Just before Christmas 2012 Google opened Santa’s Village, an HTML5 playground for kids of all ages. The village consisted of three games, a number of interactive scenes, and a special chat where kids could get Santa to make personalised phone calls to friends and family. Last but not least, on Christmas Day kids could use the Santa Tracker to follow Santa’s flight across the world in real time on Google Maps.
I was a Creative Director on the project for Upperquad, working with a huge team of incredibly qualified and jolly people on a tight deadline. I led the design process, oversaw illustrators and developers and did my best to keep everyone running in the same direction.
A great big bunch of people, working in 10 cities and spread across 4 continents, worked on the project, all syncing together using Google+ Hangouts.
To launch a complicated site on a tight deadline we had to work with the best of the best. Leading the project were Patrick Glover, Andres Ferrate and David Kim with Phil Ruppanner as Creative Director. Lead illustrators on the project were Glenn Jones and Ed Nacional, with additional illustrations by Carl Bean-Larson, Ariana Nicolay, Marcio Gutheil and Alex Griendling. Development was led by Luke Mahé of Google, who was aided by Ægir Þorsteinsson, Eiríkur Nilsson, Finnur Sigurðsson, Aaron Graham, Paul Lewis, Chris Broadfoot, Eric Bidelman, Kasia Derc-Fenske, Daniel Morse, Brendan Kenny, Ankur Kotwal and Jan-Felix Schmakeit. Tor Castensson and Andreas Jeppson created the music and sounds.
Not so long ago, the only way to put together a site like this would have been to have everybody in the same location, preferably at the North Pole. With Google+ Hangouts we were able to not only talk to each other, but also watch and discuss visual concepts and live games using screenshare. The small nuances of face-to-face interaction, and the advantages of being able to pull in the best people no matter where they are in the world, made a huge difference.
Highly interactive, fullscreen responsive and horizontally parallaxed, Santa’s Village was filled to the brim with buzzword-compliant holiday goodness.
The site had three original HTML5 games, all of which showed the elves busy preparing the holidays. Playable on a host of devices, the games featured music and sound effects by Swedish prodigies Plan8.
Using a fun live chat with Santa, visitors to the site could customise a holiday message the the bearded guy then delivered to friends and family via an actual phone call. Santa Call was built by Chicago based Varitalk.
Ever wonder how Santa prepares for his one annual day of work? On the site we had fully responsive looping scenes that featured reindeer flight tests, present delivery preps and more.
Throughout the site we had all sorts of hidden goodies. Clicking on the sun took us from day to night, users could tip over the
snowmen snowpersons and shoot balls through a candy factory maze.
As Christmas draws near, kids everywhere demand to know the exact location of Santa. To help them we used Google Maps to calculate his exact location (give or take a few meters).
We used a stylised Google Map as a base and created custom pins to keep up with Santa. See him fly across the world! Click on the places he’s been! See pictures, read wikipedia entries, check the local weather! Get updates on the number of presents delivered! Education and fun wrapped into one neat package!
People often keep the Santa Tracker running in the background while they’re getting ready for the holidays, and just glance at their computers every so often. So we built a dashboard where you could see Santa’s location, status (”tired but very jolly”), mileage, presents delivered etc, without interacting with the site.
The Santa Tracker was fully responsive, so people could access it on any device and get an experience tailored to their their particular gadget. Users could step away from their desktops for a few minutes to decorate their trees, but still track Santa on the go using their mobile phones or tablets.
A few days before Christmas, you could download a specially designed Santa Tracker Chrome extension. Apart from giving you a glimpse of where Santa was, you could also make any website snow, have the Santa blimp fly across your browser screen or see Santa's elves being picked up at their local bus stop.
The site was incredibly well received by media, the peoples of the internet and by the design industry. In just 5 days the site got millions of visitors (sorry, confidental number, but it’s huge!) with a massive spike on christmas eve and throughout christmas day.
The site got massive and overwhelmingly positive media coverage from folks like AdAge, Tech Crunch, Time, Fast Company, CNET, The Next Web, The Verge, engadget, CBS, USA Today, swiss miss and the LA Times, just to name a few.
From the moment it launched the site was widely shared throughout the internets. People flooded their Google+, Facebook and Twitter feeds with positive reviews, links to the Santa Tracker site and overall holiday cheer.