More than just a new website – Column
Thursday, 3rd Aug 2017 08:54 by Neil Dejyothin
Neil Dejyothin on the people charged with dragging QPR out of a ridiculous 17 year contract to build an official website that not only works properly for the first time, but looks good doing it.
As a greeting, “your website is shit” probably didn’t fill the QPR media team with much hope for their long term prospects when they first met the club’s new owner Tony Fernandes back in 2012.
He was right, it was, but in the sort of deal only the Football League could sign, QPR were duty bound to stick with their ugly, dysfunctional, shoddy official website until 2017. That Football League Interactive (FLI) contract was signed in 2000 – a time of dial up, no Facebook, no Twitter. Google was only 18 months old. YouTube was still five years away. And yet the clubs were committed, under pain of serious financial penalty, to stick with the same company - which had no incentive to improve either of the God-awful templates they operated during their two-decade reign of online incompetence - for fully 17 years.
QPR had, after a botched relaunch of a supposed improved version of the official websites several years back, asked for other clubs to come in with them to pay for improvements to at least make the sites functional. They didn’t get many takers – clubs knew if QPR paid for it, the improvements would come their way for free.
When the opportunity to finally free themselves of the shackles finally came round this year, QPR wanted to be ready for it and wanted to do it right.
Camel – a horse designed by committee
Fan consultation has been on the lips of many QPR supporters over recent years and we’ve seen various attempts by the club to improve on this and rectify relationships with fans.
Take the club crest, which was ruthlessly changed without any consultation whatsoever under Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone’s reign, seemingly to incorporate Flavio’s hair. When it came to finally changing that, there was almost too much consultation in the early stages.
The outcome, thankfully, is bloody beautiful and shows what can be done by the club working together with its supporters. But the process behind re-imagining our club crest almost went sour because of the desire to try and please everybody. The first mock-ups took everything people had said was important to them in the online surveys and mashed it all together into a horror show that nobody wanted or liked.
Sensibly, the club and consultation groups revised the plans to arrive at the badge we have now, which is one to be proud about and represents who we are.
Building a new website is more complicated still, but also represents the public-facing front of the club. It is the first thing people will come to when looking for QPR online. The amount of work that goes into re-designing a site and ensuring it functions and does everything it’s meant to is no mean feat.
The club got on the case about this 18 months ago. I was fortunate enough to be involved in the consultation process at various stages. This started with QPR’s David Scriven walking us through the club’s ideas and plans for a new partner, even showing us the pitches from various design agencies who were competing to win the deal.
Eventually they settled on a London based company called Aqueduct, an agency with experience in building websites for sports teams and bodies. I’m not going to lie, initially, I was sceptical. I thought to myself: “why don’t’ we just do it all in-house?” (short answer: it's expensive).
But, as I said before, building websites is a big business. I was invited (along with some others) to meet with Aqueduct last year at their offices in Chancery Lane. The meeting was led by usability expert (UX for the tech geeks out there) Anna Singer, who was leading up the project. Anna admitted to us that she knew nothing about football, but she was curious to understand more about QPR and its fans. At one point, and we’ll forgive her for this in a moment, I promise, she actually referred to us as Spurs.
Putting that aside, we all expressed and discussed what QPR meant to us and went through various brainstorming focus tests about the current site versus what we’d like to see in a QPR website.This continued throughout the months through a feedback process where the club and Aqueduct would pick our brains about particular aspects of the site.
In typical Rangers fans' style, we were Premier League champions when it came to telling Anna what we didn’t like. In fact, this was the easy part, because there were a lot of common complaints about the current site and what it didn’t do well.
We can quickly reel off some of the obvious; a standard template design used by lots of clubs, incredibly busy with information overload, a complex navigation structure, non-responsive and clunky on mobile devices, slow to load, different log-ins required for a variety of services, too many adverts, we could have gone on forever... And we did.
But, also in typical Rangers fashion, we also struggled to tell Anna what we exactly wanted from a new site. Everybody had different opinions and views on what would make for a good experience, but nobody had the full expertise or picture to bring all these ideas together.
