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Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann

One doesn’t often have the opportunity to work on a project that strengthens his skills in multiple disciplines and helps him reevaluate his connection to his heritage. I have been fortunate to have just such an opportunity, and after months of hard work, that project is now available for public consumption.

In late August of last year, a handful of Happy Cogs flew out to Dublin to meet with some of the cheerful folks who run Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, a government-funded non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of traditional Irish music and culture. They needed a new web site, and we were going to give them one. We expected our trip to Dublin to be fun, and we knew we’d have a lot of hard work to do, but I don’t think any of us realized how much the two would intertwine.

Our Comhaltas days were filled with typical client meetings: discussions of ideas to be communicated, logistics, design, technology, sheduling, etc, all of which was of course important and valuable. But it was in the evenings that we learned the most about Comhaltas’s mission. The stage performances and pub sessions; the stories, songs, and dances; the tireless passion these people have for their own national history and culture. Even if it wasn’t a community with such open arms, it still would have been infectious, and we were all drawn in immediately.

The emotional connection brought a freshened intensity to our duty to do this project right, and it wasn’t going to be easy. Comhaltas is a very large and broad organization, and the kind of site it needed introduced all sorts of unique, practical challenges. It needed to be bilingual. It needed to house a massive music archive that could accommodate a variety of media types. It needed to make information about its myriad events and all of its 400+ branches easily accessible. It needed a straightforward ease of use that would appeal to a global community comprised of four generations. And all of this stuff needed to culminate in a visual design which communicated that Comhaltas is an organization that values tradition highly, but still stands firmly in the modern world.

I was ultimately responsible for the bulk of the information architecture and design of the site. Getting my head around the breadth of Comhaltas and figuring out the best way to address its needs was simultaneously intimidating and intriguing. Luckily, I was not alone. Breandán Knowlton, Projects Officer for Comhaltas, gave me one of the best experiences collaborating with a client that I could ever hope to have. The guy is a walking encyclopedia, capable of intelligent commentary on almost any subject you can think of. As a former software engineer and current believer in web standards, he was the perfect liaison; his was the most informed and helpfully verbose feedback I’ve ever encountered, and our working relationship was one of mutual deference.

Of course, there were plenty of other people who brought their own brand of ingenuity to the site, particularly Dan Mall on the front end (don’t miss his writeup of the experience) and Mark Huot on the back end. But since Breandán isn’t quite the self-promotion whore the rest of us are, and he was unquestionably the most important piece of the puzzle, it simply wouldn’t have been right not to highlight his invaluable contribution.

For more information, I encourage you to check out the project’s case study on the Happy Cog site. Otherwise, I’ll let the product speak for itself.

It’s funny; I don’t often go into this kind of detail about professional work on my personal site, outside of the Portfolio section. But this has been a very special project for me, on both personal and professional levels. It has allowed me to reconnect to my roots, and it’s enabled me to give other people a chance to do the same.