Here’s a fun little challenge: Try creating an online portfolio for an artist whose career stretches wide across hundreds of music credits, fashion labels and collaborations, social good endeavors, film and TV stints, and art and design projects. Oh, and this artist hates talking about himself.
Over the past year, the team at boutique workshop Five Hundred stared down such a task for Pharrell Williams.
"If you think about a traditional portfolio site like any of us would create, that’s what he wanted to accomplish—to archive the work he’s done in the past, but also set up an environment that will allow him to update and keep up with the things he’ll be doing in the future," says Will Perkins, co-creative director at Five Hundred. "The conflict was, how do you celebrate someone who doesn’t exactly like to celebrate himself? If you think about most artists’ websites, they’re either purchase centers or they’re places where you go to just consume things about them."
What Perkins and his team landed on is a desktop/mobile experience powered by Pharrell’s fans. When you to go pharrellwilliams.com, you’re prompted to login via Facebook and create a card that details your favorite work of Pharrell’s in the categories of music, fashion, social good, art and design, and TV and film. Once the card is complete, it goes on the site’s homepage and becomes part of an infinite scroll through Pharrell’s resume. The site will also house tour updates, exclusive releases, and behind-the-scenes content—but the focus is on the fans.
"We knew that we needed to approach this a little differently, and that’s when we started looking into him as a person and how he feels about his fans—what was that relationship?" says Tal Midyan, co-creative director at Five Hundred. "Watching tons of interviews with him and really hearing him say how his fans are the reason why he does the work, we were like, what if we just flip this a little bit and make it about them telling his story?"
Basic data from users will be collected through Facebook in order to get a better sense of where Pharrell’s fans are located, what they’re into, etc.—all in conjunction with which projects they’ve selected with their cards. As the site grows, Perkins and Midyan say they’re hoping to leverage the findings in some way—but as Pharrell himself puts it, there’s no long-term vision for the site in place.
"Right now, we’re just looking forward to seeing what people’s favorite projects are," Pharrell says. "The more people who create cards, the more we can learn about what their interests are and communicate with them in meaningful ways. The site will evolve over time, there’s no end goal per se, I’m just looking forward to sharing it with everyone."
Five Hundred’s approach to creating Pharrell’s site fits not only within his disposition of uncontrived authenticity, but it’s also in-line with his championing of individualization and eclectic aesthetic.
"We wanted to represent Pharrell through design as much as we would represent him through the project that you would experience—so the way things move, the colors, thinking about the homepage and the blob forms," Perkins says. "[Pharrell’s creative collective and record label] i am OTHER is about being other and leaning into all these things that are different and unique about you. So when we developed this concept of a fan card, we didn’t want to box people in by framing them in squares. So we developed this thought about blobs and movement. Pharrell’s first experiences with music—he grew up in Virginia Beach—were through the ocean. And if you listen to his music you can kind of hear some of those influences in the sounds that he chooses, so it became that feeling of wetness that you experience on the homepage. He colors in sound so we added music to the homepage—so very subtle moves that are really about who he is and not just decision that we thought were cool."
Pharrellwilliams.com’s deceptive simplicity is as much a portfolio for Pharrell as it is an extension of himself, and a nod to his fans who’ve propelled his wide-ranging career.
"When I was presented with this concept from Five Hundred, I instantly connected with it. I love how this aggregated energy from my fans gets to be harnessed and power the site," Pharrell says. "Their faces are front and center, before you learn about my projects, you have to see the faces of the people who have supported those projects first. I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for them. I never wanted a website that felt like a vanity project. I feel much better knowing that my website will include the people who are responsible for my success."