When searching for an agency to bring to life the vision for TSEliot.com, the new website launched by the poet’s estate and Faber & Faber, Press Director Henry Volans found the perfect fit in “Vivl.io“- a small and relatively unknown team of designers, developers and literature lovers from Athens, Greece.
Much as a result of TSEliot.com‘s success, Vivl.io and Volans were invited to participate in next week’s ReMix London, a summit exploring the intersection between culture, technology and entrepreneurship.
We recently caught up with Volans and asked him a bit about the experience of working with the Vivl.io team, the specific challenges presented by the TSEliot.com project, and the importance of finding the right partner when building digital literary experiences.
How did you meet the team behind vivl.io?
We met in London, at Faber. One of the team was over for the London Book Fair and he’d been trying to reach me – I remember an elegant card he left at our stand. So often things like that get overlooked: I’m glad he was persistent. As we spoke I realised they could be a good fit for the Eliot project, which was then just an idea.
What is the Faber/T.S. Eliot website’s goal/purpose (from perspective of the foundation)?
There are specific goals the site needs to meet, like making available all of Eliot’s unpublished letters, which is a long-term project in line with Valerie Eliot’s wishes. The site also hosts the Eliot Prize. The overarching aim is to be a hub for Eliot and for his ongoing reputation, and a way to assert quality online, down to the best way of rendering The Waste Land in browser.
What made you decide to invite vivl.io to submit a proposal for, and ultimately choose them for the Eliot website project? What about their approach to the design seemed a good fit for this project?
At first it was good timing: they demonstrated an interest in how the web can serve a literary figure just as I was about to tender the project. Their response was the strongest of all bidders, mainly because they showed by far the most specific interest in the nature of a writer and his work, and how that could be presented for the web. I find it rare that a digital agency convincingly engages with content.
How was it working with the vivl.io team? Did their location in Greece make it challenging to collaborate? Do you think they brought a unique perspective based on their backgrounds (not being from the US or UK — how familiar they were with Eliot’s work?)?
They are easy to work with – we did get to meet in person a few times near the start of the project, which is important, but after that Skype etc. is more than adequate. The unjust but frank truth, I think, is that being from Greece, and given the country’s economic challenges, they have to work harder than UK or US companies to demonstrate their value. For the project, that has meant they bring high-calibre work, with strong attention to detail. If anything I feel the pressure to keep up to their high standards, rather than the other way around. As to the team themselves, they happen to be a superbly well-read and literary bunch.
Can you share a bit about vivl.io‘s philosophy when it comes to user experience design? Do you think the approach they take lends itself to other literary experiences?
I can certainly see further applications of the team’s work. Their philosophy, which I share, is really about doing more than the bare minimum: it’s about pushing to advance ideas of what can be achieved with the web as a publishing platform for literary material. In design terms, tseliot.com has a modernist feel appropriate to its subject, but equally it makes a large volume of content simple, clear and approachable, on mobile as well as desktop.
Do you think working with teams from outside the UK is important for Faber and other publishers?
What matters to me is finding the best project partners, wherever they may come from. It’s common to work with IT business in India and elsewhere and I feel that what’s happened here is moving into more creative digital work with an overseas partner. Budgets are a factor, of course, but it’s mainly about the best people for the work.
For their part, vivl.io is continuing in their efforts to bridge the best of digital and literary worlds. They are working on a Kickstarter campaign to build their next project, a digital universe and original print companion based on Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. Find out more at vivl.io!