Vision is the most visually stunning website we've ever created, and it was thanks to the hard work of several phenomenal people. We met up with the project's design lead, Phil Pond, and programming lead, Michael Griffiths, to find out what went on behind the scenes. Read on for a peak behind the scenes of our new Vision website.
Please note this interview has been modified for length and continuity.
What was the vision behind Vision?
PP: The team's initial thoughts were around showcasing VR and we were really excited about it. I really wanted to simplify a lot of things, so I brought that in. We don't need so much complexity in a website all the time, and we got to spend a lot of time refining the design and making it more flexible.
MG: Yeah, I like how Vision really brings the media to the forefront, be it the video, the VR photo, the 360... It's really cool how you can bring that media above the fold and to the forefront of the design. With Vision, we brought the video more into the REW designs and incorporated that first step into VR.
What was your inspiration, beyond VR?
PP: We had a look at other industries that were parallel with real estate, but not necessarily real estate, to see some of their innovations. We pulled some inspiration from hotels and similar industries. Those industries compete more in the tech-based realm than real estate does, so we tried to pull some ideas from there. Real estate websites can get quite stagnant, so it was important for us to look elsewhere.
MG: My inspiration for some of the programming elements and the functionality came from our past experiences with other products and just improving on those. You know we already have great tools, so it was just about taking that past feedback and improving it. The inspiration was to make it easier and make it better.
PP: We were even just inspired by our own process this time: the iterative approach.
MG: Yeah, we've been working on the MLP practice. "Minimum Lovable Product", to help you move quick and improve quicker. Basically you get the base requirements of what you need, propose the quickest solution, and then move forward from there.
PP: Prototyping quickly and then getting the ideas out there so people can try it out. We then make adjustments from there, instead of doing thousands of mock-ups and guessing what people might like.
MG: We let the end user—the consumer, the real estate agent, the broker—drive a lot of the development by pushing our ideas out there and letting them see it.
How do you overcome the technical challenges of providing an immersive experience?
MG: It's definitely a challenge! You always want the best high res photos and the best media available, but you also have to take into consideration connection speed and things like that. For example, we had a few different challenges with how to load video, which we overcame by embedding from YouTube. For photos, we worked with optimization, different file sizes, and dimensions. It's something we're always working on improving, because the web is evolving and devices are changing.
PP: Yeah, it's really about balance between quality and speed. There's a constant juggle of that.
MG: A lot of the solution is trade-offs and the perception of what you see. With Vision, we have a quick responsive design, and then offset some of the loading to occur behind the scenes, so it doesn't affect the user experience.
In what ways do you think you've improved Vision in comparison to previous sites?
PP: Oh, in every way, essentially.
MG: One of the biggest things I like is the way the media is shown on the home page as blocks [where each section is displayed with 2 or 4 rectangular images]. It really works well. This is something we've done a bit of in the past, but we got to expand on it. The new approach is bringing media onto the page, so we've been able to take the blocks from our other sites, and then really move them forward.
One of the other biggest improvements is the enhanced listings. It is a really cool feature and something I think was needed. Enhanced listings help you really stand out from the other websites.
PP: Yeah, there are a few features in Vision that can really help you build a unique website, and enhanced listings is one of them. Your efforts go in and you'll see return if you do it right. Just think about your users and what they want to see. And then send us feedback, because I think that's a feature that we really want to work out and get right.
MG: Everyone has the same access to the listings in the MLS, so it's really about how can you set yourself apart from the competition. The enhanced listings are the first step, but being able to take the MLS data and then expand on it by adding your media, a 360 photo, maybe a YouTube video, and even just better photos than the MLS has. Being able to expand on a listing gives you this unique content that's not just the same content syndicated to every website out there. It just gives you that extra edge.
We've been talking a lot about getting client feedback and improving the website. How does that fit into your overall roadmap for Vision?
PP: Our roadmap is often adjusted to match the needs of our customers and the market, so it's not like we have the next two years fully written in stone. What we work on will really depend on how many users are shouting for a certain feature, and how well that feature will fit into development.
MG: Not to share too much of the roadmap, as it may change or include some secret items, but we are working constantly on feedback; “How can we make this faster?” or, “How can we improve the controls and make this even better?” We've been able to take some of that feedback already and make the YouTube video quicker, add auto-playing on mobile, and expand a lot on different devices. It's great getting all that feedback and learning how people are using the site.
What features or functionalities are exclusive to Vision that our clients can get excited about?
PP: VR. The whole cover page concept, really, is mostly exclusive to Vision, which includes the video option as well as the VR option.
MG: Yeah, and the enhanced listings is exclusive for Vision today. A lot of the unique features are really in the design, in terms of the VR technology and the 360 photos. Bringing that media into the listing details pages with enhanced listings is definitely unique to this product.
PP: Single-property websites.
MG: There's also single-property website element related to the enhanced listings. That will allow a single property to have its own unique design that can be used as its own website. Today, it exists in the enhanced listings. By simply checking a checkbox and having a link you can direct traffic to, it will hide the navigation and the website header and just focus on that listing itself. We're expanding on that functionality to include setting agents' own custom headers, footers and HTML. We then hope to take that one step further and include alternate layouts and different configurations. So this just a little bit of what's on the roadmap for this specific product.
PP: You'll even be able to attach files to it, like floor plans.
So cool. Phil, what design aspects are you particularly proud of?
PP: I'm more proud of the stuff we managed to take away than the stuff we put in. There was a lot of crud and excess that we cut back on. I like simplicity for the most part, or at least hidden complexity, so that it's easy and direct for the end user. People shouldn't have questions about how to use something. They should be able to just get to the information they want, without too much getting in the way. I think we're doing a good job there.
And then, the process. The part where we get to look at the feedback, and go back and revisit things, and make the site better. I'm proud of our whole team for contributing to that.
What do you think consumers will love about Vision?
PP: I think they're going to really appreciate some of the things we're doing with listings. And finally getting to see some listings with personality in them instead of constantly being delivered the same template over and over again. I know some agents are going to get super creative with this and just do walk-throughs with their phone—just casual, make some jokes about open toilets. *laughs* I think that's exciting.
Michael, what programming features are you happiest with?
MG: You know, we've done a lot internally that you can't really see. We've really done a lot in terms of quality and process. Now features itself, the enhanced listings is definitely one of my proudest moments for this product. I'm really happy to be able to get that feature in there. There's a lot where I think we can expand on it, and I think there's just more to come!
And what do you think agents will love most?
I think agents will love the enhanced listings and adding new content. I think they'll have just a ton of ideas. Even I did, so I'm sure they will as well.