ESPN House of '98

Since our entire goal was to take fans back in time to 1998 and celebrate The Last Dance with our site experience, the more efficient we could translate our creative ideas to functional, rational web design, the better.

- R/GA Team

Can you describe your project and the concept behind it?

ESPN's 10-part documentary about the Michael Jordan and the 1998 Chicago Bulls captured the excitement of fans the moment the first teaser dropped. It was bigger than basketball, taking audiences back to the iconic year through unseen archival footage. The show was immersive and nostalgic, so we needed to create a digital destination that could let fans relive the era themselves... More time machine than website.

Tell us about your initial moodboard, wireframe, or prototype. How did things change throughout the process?

The initial wireframes looked pretty similar to how the site turned out since we were chasing a simple, scrappy site design that would look and feel like something straight out of 1998. What got interesting was how much we could make real. What started in a wireframe as "I wonder if we can..." became "Oh wow, we actually can." That was awesome to see happen and implement in real time.

What influenced your chosen technical approach, and how did it go beyond past methods?

We collaborated with ESPN to bring all our favorite web elements of the era to life. Pretty much everyone on the team had a favorite site or element of the early days of the internet. This was a chance to bring them all together. In other projects, you're typically trying to embrace bold newness, things you've never seen before. Instead, we wanted it to feel like everything you had seen before! Pure digital nostalgia through the right templates.

When did you experience a breakthrough or an "a-ha" moment during this project?

The project became real when we realized we could map each nostalgic element of the site to an existing template or module. That was the "a-ha" moment, that the level of nostalgia and functionality we were chasing was possible. The timeline to get the site up and running was as fast as ever so this enabled us to take on more design features and interactive moments.

What web technologies, tools, and resources did you use to develop this?

Panini is how the magic happened. Since the site was using a few different templates and modules, we had to make sure everything could work together. One team-favorite template, 98.CSS, became the foundation for the critical era-specific (and awesome) design elements like buttons, nav bars, and interactive windows.

How did you balance your own creative ideas and technical capabilities with a fair representation of the client’s brand?

Since our entire goal was to take fans back in time to 1998 and celebrate The Last Dance with our site experience, the more efficient we could translate our creative ideas to functional, rational web design, the better. ESPN's archives afforded us so much original content from 1998, including ESPN The Magazine covers and articles, as well as videos. This kind of collaboration helped us keep everything authentically 90s.

How did the final product meet or exceed your expectations?

House of 98 proved the power of simplicity could be unlocked by collaboration across design and development. We exchanged inspiration for every element of the site and drew on individual passions across sport, culture, and retro web design.

Why is this an exciting time to create new digital experiences? How does your team fit into this?

We've been interacting with the web for decades now. It's not a new platform, but there are always ways to reinvent the experience. We have so much inspiration to draw from. This was exciting because everyone on the team is a fan, both of sport and of vintage internet. House of 98 became a passion project, a site for fans of The Last Dance (and everything else 1998), by fans.

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