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The Idea


I first designed this tight, SEO website from the assets of a CD project Phil Gibbon—longtime Holley graphic designer—and I had done for Holley. The site was successfully optimized for several product lines, dozens of brands, hundreds of products, and 10s of thousands of SKUs. I designed, built and maintained this website with a three-to-eight member team I developed and directed. Many innovative design, navigational and production processes were developed with this award-winning website.

It was actually upon the pitch for the Digital Media Resources CD that I was able to sell the idea for the website too. Having dinner with my creative partner and Holley's Marketing Director in Bowling Green, Kentucky the night before our pitch, I was strongly suggesting the consideration of a Holley website and gave all the reasons why. The marketing director weighed my arguments and showed interest. 1994 Holley Website Flowchart That night, me being a night owl, strolled down to a nearby Waffle House and started sketching out design ideas and a flowchart on Waffle House napkins... and actually used the napkin sketches to sell the idea.

Please keep in mind this is the mid-90s. It wasn't unusual for major companies to not yet have a website or even to be sold on the need for one. I was at the time doing a full-feature website for a Buick dealership before there was www.GM.com. It wasn't that unusual.

Holley was sold though, however there was no allocated budget for it. But some funds were secured and with the assets from the aforementioned CD project, we were able to start and launch www.Holley.com soon after the the Digital Media Resources project was completed.

The website was launched in 1996 with about 80 pages. About 200 visitors a day were visiting the site almost instantly with little marketing.

The Design and Development


The reason I cite such an ancient relic, is to show my head has been in user experience right from the start. Actually from the CD project that preceded the website. I have been living and breathing UX and interactivity everyday for a lot of years.

With the Holley website there were several kinds of users. Holley's direct customers were the wholesalers, the warehousers, and speed shops around the world. But it also had to serve their customers: pro and semi-pro racers, classic car remodelers, performance shops, repair mechanics, the average DIY garage mechanic and car enthusiasts of all kinds. And of each of these, with dial-up connections. Few had T-1 or faster. That's a pretty tall order. It was met.

Holley has been held in high regards for 100 years with it's innovative and quality automotive performance products—since Henry Ford first convinced the Holley brothers to specialize in the carburetors they were innovating, and of which Ford would put in all his cars. Prior, the Holley brothers were also building cars. The website should be no less innovative. (And it wasn't.) With lots of discussion with Holley stakeholders and my graphic design mentor who had been doing all Holley's graphic design work for 20 years, plus studying Holley marketing materials, a stack of historical literature, internal documents, guides, manuals and catalogs, I gained a lot of domain knowledge about the products and Holley's relationships with their customers and consumers. I studied the competition. This was ultimately going to be a big website! It had to be very user-friendly and guide users to where they needed to go—whether they knew where that was or not.

Phase 1

The website was designed in three phases, and to appeal to all its users. First, in Phase 1 (the launch phase), a graphical version was built, the information architecture pretty much as given on the Waffle House napkin with the main sections, all roughed in with basic information—Home, which introduced all the sections; About Holley and Coltec, Holley's parent company at the time; Product Line with just a listing of products—color-coded by product line; Sales, with the Holley Custom Shop, apparel and other merch; Tech Service, introducing email tech support, troubleshooting tips and various technical information— all relieving the phone support lines a tremendous amount! Motorsports showcased the payouts for various contingency programs, event info and schedules, Holley Nationals information, spotlighted the inductees to the 6-Second Club, and more: News & Information housed a very extensive and interesting History of Holley, news releases, the current ad campaign, trade show schedule, and employment opportunities. What's New reported what is new at Holley, the product lines, with Holley motorsports and on the website.

With consideration to bandwidth, the website was designed to display text first while graphics load. Cache played a huge part in this thinking, introducing common elements one or two at a time as you navigate into the website. In so doing, the website was a very graphical experience with splashes of GIF animation—on the head logo the race flag burns across the logo on each page and the panel on the nav device raises into place. However, with little precedence in designing such extensive websites, the navigation device was decided to be placed at the bottom of each page—to draw the user through the page—the nav animation was noticed but only on small pages.Sometimes you hit, sometimes you miss. One thing that did hit was a "wizard-style," Interactive Carburetor Selector built in this first phase. Choosing the appropriate choices in 3-6 steps, rather than elaborate mathematical equations, delivered the right carburetor to suit the user's exact need. No guesswork.



Phase 2

The second phase, overlapping with the first included incorporating a mirrored Text version for those with slow connections, knew exactly where they needed to go, or just didn't care about the graphics. This phase also added a lot of individual product pages, about 6,000—without any structural, IA redesign. Actually, there never was any structural redesign to the website in the entire 8-years, just scaling. There are lots of remnants to this day, 20 years later, from the original structural design. What the individual product pages added was extensive information about each product, an Optional Parts & Accessories chart with links to those product pages, a thumbnail photo in which clicking it would provide a full-screen photo. Downloadable, print-ready, digital photography was the click of a button. This function alone was worth the cost of the website as a huge benefit to Holley customers providing readily available resources for their marketing and advertising needs. Again, Holley's customers are those who market to consumers. Having product photography is a necessity to selling those products. Holley was the first to make it so easy, first with the Digital Media Resources CD, then likewise on the website.