This is where the club have learned and why Aqueduct were a great fit. Towards the end of the process I was back at Aqueduct with Andy Sinton, who was embracing everybody like long-lost relatives and showing genuine warmth and interest in everybody there (he’s a fine asset for Rangers and is doing a marvellous job representing us), and Massimo Luongo, who was confused for reasons we’ll come onto.
We were shown the website and taken through the story of how it was built and the detail that went into making it. The amount of research was incredible. The office was filled with QPR memorabilia, scarves, mugs and old programmes. Research and visual reminders were up all over the wall, it was like being inside one of the offices at Loftus Road. It just felt like QPR.
This stuff was no joke either. It wasn’t just for show. They’d studied old QPR programmes for typography, colouring and design cues. They’d even gone as far as using the shapes and geometry of areas around Loftus Road (such as the angle of the girders between Q and R block) and Hammersmith and Fulham as a whole, using old-school maps for a touch of history and nostalgia. A plan for a black furry background to match Jude the Cat had, alas, been ditched after looking “a bit seedy”.
What struck me about Mass was that he’s still just a very young guy. He sounded like any other normal 24-year-old that might be still attending university. It brought home the pressure these young men are under to deliver on our expectations at a time when of life when lots of people their age are yet to work out what they want to do and leave uni with a degree they seldom end up using.
He’s a likeable, grounded guy, who appreciates what he has but having been immersed in football his whole adult life the situation seemed a little crazy to him. He was surprised a company like Aqueduct could share premises with other businesses and start-ups (they use WeWork offices) and that they had an office dog running around the building. Not reading too much into this but it perhaps demonstrates the lack of real world experience so many footballers are starved of.
At the time we met, we had lost six on the bounce and Mass seemed gutted and concerned about it. The Nottingham Forest game was up next and there was anxiety in the air, but he spoke about his and the players desire to get over the line which of course the just about did in the end.
Cold night in Sheffield
The site launched this summer and while it’s still bedding down with the usual teething problems, and the ambition for a ‘universal log in’ so people only have the one password for the box office, shop and video content continues to elude them, the general consensus is it’s a vast improvement and job well done.
For a start it’s responsive. You can view the same website on your desktop computer at home, or your laptop, or your mobile phone, or your tablet. Basic, but not there before. The colour scheme is brighter, cleaner, more welcoming. Bigger fonts can look a little childish, for want of a better word, but the new site is attractive and feels right.
The new video service, which many of us have already used for the pre-season friendlies, is a far better and more flexible set up than the old QPR Player HD and Rangers are using it to stream live footage of games not selected by foreign broadcasters to supporters living outside the UK for the first time this season.
But it’s not the obvious improvements that had me forgiving Anna for her Freudian ‘Spurs’ slip right at the start of the process. While sitting through the standard QPR awayday experience – bitterly cold, soaking wet, 1-0 defeat on an October afternoon at Sheffield Wednesday last season – I saw a couple with two very young children further down the away end. The eldest could still barely walk, but took interest in attempting to wander around the vast open spaces of the away end, mother in hot pursuit.
As I caught eye with this lady I realised it was Anna and asked what on earth she was doing there. And then, before she answered, I already realised. QPR had gotten to her too. She expressed how much she’d fallen in love with football and QPR and that it was her first ever away game with Rangers (madness lies within). Not only that, the whole family were kitted out and dressed head to toe in QPR colours.
Anna spoke fondly of her experience with QPR as a whole and praised the club and its staff she'd dealt with, mentioning just how different, easy to work with and friendly they were over some of the other clients they've dealt with.
It made me proud. The media team have particularly worked really hard on all of this stuff for many years. It didn't magically happen overnight, it's always about hard work and an iteration of a process that started a few years ago. It's culminated in things like the ForeverRs (fabulous), a club crest change (beautiful), the best kit we've had in years (shame about the demise Dryworld) and now a successful website launch.
Get all of these things right and what follows can occur organically and naturally. When I tried to explain what this was to Anna when we first met, she didn't get it. Now she does. Scooping up a whole family as fans? That's a QPR I've not seen or heard about for a long time. We've always had a unique way of luring people in, and it's great to see it's still there.
The Twitter @NeilDejyothin
Pictures – Action Images/NeilDejyothin/QPR
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