"Derren Brown is a witch!" According to some, this is all we need to know about England's foremost head fudger. But millions of people want to learn more about this leading illusionist, mentalist, hypnotist, painter, writer, and sceptic, and with his site often pushing past two million monthly page views, it's clearly the web that people turn to to find more info.
In this Q&A, we speak to Pixel Dandy's (opens in new tab) Marc Hagan-Guirey, the man behind the recent redesign of Derren Brown's website (opens in new tab), and ask him about the site, and what it's like working with a witch.
How long did the project take?
"All in all about six months. The team comprised of Duncan Godwin (opens in new tab) who built the site, Abeo (opens in new tab) the project manager and myself with the design and concept. I started off with some consumer research. I wrote a survey to gain an insight as to who was using the site which had around 15,000 responses.
"A large portion of the visitors, which can sometimes reach two million hits per month, are fans looking for information about new TV shows and new stage shows so the focus had to be on that (Derren has a very 'loyal' fan base so I daren't upset them).
"People coming to buy tickets and enquire about corporate bookings, which were Derren's priorities, were also important. So, as well as entertaining fans the site had to be very functional.
"The design took around two months from initial discussions to final PSDs. The build was about two months. We spent another two weeks optimising and tweaking the animations. It was intense at the end, but such a lovely project to work on."
How did the work come about?
"I have been working on freelance contracts with Objective Productions (who make Derren's TV shows) and Channel 4 for a few years. Up until then I'd designed four different box set covers, and had created the posters and marketing art direction for his UK tours - Svengali and Enigma. I've already begun researching for the artwork for his 2013 tour."
What software/hardware was used to produce the site?
What's innovative about the site?
"I wouldn't say it is innovative, because it's a really simple site - the visual direction is just bang up to date. I've been quoted in Computer Arts Magazine (opens in new tab) - about a year ago - saying that I was looking forward to the death of the reflection.
"I'm sort of looking forward to the death of the reflection. That shipped sailed the moment PowerPoint got a tool that did it automatically" - Computer Arts Summer 2011
"Skeuomorphism seems to be hot topic at the moment. Some people love it (Apple) and some people hate it. In this site you'll notice there is so little use of any texture from real word materials. For example the buttons have no depth or rounded edges; they're just block colour which I love designing with.
"Oddly I think that style in itself harks back to magazine design. Some kind of Skeuomorphism paradox! For the record, I like a bit of skeuomorphism here and there, it was just a nice opportunity to move away from it."
Which elements are you most proud of?
"I'm chuffed the visual direction. Previous incarnations of Derren's online presence were always very Vaudevillian and creepy, which was something that fans really liked but the reality was that this just wasn't a true representation of his recent work. He takes techniques from the early 1900s and reinvents them for a modern audience, so I though this was a good starting point.
"I based the typography on a 1920s theme and combined it with the fantastic back catalogue of photographs. Judging by the feedback from the fans they're happy! The parallax is used sparingly but well done where it appears.
"So many people keep telling us that they can't stop playing with the 'face pull' effect on the 'About Derren' page. I chuckled a lot when I was making it, and it's delightful to know that enjoyment has been passed on to the users.
"On a much more practical level, we're all happy with the loading times. Most people panic when you say you want to use full width images with parallax. IT'LL NEVER LOAD! But I did a lot of image crunching and was literally counting every single bite that we could chop of an image size. It's a good demonstration that you can balance the two. It scored a 4 out of 5 on loading time."
How did you work with Derren Brown to get the site right?
"In early discussions we talked in depth about the style of the site and what he wanted from it from a functional point of view. In the final week we were talking every day reviewing final pages. I even had him writing extra copy in the hour before it launched.
"He was very happy to let me run with the art direction because of the amount of work I'd already done for him in the past. He was more concerned with the naming of things and the words.
"There is a new section launching next month that he's been much more involved with and we're just discussing how far to go with the trickery on the page and whether it's necessary."
We're big fans of Derren Brown's new site, but what do you think? Let us know!
- Pro tips: 20 steps to the perfect website layout