In addition, Phase 2 added a Home page facelift with an image created by Phil Gibbon (Who's Phil Gibbon? You know that awesome logo on the Delorean? Back To The Future? Phil did that! He also designed the current Holley logo, as well.). That home page graphic also displayed on the main signage at Holley's Bowling Green, Kentucky headquarters for a lot of years (might still be there?). A Search function, a Help section, a Directory, and Community Message Boards for each product line. The message boards were another hit or miss try. They were very active, beneficial and positive at first, but when Holley went through a pretty big layoff some years later, the comments got really fiery and belligerent, and the message boards were brought down.

Holley Interactive Product Selector

Continuous surveying of website visitors, as well as directly watching users at trade shows, or talking directly with customers validated the user-centered design was working very well. This award-winning website was engaging, easy-to-use and very beneficial to a host of different kinds of users. Though the website was logically laid out for users to quickly find the products they need, this website was all about the user. At this point search engines were playing a very vital role on the World Wide Web... and the Holley website was very search engine friendly, or shall I say, search engine optimized (SEO). I found this very beneficial right away with a large segment of users, those who knew what they needed. A parts shop could search the Web for part number "0-1850S" and Holley's shiny, 600 CFM four-barrel carburetor by that part number would be a top hit. Likewise with ALL the Holley part numbers on the website. Even when databasing made managing large product websites easier, I stayed with the static pages initially, because of the SEO tightness.



Phase 3

About this time, Holley Performance Products who was owned by Coltec Corporation, got bought by the president and an investment firm from New York. They went on a huge buying spree, acquiring a wide range of performance product companies to build out Holley's product offerings. Hooker Headers. Flowtech. Weiand. Lunati. NOS. Earl's Plumbing. Legendary brands with their own branding. With thousands of pages designed, built and already in-place, this became a very challenging phase incorporating all these diverse brands as Holley acquired them and make them uniform under Holley's branding. Challenges met! I was able to maintain each brands individuality, yet properly meld them under the Holley umbrella to look like a Holley product.

2003 Holley Website Flowchart

The website grew to over 20,000 pages. Experience with print catalog work helped architect such a task. A minor structural redesign entailed adding a multimedia level to the graphical and text levels of the website. To help users easily find where they need to go, I designed several interactive features to assist buyers in finding the exact products they need for specific applications via car and engine type, and performance desired.

Marketing-wise, this website was literally paying for itself. Not only did this website literally serve all the same information a 14-inch stack of print catalogs did, but each product page offered high resolution, print-ready product photography for Holley customers—warehousers and speed shops—to use in their own marketing.

The movie Fast & Furious with lots of NOS product placement, and a Fast & Furious / Holley website contest grew vistors from 15,000-18,000 a day to over 40,000 a day before settling to a consistent 25,000-28,000 visitors a day—from all around the world.

During Holley's centennial birthday, the website was redesigned to give each brand—Holley, Weiand, NOS, Lunati, Street Avenger, Truck Avenger, Hooker Headers, Flowtech, Earl's Plumbing, Holley Marine—it's own brand website, but common in look and structure to this Holley website design, and intra-connected with the Holley umbrella site. In so doing much of the individual pages were consolidated into charts, reducing the number of pages in half to about 10,000 search engine indexable pages. Each head graphic on each brand home page was an animated GIF, showcasing a series of product highlights.

Conclusions


This was a one-year project that lasted eight years. I did absolutely everything on this site. I owned it for eight years! I conceived and launched this popular website with 80 pages and 200 visitors a day. I maintained and grew the website, updating 5,000-7,0000 pages a year—all via email, phone, fax, FedEx and quarterly visits with this client two states away.

All along with a website this size, it had to be designed for the users. Aside of the graphical, structural and SEO design, I literally hand-coded thousands of pages and directed thousands more. Likewise thousands of graphical elements. Though there were tens of thousands of individul product pages, few were more than two clicks away from each other. Early user experience practices proved this to be a very user-friedly and intuitive website to navigate and find exactly what you are looking for.

After eight years, due to Holley's internal restructuring and a new IT Director, the Holley website went from the marketing department to the IT department, and in-house. This look and feel remained for another two years, before a database-driven design was implemented. Though the current website is nowhere near as extensive and comprehensive as it once was, it still retains much of the basic navigation structure design implemented when it was first launched.

My roles included concept, user experience design, interface and graphical design, information architecture, coding, art and development direction, evangelism, and many more hats. I also did interactive CDs for Holley, traveled to Holley clients around the country, as well as trade shows for new media instruction and presentation. I did package design, designed ads and trade show graphics, as well as numerous other projects with Holley.