Best in WordPress Design: Fig Studio

This is Best in WordPress Design. Our purpose is to highlight exceptional web design done with WordPress around the world. We feature selected sites, and share a brief conversation with the people who made them.

In this edition of Best in WordPress Design we take a look at the Fig Studio website, designed by Jake Dow-Smith. Dow-Smith is a designer and programmer specializing in unconventional website design. (He’s even launched popular Tumblr-powered magazines and communities!) Dow-Smith works internationally with a range of clients, from independent arts organizations to major brands who seek an original, captivating, and memorable digital experience. And that’s exactly the reason we wanted to feature Fig Studio: it’s a website unlike any you’ve seen before. If you haven’t already done so, go have a look; we’ll wait.

Where did the inspiration for this site design come from?

Fig is an organization that supports emerging creative practices with ecology and community at their heart, based at an allotment (a horticultural plot of land) in Oxford, UK. I’ve worked with the founder, Sam, before, designing his own site and associated publishing house, Torque each time expressing their values and approaches through alternative interactive designs. For Fig, we took this to a new level.

I took inspiration from the physical properties of Fig’s geographically exposed location – using wind speed, cloud cover, sunset time and more – to design a pseudo-random composition that is perpetually in flux, using as much live data as we could gather from its physical location to alter the reading experience.

The Fig Studio website cycling through the seasons. Video courtesy of Jake Dow-Smith.

Regarding design, what are you most satisfied with on this site?

Working with data and expressing Fig typographically was a challenge, as it was vital that the physical environment rippled through the reading experience as you digest the content. We discovered an expressive typeface designed by Jolana Sýkorová at Moniker Studio called Gestures which allowed us to add ‘salt’ to the characters and adjust legibility depending on the wind speed, resulting in an experience that’s probably easier to read in July than January.

How has using WordPress enabled you to design and build your site?

Throughout my career, WordPress has played a pivotal role. A decade ago, I began self-publishing simple websites, bending and molding WordPress, and using tools such as Advanced Custom Fields to construct modular systems that power custom interfaces.

Particularly for arts-funded projects, WordPress has been indispensable. Using it, I’m able to accommodate the unique layouts I dream up, that otherwise wouldn’t be commercially viable.

Recently I’ve curated a resource, Publish Something Online, to navigate others towards the world of alternative interactive design, and to simplify the intricate landscape of modern web publishing. WordPress was the ideal tool to use behind-the-scenes.

Is there a concept, subject, or theme you want people to take away from this site?

The website design uses astronomical data from an API to generate an artwork, shaped by a sequence of transformations from numerical data into CSS property values. If you visit the website and there are currently thunderstorms (it’s blurry), heavy wind (it’s salty) and it’s the middle of the night (it’s dark), you might not be able to see much of it – and that’s OK – try again tomorrow.

The intention behind the website was to make the digital experience feel less detached from the physical world that the project inhabits, using technology as a tool to mirror the real-world ambience of the allotment, rather than treating the website as an isolated necessity.

Many thanks to Jake Dow-Smith for sharing his insights and work. Be sure to check out the many seasons of Fig Studio’s dynamic site.

By Monika Burman

Trying to catch the deluge in a paper cup.