In 1999, NBC teamed up with Quokka Sports for the first ever coordinated TV and web coverage of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. This combined coverage offered new advertising and branding opportunities to sponsors, as well as enhanced coverage of all 42 sports of the summer games — many of which have never been seen by American audiences.
Our goal was to create the ultimate sports website for all the Olympic sports for the year leading up to the games, to give our sponsors unique content and branding opportunities, and to make it beautiful visually stunning and easy to use. Similar to televised sports, a key metric for our success was “user-hours” — the number of hours an individual user was exposed to the our site and it's attendant branding.
Quokka has always been known for it's emotional and sometimes gut-wrenching photos and stories, insider coverage, and feeling of connection to the athletes. It was also known for confusing interfaces and awkward navigation. These pieces were very art-like in their experiences, but this creativity needed to be tamed for our more general, modem-based, audience.
This was a case where my large site development experience proved invaluable. Quokka's previous sites had been tiny in comparison to the Olympics, and so identifying the necessary steps and the scale was imperative.
The first step was to revise Quokka's assumptions about our audience. The original thought was that hardcore sports fans were our primary audience. However, after some research and discussion, we identified and agreed upon the two audience segments: hardcore sports fans, and casual viewers. Casual viewers tuned into the Olympics during the games, but did not otherwise follow the sports. Hardcore fans, on the other hand, closely followed a single sport – swimming, for example – throughout the year, often using their own dedicated news sources such as magazines and other web sites.
Working with the editorial, marketing, and design groups, we crafted our content strategy and decided to create 35 individual sports 'channels' under a single Olympics home page. This allowed us to cover each sport in real depth with full news and results coverage including introductory and historical background about the sports and personalities. The home page acted as an umbrella over the individual sports, highlighting events and providing context.
I created the interaction design and architecture of the site and by working hand-in-hand with a large team of visual designers, focused on keeping the site easy to use while keeping the trademark visual impact of a Quokka site. This was a period of frequent brainstorming sessions and design meetings at the printing whiteboards. Formal and informal user research and usability testing helped keep our design and editorial on track.
Leading up to the Olympics, we also began a skunk-works project – the ActionTracker – a java applet to deliver live images, commentary, and results directly from the stadiums in Sydney. Working with a team of 5 engineers, we developed the application in record time, that parsed live results data in XML format, and displayed it on the user's desktop. The applet was made public during the games to resounding success. IBM's results applet – our competition – gave the user the current score and heat, if you were lucky. Ours on the other hand, gave users the full context, including expert narrative and full results information. There was simply no comparison between the two.
Hands-on usability testing in the lab as well as informal user research. Site maps, visual design mockups, screen layouts and functional specifications. Usability reviews and prioritization. Frequent whiteboarding with designers and programmers. Hand-coding and programming in HTML and ASP.
As the user experience architect, I worked with our core design and editorial teams to develop the content strategy, the look and feel, structure, and maintain the overall usability of the site. The core team started at 40 people and grew to 200 during the games.
Ranked #1 Olympics site in America
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