When we first started working with Rapha, many years ago, they made it clear how they wanted to approach the design of their website. They looked around the web and realised that e-commerce didn't exist that suited them perfectly. So they would have to create something bespoke, which told their story and presented their products just so.
In perhaps our second meeting their creative director and co-founder Luke Scheybeler showed us some very early wireframes of how the home page might be laid out. It looked a bit like this:
So? Well, It was a long time ago, and websites didn't really look like that. Yet.
Nowadays, you can't swing a metaphorical cat in the e-commerce space without hitting a bunch of sites which follow that template. Not just the countless Rapha wannabes who sprang up over the years, but main-stream e-commerce sites, in fashion and beyond. (Switch between Mr. Porter and Rapha, and bear in mind that the men's fashion site launched six years after Rapha.)
Luke was very clear that he wanted to present Rapha's brand and products via a photographically-led site design, we entered into a creative partnership which helped turn that vision into reality. Nothing was designed quite like this at the time, and together we appear to have set a 'standard' which is now very widely adopted.
Rapha was also the first website in the world to use Ajax techniques in the shopping cart. Our developer at the time was a certain Jeremy Keith, who was busy leading the way in DOM scripting. Most high-profile e-commerce sites offer some kind of instant-feedback during the buying process these days.
I'm glad that Message were part of these e-commerce moves, at a time when the industry was beginning to mature. The focus on web usability that we brought to the Rapha experience has no doubt helped them reach the heights they now occupy. They are undoubtedly one of the most influential players in the world of cycling, even though - compared to some - they remain somewhat smaller. Rapha, in turn, have brought worldwide attention to Message, and lead us to bigger and better things over the years.
It has also been a period during which we've developed an e-commerce platform - Mothership - which is capable of running operations turning over millions of pounds and thousands of orders per day. This is the engine enabling Rapha and others' success, which of course would be meaningless without their great products. It's a healthy symbiotic relationship.
Rapha and beyond
Luke now runs a highly successful design and branding agency, Scheybeler + Company, who we work with as a web partner on some very prestigious projects. His company can plug in to our 17 years experience online, and we get to work with their excellent designers for great clients. We push them on points of web standards or accessibility, and they push us on design excellence and detail. It's a great partnership for two companies who genuinely want to do great work.