From the outset of working with the Sun-Times, it was clear that their work is guided by sharp insights and thoughtful analysis. As the Principal Designer at Vox (and as a native Chicagoan) I was immediately inspired and excited by the opportunity to partner with such a talented and mission-driven publisher.
The collaboration brought a number of unique questions:
- How does a legacy publisher better align its print and digital experience?
- While publishing nearly 100 stories each day, what is the clearest way to surface content users care about?
- When and where can brand expression shine to further enhance the content and engagement for readers?
For several months, along with other members of the Chorus team, I collaborated with the Sun-Times to answer these questions.
How does a legacy publisher align its’ print and digital experiences?
The Sun-Times loved the look and feel of its print edition – big and bold, but never brash. The newspaper’s leadership, though, felt that their website failed to live up to that same spirit.
Working within the Sun-Times’s existing brand guidelines, we created some exploratory moodboards that focused on a few primary areas to tie their website more closely with the paper.
We introduced a more robust type hierarchy, and identified some key moments throughout the site for impactful headlines. Photography is featured more prominently through feature layouts and section pages.
We focused on more intentional, accessible use of color, and brought in additional visual elements from the print language — like bolder strokes in the masthead and section headers.
What is the clearest way to surface content users care about?
The Sun-Times publishes nearly 100 stories daily. Connecting the right audiences with the right topics was proving tough, and confusing for readers who felt lost in the web experience.
Working closely together, we explored how to more clearly organize content. We started with a discovery process that included using quantitative and qualitative research to identify reader habits.
During an onsite workshop we applied these findings to inform a new site taxonomy, and began working towards a homepage optimized for clarity and engagement around news that readers seek.
The new homepage that emerged sends clear content signals about what’s new and what’s important. Editors have control to curate daily stories with a top of page hero layout, and use automated sections that pull content by category (like columnists or politics) or other content types (like videos).
When and where can brand expression shine?
Though it has won eight Pulitzer prizes, the Sun-Times’s strongest photos, features, and investigative reports often received the same visual treatment online as their standard day-to-day service journalism.
I extended feature layouts on Chorus to allow the Sun-Times to control for a specific tone, leveraging more impactful typography and photography use, through a dynamic set of variations.
The result of the collaboration with the Sun-Times is a refined digital strategy that introduces big and bold print styles into a refreshed, dynamic website.
Through thoughtful design and working closely with developers, page load times were 56% faster. The Sun-Times also exceeded internal metrics for increases in page views and ad revenue.