Think + Do » an exploration of mission-driven marketing and design

Rethinking Online Publications

The online version of your publication is an increasingly important part of the communications mix. Because print and pixels are distinctly different, it’s vital to consider how each affects the way your audience consumes information.

Reality check

An online publication should be more than a way to reduce costs by saving money on printing and mailing. In fact, research published in the March 2010 issue of CASE’s Currents magazine found that nearly 75% of respondents did not look at the online edition of their alumni magazine, while 91% always or frequently read the printed version.

People have different expectations when they go online. Readers seek up-to-the-minute information in a media-rich environment that includes video, message boards, and opportunities to connect via social networks. Creating an online publication that delivers relevant content and draws repeat visits takes dedication and time.

Putting a publication on the web offers new opportunities to communicate with people beyond your core audience. The CASE research finds that external searches often spark more interest in your organization and the information and expertise you provide. Online publications must be optimized to help people find you.

Make the medium serve the message

Through animation, some online publications try to literally mimic the effect of a printed page being turned. This gimmick not only misses the point, but is not terribly helpful to the reader. Your web interface should focus on delivering content to your readers in a way that advances the story and increases understanding.

The success of your online efforts relies on your ability to adapt to the way people are viewing the written word. Devices like the iPhone and Amazon Kindle enable readers to interact with content in new ways. Recently, Wired magazine unveiled their vision for taking advantage of this new technology.

Each advance in technology requires an understanding of how people will interact with information — both what is possible and what is preferable. The question should not be: How do we make this more like a printed piece? But, how can we leverage the technology to create a more engaging experience for our readers?

Some examples of well-done online publications:

Bostonia (University of Boston Alumni Magazine)


Pepperdine Magazine

Think (The Magazine of Case Western Reserve University)

Related Content:

What Alumni Read (or Ignore)


Apple’s Bite: Publishers Should Beware the iPad


– Claire Napier and Dan Woychick

Are You Being True to Your Brand?

When it comes to branding an organization, having a memorable visual identity is valuable, but not as valuable as being true to the core values of the organization.

This past weekend, during the Super Bowl, there were many well-crafted and humorous ads. While fun to watch, many of the ads made me ask: Are companies simply creating entertainment, or are they effectively building their brands?

During the game, a friend recounted the plot of a favorite ad from last year’s Super Bowl, but then confessed they couldn’t remember which company the commercial was for. Advertising your organization is an opportunity to share the story and values of your brand, not just to momentarily grab attention.

This year, the commercials for Denny’s restaurants were a good example of a company using their high-profile advertising time to promote their brand, not just entertain (Watch ad here). Denny’s campaign was built around promoting an upcoming event during which they will be giving away their signature Grand Slam breakfast. As a brand built on delivering an affordable dining experience, Denny’s reinforces their core values with an offer that acknowledges their customers’ need for affordability in a struggling economy.

Too many companies that bought Super Bowl advertising time made entertainment paramount to their brand, which is fine if you’re in the business of providing entertainment. Denny’s gave consumers a chance to connect with their brand. To strengthen your brand, take advantage of every opportunity to tell your organization’s story by asking: Am I reinforcing our core values in a way that’s meaningful to our audience?

– Claire Napier

Don’t Bury the Information in the Experience

The web allows designers to create interactive experiences that are not possible in print. However, it is tempting to let the “experience” get in the way of providing people with information.

Recently, as part of a site redesign, we conducted usability testing on a number of university websites. Many of the home pages featured a large section devoted to creating an interactive experience, with beautiful slide shows or video and elegant navigation. However, none of our test subjects explored these features, skipping straight to the main navigation.

This reinforced our belief that most web users, even first-time visitors, have a goal in mind when they enter a site. Users are usually looking for the fastest way to obtain specific information.

In my own experience, MySpace is a site where my need for information trumps my design sensibilities. I frequently use the music section of MySpace to get information on my favorite artists. These pages are usually a cluttered mess, with distracting backgrounds and poor visual hierarchy. But despite these disadvantages, I find myself turning almost exclusively to MySpace for information rather than to the artists’ official .com websites.

Why? Even with the less-satisfying visual experience, actual content is fairly straightforward and easy to find on MySpace pages.

When using the web to find information about an artist, I am usually looking for one of two things – music to listen to or tour dates. On an artist’s .com site, I am never sure what to expect. Often these sites require waiting for Flash to load and have cumbersome animated menus. Also, custom music players necessitate a learning curve for each one.

MySpace Music pages, on the other hand, have a predictable and basic layout with a limited number of options. While the components of each page may vary somewhat, everything is on one page. Once you’ve seen a few MySpace pages, the consistency of the available options makes finding information easy.

While including animation and interactive features can supplement the web experience, it’s easy to get carried away. When designing a site, I always try to remember that the users’ primary need is information.

– Claire Napier

Random Poster Series

With the constant, multi-channel stream of information threatening to overwhelm our senses, we believe in the power of design to extract clarity out of chaos. This poster series is an exercise in putting that theory to the test.

The assignment

Every Monday, we select a random article on Wikipedia, a random quotation on, and the first photo that appears on Flickr when selecting “explore the last seven days.” Choosing one of these options, over the course of the week, we create a poster in five hours or less.

Random Poster 1

Inspired by a random selection from, October 12, 2009.

All posters are available for download. See the entire series.

Poster with quote: If you are interested, you never have to look for new interests. They come to you. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Designing for Accessibility Means Better Websites for Everyone

Because it appears to affect relatively few people, web accessibility isn’t often top-of-mind during the design and coding process. I’ve found, however, that considering accessibility earlier in the process can help improve the web experience for all users.

Earlier in my career, I was more focused on the way a site appeared than how the code was organized. When I started incorporating accessibility guidelines into my work, I discovered sites could be built more efficiently without sacrificing visual appeal.

There are many advantages to designing an accessible website. Most importantly, it is highly beneficial to site navigation. Sometimes the most visually logical way to create navigation makes for unnecessarily complicated code. Because accessible menus generally operate on less code, site users experience no lag time when waiting for a hover state or a dropdown menu to appear.

Accessible websites make your site more visible to search engines because images with text require a live text equivalent. Additionally, because they follow standard coding protocols, accessible websites are easier to manage and update.

Focusing on web accessibility earlier in the process means all content is properly coded, leading to simpler sites with cleaner typography. The result: Websites that work better for all users because both the design and production were considered, together, early in the process.

Learn More About Accessible Web Design


An introduction to accessibility:

Website accessibility checklist:

A guide to creating accessible image-based navigation:

College Web Pages Are ‘Widely Inaccessible’ to People With Disabilities


– Claire Napier