Music, Schooled – Learning from digital development

I don’t know much about classical composition. But I’ve learned a few things in the past couple years. First, classical composition is surprisingly similar to the process of developing a new digital platform—so says this digital director—especially when it’s done for the talented graduate students and faculty at the Yale School of Music. It’s challenging, doesn’t happen overnight, and takes a lot of heart.

Second—almost 2 years and more than 2800 pages later—we learned about perfect timing. Earlier this fall, our team launched the brand new YSM website in perfect time for this year’s convocation of brand new students. The effort represents a point of pride for our agency, a focal point of excitement and enthusiasm for the YSM team, and an incredible case study for the right kind of approach to platform development.

We started in June of 2011 with key stakeholder interviews: students, alumni, faculty, and various constituents. We then converted the findings into personas and use cases meant to drive relevant information architecture, flows and wireframes. We balanced the best practices of platform development with the nuances of musical and technological innovation, and a strategic approach to scalable architecture.

For this project, we passed the design baton to the incredibly talented in-house designer at YSM, Monica Ong Reed, whose skills as a creative are second only to her charm as a human being. The same can be said for the entire YSM Communications team, all virtuosos in their own right (Dana Astmann, Austin Kase, and their fearless leader Michael Yaffe, among others), proving that assembling the right team is key to garnering that standing ovation.

After the collaborative design of over 30 page types, our code magicians started the process of transforming the beautiful layouts and user flows to a sensationally tricked-out backend. The technical integrations alone were enough to make the team alternately dreamy and queasy. But they persevered with class and dedication, overcoming major technical hurdles to accommodate a tricky eco-system of digital third-party integrations, from ticketing to calendars to student and faculty portals to media management. The end result continues to thrill the team, and more importantly, the entire YSM community.

Surprisingly, the lesson here is one we are incredibly familiar with after 15 years of design and development: there are no substitutes for doing it right, and fast never means better in the long run. We know that platform development often has to be done in a more agile environment, with a lot less time. However, if we get to choose, then we choose the road with the well-marked signs, the helpful locals, and time to check out the roads less traveled. All improve your odds of getting where you need to go—in style and on time.

A huge thanks to our friends at Yale School of Music, for partnering, working, and believing right alongside us.  Have a look, and a listen: