Carnegie Corporation of New York
Providing a Clearer Picture of Purpose for a Renowned Foundation
The Carnegie Corporation of New York is one of America's oldest and most renowned grantmaking foundations. As with many long-established institutions, the work the Foundation and its grantees pursue has grown increasingly multidimensional over the years. When adapting their work to fit the rigid and overly complex structure of their site became an issue of accurately representing the Foundation, they realized a more effective communication tool was needed—however, they weren't quite ready for a full site overhaul.
Instead of facing an identity crisis, a fresh approach to UX and a front-end visual facelift were undertaken to codify and systematize content, and to simplify and streamline presentation. With a new narrative-driven approach to design, the site is a more effective platform for showcasing the dynamic recent work that defines the Foundation's focus.
The Rhode Island School of Design is a renowned educational institution, consistently ranked as one of the best art and design schools in the world. Facing a lack of engagement with their alumni community, we worked with RISD to strategically foster the lifelong relationship that alumni, parents, and friends have with the institution.
Our solution was to create a dynamic digital platform for the school's 30,000+ alumni to connect with news, events, and fellow graduates.
Impetus for Change
In the previous homepage design, crucially important content was hidden in carousels and slideout drawers, and organized under the very broad labeling of four Program areas. As their work grew, the Program area distinction became too broad an umbrella for describing their increasingly nuanced work.
To solve for this, the concept of Topics was suggested in order to extricate content buried within Programs and elevate it to a more appropriate hierarchy. Instead of asking Programs to do all the heavy lifting, now Topics content would speak more colloquially to external audiences, while Programs content would be retooled to serve the needs of internal audiences.
Defining a New Design System
While the visual design was strictly guided by an existing brand book, we were able to apply style rules in new ways to create a fresh design system with a more contemporary feel. Collaborating with Carnegie's Principal Design Director we were also able to usher in minute but effective changes to type and color guidelines, to improve overall accessibility and readability.
Front Door v. Junk Drawer
As the existing homepage complexity was a critical motivation for the overall project, over a dozen design concepts were explored to serve the new content and navigation structure. The goal for the new page was to balance messaging of the Foundation's notable mission, with a showcase of their recent active work. Two concepts were eventually chosen and tested out over time on the live redesigned site before a decision was made.
The antithesis of the previous design, the new concept was chosen for its streamlined simplicity, austere clarity, and consistency with which it translates across platforms and devices.
Planning Room for Growth
Since Topics were an entirely new endeavor both for the Foundation and the website, a roadmap for the evolution of this page over time was planned. A three-step concept was created that would allow the initially simple design to grow more robust without major rehauling, as internal content creators honed their direction.
First, the simple text-based cards would incorporate supplementary imagery. Then, reusing existing design mechanics from elsewhere in the site, the grid would become a menu allowing quick insight into individual Topics before requiring the user to commit to clicking through to a landing page.
Showcasing Recent Work
The Foundation demonstrates its active work through Articles and so this template is the main workhorse of the site. The single-column page design and elevated share tools prioritize mobile viewing and greatly improves the overall accessibility of these pages. Generous spacing and typestyles provide support longer-form articles, while the type hierarchy of the structured metadata helps shorter ones feel more substantial. And the clean, full-width template allows content administrators to inject inline HTML and CSS via the WYSIWYG editor (per client request), without jeopardizing the overall design of the page.
Though net-new designs for the Homepage, Topics, and Articles were our primary focus areas for the initial phase of the project, visual updates for all secondary pages and templates were also provided to ensure a cohesive and uniform visual experience.
Since this was a client we had a long-term relationship with, we were able to work with the Carnegie team to scope a roadmap that would allow for the incremental application of these design updates to the lower-priority pages. In a continuous release method, after the initial release of our target pages, sprints of design application (first) and refinement (second), would happen parallel to some of the additional work we were pursuing as partners.
Through unearthing the exciting active work of the Foundation, simplifying the process of content creation, and prioritizing mobile accessibility, the site has seen a noteworthy increase in traffic as well as user engagement in the form of sharing articles.
Introducing Topics as a content differentiator became a spark for new, exciting conversations within the foundation in regards to reaching external audiences and triggering additional strategic projects.
© Kristina Pedicone 2020