Responses by Alex Naghavi, executive creative director, Josephmark.
Background: The broader project objective was to help RCA Records, the second-oldest record label in the world, evolve from a one-dimensional record label into a catalyst for global cultural transformation. We reinvigorated its brand strategy, identity and narrative to help it take on the next 100 years of artistry. The result is a pioneering, defiant and passionate brand that feels experimental, eclectic, dynamic and interactive. It’s a brand that speaks directly to artists, reflects the diversity of the creative arts of the future and lives proudly in the cultural zeitgeist of our time.
With a renewed brand strategy, narrative and visual design system as our foundation, we made an edgy website with motion and interactive elements, including a variable musical typeface and an interactive 404 page, which gives fans a new, immersive way to interact with the RCA brand and its artists. We wanted to make fans love the RCA brand just as much as they love its artists and to create an unparalleled experience that embodied RCA’s new acronym: Records. Culture. Art.
Design core: The site’s dynamic and interactive elements, such as the musical variable typeface on the homepage, the universal music player, the full-page menu and the interactive 404-page beat sampler. The style reflects the eclectic, creative energy of the new RCA brand with edgy, bold typography; vibrant colors; unexpected interactions; and brutalist, grid-based page designs.
Favorite details: It’s probably no surprise that we’re most proud of our variable musical typeface and interactive 404 page, both of which were self-appointed challenges for us. We just wanted to push what was expected of a record label’s website and bring a little dynamism to reflect the visceral experiences we all have with music.
Challenges: While making the musical variable typeface, we learned a lot about the technical implementation, like the difference between a typeface reacting to your speakers versus your microphone—the latter being more sensitive and allowing more contrast, so the typefaces move in a more dramatic way. Because we needed to account for music coming from speakers, we ultimately chose songs that had a mix of highs and lows in the melody so we could achieve the desired expressiveness of the fonts.
Divergent paths: If we had the chance to do it again, we’d likely approach the development of the interactive variable typeface with some new techniques we’ve picked up since. Despite the challenges, we’re actually really excited about the possibilities of interactive variable typefaces and have plenty of cool ideas we’d love to explore in future projects!
Navigation structure: Ultimately, we just wanted to make it simple to navigate, but we also knew there were quite a few things to fit in. This was how we ended up with a full-page menu takeover concept that boldly lists out the site structure, including pages, search functionality, email sign up and social follow links. The grid-based brutalist style of the menu is a key part of the site’s aesthetic and adds a little unexpected moment of delight to the user experience. There’s also the curious “I’m feeling lucky” button, which adds an alluring element of mystery and surprise to the experience.
Technology: RCA is in the Sony family, which means we needed to abide by its security requirements and use the WordPress CMS. Our ambitious vision meant developing a custom theme using React, Redux and vanilla-extract CSS, but part of the challenge was that WordPress doesn’t connect with React natively. So, we used asynchronous network requests to pass data between the CMS and our UI components and a central data store to make that data available across pages and components. We also used several third-party plugins for the universal music player, touring, job ads and playlist functionality.
Special technical features: We’re particularly proud of the site’s universal music player, which, when activated, plays music from RCA’s profile on Spotify, then switches to music from individual artists when you hit play from their dedicated artist page. No matter where you are on the site, the music will continue playing seamlessly without interruption, which helps heighten the feeling of immersion in RCA’s brand world.