ambition for the site and keep users coming back to see what’s new.
As we began releasing more neighborhoods, On the Grid received more attention from the design community, and the buzz inspired creative companies and individuals to reach out via email and Twitter to volunteer to curate their favorite neighborhoods.“Build anticipation for content you don’t have yet so users return to see what’s new.”
In a matter of weeks we had commitments from talented local designers we’d vetted to curate over 20 neighborhoods! We quickly set up a neighborhood release schedule, a social media plan, and a curator’s guide to support all of our new collaborators.
We’ve been releasing new neighborhoods weekly ever since.
The world beyond New York City
The more neighborhoods we published in NYC, the more we started hearing from designers all over the world who wanted to bring On the Grid to their cities—this had been our dream for the project from day one. Launching in multiple cities required additional UI/UX changes to the site.
We approached the design of the world landing page (our current homepage) similarly to how we designed the New York City landing page. The left side is fixed and welcomes you to the site, while the right side allows you to scroll through all of the available and upcoming On the Grid cities.
Since all city tiles are the same navy blue color, the big differentiator on the world landing page is the unique city illustrations.“Design modularly so quick expansion is possible.”
In the span of a month, our team illustrated handpicked landmarks for over 100 cities around the world to which we plan to bring On the Grid. We also incorporated a new global city menu in the site’s main navigation and dropdown menus at the top of every neighborhood and location page allowing you to quickly jump to a different neighborhood or city.
But adjusting the site’s architecture to accommodate multiple cities wasn’t our only challenge. Expanding to more cities also required us to restructure our community management so our small team wouldn’t get overwhelmed.
Inspired by the Creative Mornings city organizer model, we decided to introduce city ambassadors who, in addition to curating a neighborhood of their own, helped us find the best local curators for each city. This allows us to extend our reach far beyond what it would be if we were taking on every city by ourselves.
It’s been 5 months since we launched On the Grid. We’ve published 60 neighborhoods (each featuring 25 places on average) in 18 cities. There are over 70 On the Grid ambassadors and over 200 curators who are now working to get their respective cities On the Grid, with more added daily.
As the On the Grid community of ambassadors, curators, and everyday users continues to grow, so does our vision for the project. We’re currently prototyping a mobile app that we hope to launch in early 2016.
We’re designing products featuring the dozens of city illustrations we’ve created for On the Grid, and soon we’ll launch the On the Grid Gift Shop. Leading off, we’ve just released a screenprinted poster that features 100 On the Grid cities, available for purchase now.
We’re also exploring partnership opportunities with several major brands, which we hope will expand On the Grid’s audience.
- Start small, but think massive. Design modularly so quick expansion is possible.
- You can build really big things if you can incentivize a community to help you build it.
- Money is not the most powerful incentive.
- There are beautifully designed, cool places in neighborhoods everywhere—not just in the big “design capitals” of the world.
- UI/UX is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you build a product, it’s 99% about community management and engagement.