The Evolution of The SMS Works Website
After much pencil chewing, we decided that the best way to decide upon a design style for our new SMS API website was to trust our gut.
The business SMS industry has become unbelievably competitive. Steve Proctor at Itagg reckons there are about 80 or so SMS companies, all offering similar services.
Clean, simple and professional?
Most SMS API providers have opted for a professional, clean website design, with clear navigation and easy to access information. Individually, most of them look great.
They do however tend to merge in your mind once you’ve clicked away.
One easy way for us generate a distinction was to create a striking and memorable design style that no other company in the sector was using.
The starting point was to think about design styles that appealed. This resulted in a short list of themes that we were drawn to and could use as inspiration. We honed the list to the following...
Cycling Posters of the 1930s
Soviet era propaganda art
Railway and tube art from the 1920s – 50s
Ladybird illustrations from the 1960s and 70s
To put some examples to these broad categories, the almost inevitable mood board took shape.
Worth mentioning that throughout this rather pretentious process, we were wracked with self-doubt.
Wouldn’t it just be easier to go with something more straightforward? There are loads of fantastic, low cost templates that we can modify. We can have the whole site up and running in a few weeks.
We kept having to remind ourselves to keep the faith and that were going through this effort for a tangible reason.
Soviet worker meets hipster geek
So from the mood board, we liked the idea of updating that striking soviet iconography with a 21st century hipster geek twist.
Set a series of characters in a vintage setting and we thought we could develop something that was both interesting and memorable, while not being too distracting from the main objective of selling SMS services.
So where should these characters be based?
Bristol is home
We’re proudly based in Bristol and wanted that to be visibly represented somehow.
A stroll through the spectacular Ashton Court Estate in Bristol, reveals a beautiful view of the Wills Tobacco Warehouses, two colossal iconic brick buildings that dominate the skyline.
What better place for The SMS Works to be based? The buildings have got that urban industrial feel that fits so well with the overall atmosphere that we were trying to evoke.
The buildings became the inspiration for our logo.
The search for an illustrator
Our main concern was whether we would be able to find an illustrator that could create our soviet hipster geek aesthetic for our embarrassingly low budget.
After a few false starts, we were lucky enough to stumble upon the brilliant Laurence Whiteley.
A quick glance through his beautiful portfolio of 30s
inspired illustrations was enough to convince us that
if he’d have us, he was the man for the job.
To our delight and surprise, he agreed to complete a
series of about 25 illustrations in total.
The first brief
We had this idea that it would be quite neat if the illustrations could be based on keen staff workers, set in and around The SMS Works building itself.
Each of our main 8 web pages is supported by one of Laurence’s beautiful illustrations and the first one to be tackled was the main SMS API page.
To help Laurence grapple with the specific styling, we needed to provide him with further guidance.
On my bookshelves at home, we have a modest collection of vintage Ladybird books. These books were part of my childhood and the illustrations are as vivid in my mind now as they were decades ago.
Amongst them, I spotted ‘The Public Services – Electricity’. Inside, I found two images that perfectly encapsulated the vintage ‘control room’ feel that we were after.
Within The SMS Works building, we wanted to create a scene that was clearly set in an early 60s office but with a blend of 21st century and vintage equipment.
To give Laurence a rough idea of what we had in mind, I sketched a rough outline. It’s laughably bad but at least it gave Laurence a starting point.
So with sketch and styling concepts in hand, Laurence bravely launched into our first illustration.
The first pass contained all the elements we discussed but didn’t really capture that vintage feel that we were after.
The addition of some vintage magnetic tape readers along with the schematic on the wall (incorporating The SMS Works building), instantly takes the scene back a few decades.
To enhance the vintage feel, the walls have been transformed to a delightful beige.
The chap at the two screens is now wearing a lab coat and the woman, a natty headset.
Adding an aged effect reinforces the vintage tone still further, while an apple on the desk creates a slightly informal atmosphere. (As does the chap appearing to be looking at the BBC sport website.)
The iphone shaped window has been emphasised in this version, with small detailing on the window ledge and etched glass effect on the pane itself.
So we’re absolutely thrilled with his work. Laurence has ninja level brief interpretation skills and his suggestions for improvements have always been spot on.
Although this post is very self-indulgent and seems to be doing little more than clapping ourselves heartily on the back, we wanted to show off Laurence’s skills and show the progression from my dire sketch to the completed illustration.
It seemed a shame that earlier versions of his office scene wouldn’t get an airing.
If you’re interested in hiring a top rate illustrator who can deliver inspiring work, promptly and at a sensible cost, then we can highly recommend Laurence.
His details are available on his contacts page.
If you'd like to test us, please feel free to set up a free SMS API account. You'll receive 50 credits for testing.