How do you build camaraderie when everyone is WFH?
At BASIC/DEPT® we all knew the power of music, but the life it takes when each of us becomes vulnerable is what makes it sound even better.
JAMS didn’t have much of a vision at first. It turned out to be one of the best things that happened to our agency.
Every Monday morning, an employee owns the proverbial mic for a few minutes. They tell the 120-ish people on the agency-wide call about a playlist they created, the meaning behind it, and a specific lyric.
It’s a break from reminders about timesheets and other announcements; a time to roll back the shoulders and get re-introduced to a co-worker through their favourite music.
The idea became even more powerful as the pandemic reared its ugly head. Checking in at the start of each week became critical to our sanity.
In sharing playlists and the stories that follow, walls are effectively broken, tears are sometimes shed, friendship is organically formed, and culture is most certainly built.
JAMS is now a staple of our agency’s identity. It shows that everyone has something to contribute that has nothing to do with a job title. It literally sets the tone every week.
Today, around the world, employees at our partner agencies as well as at our clients use JAMS to get to know each other.
The Vinyl Identity
From a branding perspective, the identity borrowed from the visual language of artwork shared during JAMS sessions and of spinning vinyl.
The colour system is vast and emotional. We wanted it to match the vibrant visual language of the music. We also carried this approach into our UI elements with adaptive systems.
We were even intentional with minutia of the scrolling experience – like the nostalgic “click” sound of an iPod wheel as you scroll through songs on the site. Our brand fonts are used throughout to ensure that JAMS is recognisably BASIC/DEPT®.
If JAMS makes you nostalgic for the back seat of your parents car or to the days of flipping through CD booklets, then we did what we set out to do.
The page content and the art direction behind it is largely inspired by the contributions of our employees, specifically the quote they chose to share with everyone at the agency and their actual playlist.
It’s another way that we allow everyone at the agency who shared something to feel heard and recognised – it’s a remix of the term “inclusive design.”
The site is by no means a creation of just a few people. It’s the culmination of dozens and dozens of our own people – making everyone feel heard.
Creating the Site
To create the site, we partnered with Eric Van Holtz of Van Holtz Co. and his colleague, Jake Whiteley. Under the hood, GSAP is the technology we used to create all of the animations and interactions. The homepage has two views of the most recent playlists: CRATE and GRID.
CRATE gives the feeling of being in a record shop or inside a basement, flipping through stacks of vinyl records. On the playlist page, the hero image rotates as if it’s spinning on a record player. Scrolling down, you’ll see content being revealed – artist quotes, album artwork, and a carousel of playlists.
We had fun on the NOTES page by displaying imagery from the featured playlist in a style similar to the 1990s DVD screensaver animation; it continually bounces off of the edges of the screen. We wanted the animations and interactions to support the content and represent a throwback to the days before digital audio.
Creating the Video
Central to the site is the intro video. We shot it in our San Diego HQ and featured our own people. The team went thrifting for props over lunch. The entire process felt very organic, much like our approach to JAMS in the first place: off the cuff but always a shared experience.
We styled the shoot with analog technology from a bygone era: a transistor radio, an antenna TV, a cassette deck, an Ikegami tube camera, to name a few. The makeshift set purposefully felt like a vintage record shop; JAMS is your favourite record store; your basement; your Honda Civic; that place we all remember listening to music. It’s an extension of you.
Paving the way for our own stories
In a surprising way, JAMS has become a powerful catalyst for storytelling, prompting employees to share anecdotes of struggle, loss, and celebration.
One employee created a playlist for Hispanic Heritage month. “The lyrics are very personal to me as they are a celebration of my home country of Mexico. México te llevo en el corazón, con la alegría del mariachi, me brota la inspiración.”
The lyrics by Luis Miguel translate to, “Mexico, I carry you in my heart, with the joy of the mariachi, inspiration is born.”
The song is a celebration of the colours, aromas, textures and music of a country beloved by its people,” shared the employee. “But there are about 20 countries where Spanish is the official language, so JAMS creates a beautiful and unique opportunity to celebrate each other with musica en español. That’s what JAMS provides – the opportunity to learn more about each other.
Luis Miguel, BASIC/DEPT® employee
Another employee curated a genreless playlist inspired by the 1994 Beastie Boys record, Ill Communication, which spans pop, punk, folk, rock, hip hop, and jazz. He shared a quote from a 1963 spoken word session by Bob Dylan that he added to the playlist.
“You’ll find God in the church of your choice, you’ll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital, and though it’s only my opinion, I may be right or wrong, you’ll find them both in the Grand Canyon at sundown.”
The employee followed with an explanation about how the quote relates to his recent loss of a pet.
Hospitals and churches are where people go to find closure, find answers, find hope, beauty, inspiration; to find something deeper. But they aren’t the only places. For anyone who’s lost someone, just go outside, find that place that’s special to you and reconnect. They’re no longer physically there, but can still be there for you.
A playlist created by Studio Dumbar/DEPT®, our Netherlands-based partner agency, is just the beginning. In the spirit of JAMS, our DEPT® family members now make playlists and art to share with each other.
Art credit: Christopher Noort (Lead Designer) and Giovanni Zanella (Motion Designer)
Of course, the idea of sharing playlists feels as old as the creation of fire and by no means do we take credit.
That said, we’d like to think we played a small role in allowing agency culture worldwide to become more vulnerable through the lens of music. Our global family of DEPT agencies now share their JAMS on social channels through a branded identity for the world to see.
The next wave is the most intriguing. We plan to produce short documentaries spotlighting the compelling stories told by our curators. Who knows – there might even be a JAMS charity event and scholarship one day.
It might sound overly aspirational and unclear, but that’s how it all began – and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
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