Rushmore

An ecosystem designed to bring bands and fans closer together.

Rushmore fan dashboard screen
Rushmore achievement badges and album editing screen
This page is a work in progress
Project details
Period2011–2014
StudioFictive Kin, Betaworks
SkillsR&D and prototyping, information architecture, UX and UI design, front-end, community building, startup process.
Described as a 'music ecosystem', the invite-only site initially consists of a Wikipedia-like music resource where you’re encouraged to contribute and follow content, although the site’s broader aim is to connect music fans directly and effortlessly with the artists and labels they love, and in doing so make it easier to make a living from music.
— TechCrunch

Between 2011 and 2014, myself and other music obsessives gradually brought this ambitious dream to life. Greg Wood and I were contracted by NY-based Fictive Kin to get things rolling, before becoming full-time partners. FK then partnered with Betaworks to move the product forward. We built a thriving community in a short time, and Rushmore featured in TechCrunch and The Next Web. Alex Hunter, the former Global Head of Online for Virgin Group, became CEO, and Rushmore received a $1.2m round of funding.

The purpose for Rushmore was two-fold: 1) bring artists and fans closer together, and 2) make it easier to be an artist and a fan. We wanted to create a world in which it's easy and fun to be a music fan, and it's possible to make a good living as an artist. Fans could show off their tastes, find new sounds, stay up to date, and support musicians. It was essential to start with a fan-centric, bottom-up product and build from there.

Planning & prototyping

Ah, fun times. Getting started without anyone applying pressure; just pushing at an idea and finding the edges. Sketch, think, go for walks. Sketch some more.

Initial sketching for an artist page
Initial sketching for the fan dash
Super basic early sitemap sketch

Soon enough, we found the edges and defined our features. Time to get serious. Cue several stages of static and then basic navigable prototypes, each of higher fidelity as we began to knit things together. We soon realised how many forms we'd need. Spoiler: it was a lot of forms.

Early wireframes featuring Fucked Up and Oasis
Discography for early Oasis releases

Our navigable prototypes were incredibly simple and mostly static, save for a few linked paths and mapped interactions to emulate user flows. This approach helped us highlight problem areas, such as the contradictory nature of date and time across various features, and fluidity of information delivery in busy zones like the Fan Dashboard.

Fan dash timeline wireframe
Fan dash with more news detail

The Fan Dash became a window into so much that was happening around the app. It was an epicentre for decision-making as we worked through endless iterations. In truth, the delivery of music news is so subjective that it becomes hard to make the right call, and what persists does so mainly through surviving a succession of simplification exercises. "Oh, that's still there, we must really like it. OK, that stays."

Iteration of the fan dash
Iteration of the fan dash
Iteration of the fan dash

We had full autonomy at this point, making things up as we went along. There was no testing, and there were no focus groups; just a bunch of music nerds building their own world. Eventually, the time came for grown-up engineering, and we needed to explain our idiosyncrasies to an expanding team.

Spongy stuff calcified into explainable logic and calculated patterns. With systems forming, we were able to speed up the production of vital features we'd neglected, like the Band Dash where artists could manage their profiles, learn more about their fans and share material.

Working out the band dashboard for The National
Form patterns

With engineering underway, we prepared the ground for a beta release and an initial testbed of three-hundred users (The 300). We produced formal planning documents for onboarding and worked through each step meticulously to ensure we made a great first impression.

Spreadsheeting the onboarding process
Onboarding flowchart fun

The transition from spacious R&D to project-managed release schedule was swift, but we maintained the fun. I could share thousands of documents and images from the planning and prototyping stage and hundreds of visual iterations. I won't, but I could.

Invite-only beta

We launched at Brooklyn Beta. We'd just switched from our codename, Rushmore, to Fanzine, but the new name didn't fly with everyone and we switched back. We originally came up with Rushmore while watching the Wes Anderson movie together, and I like it because it's so irrelevant and yet people just accept it. Credit to Ben Pieratt for the perfect logo.

Beta release fan profile
Beta release artist page for Sigur Ros

The beta aesthetic is a little boxy, for a few maintenance reasons but also to help accommodate the unknown: fans could choose one of our carefully-considered backgrounds, or wreck the whole thing by choosing something terrible from their computer. For popular artists, we chose a background hero image we liked, and then fans could upvote alternatives.

Reward stickers

I created a system of reward 'stickers', as we needed to encourage contributions and get fans to feel proud of their profiles. It was also a great way to explore the vernacular of fanship and old school record stores.

Achievement stickers based on famous covers
Achievement stickers for data contributions

Never one to miss an opportunity to have some fun and geek out, I riffed on classic albums to reward fans who uploaded cover artwork. We did, of course, do Unknown Pleasures, but I've lost the file.

The stickers were integral to the success of The 300, our betanauts club. Fans were eager to collect rewards for fleshing out profiles, and each week we updated a league table reflecting contributions.

Reference sheet for stickers rollout
Fan profile with earned stickers
Merchandise ideas
Rushmore stickers on a MacBook

Part of my role was to define scope and possibilities for rollout and provide appropriate documentation. We also printed stickers to be used in analogue situations, designed to work neatly as a mini-grid alongside the big Rushmore sticker. We also had some fun exploring possible merch and swag angles. We made slipmats.

Frequent audits

I’ve always enjoyed performing well-timed design audits to take a cross-section of a project and its health at various stages. They’re a visual deep-dive into the story so far, and essential for keeping a sprawling ecosystem in check as the team scrambles to patch in response to beta feedback.

Audit looking at possible typefaces
Audit pulling together lots of inconsistent UI details

My audits are blunt but never unnecessarily negative. It's essential not just to highlight problems and inconsistencies but also offer ideas, make suggestions and detail possible solutions. Often the audit docs are the places where we start to spot and highlight patterns that later inform systems and guidelines.

Unfortunately, Rushmore reached its premature conclusion in late 2014, and that's a long story (containing a funny joke about nobody expecting The Spanish Acquisition) best shared around a roaring fire, whisky in hand. The important thing is that we tried and that we loved every minute.