"Mostly Serious was crucial in helping us understand our digital audience and what they want from us."
Our Goal: Build a Website That Celebrates a Prestigious Brand
417 Magazine had an outdated site that did not reflect the needs of their readers. As the brand continued to grow over the last 20 years, adding niche titles and events, the site struggled to keep up with the demands of users who increasingly wanted access to content across all of the magazine’s platforms. And, while the 417 brand has become the tastemakers in 417-land, their legacy website was unable to reflect the quality design and content that readers find in the pages of their publications. In some ways, then, our goal was simple: build a site as beautiful as the brand that guides users through their content.
Our Strategy: Build a Digital 417-Orbit
Who knows the 417 brand better than the folks at 417 Magazine? No one. Who knows how to understand online users and create beautiful web properties designed to work for those users better than us? No one. What happens if we combine those complementary expertises? Great things.
As such, our strategy was to collaborate heavily with the 417 team to develop a digital landscape for their users that encouraged seamless navigation between related content and articles and from one property to the next, a 417-orbit, as it were. We brought our ability to understand digital audiences and award-winning web design capabilities, they brought their deep knowledge of their readers and brand, and we sat down at a table (well, a number of tables and in a number of conference rooms, in fact). The result was a robust plan to overhaul the magazine’s entire online presence. Then we got to work.
Our Execution: Research, Collaborate, Create a Beautiful, Intuitive Website
We started this project like we start all of our projects: research, research, and when we think we’ve researched enough, research a little more. We call this our Groundwork phase, and it begins by asking a bunch of questions. We spent as much as time as we could with key stakeholders at 417, trying to understand their goals for their online presence and how the new site contributed to their goals as a company. Then, we talked with their customers through surveys and interviews, and we learned much about what people were looking for and how they used the site. Finally, we put our design and content expertise to work, auditing their existing properties and diagnosing issues.
And the results were stunning. After our comprehensive Groundwork phase was complete, we’d identified key takeaways about 417’s online users that could radically transform their approach to online content. Specifically, we learned about key distinctions between their readers and online users. The target audience for the site, a group that we previously thought was homogenous, was, in fact, quite different. The differences in these two audiences is now commonly referenced as "siblings, not twins" by the 417 staff.
This discovery guided our strategy on which content to feature and, given user behaviors, how to organize certain information to make it more easily accessible. Perhaps more significantly, though, this insight encouraged a paradigm shift for 417. While the magazine’s various properties were approached as separate entities online, historically, our research concluded that it was time to create a robust, intuitive site that flowed from publication to publication. The 417-orbit was born.
Once we understood 417’s goals and the site’s users, we started mapping an ideal site. Through highly collaborative conversations between our designers, engineers, and the 417 team, we agreed on a framework that ushered users from relevant information to related information, and on a custom CMS that was easy enough to quickly add content and comprehensive enough to manage their ever-expanding content universe.
Then, we put our expertise to work to push the functionality of their site into new territories. We created a content organization system that allows advertisers to place native ads in sections specifically related to their product or service. We developed a tagging framework that links related stories, events, issues, and businesses together. We implemented a modular approach to building content that provides internal users with extreme flexibility in recreating print editions and adding new, web-specific items. And, we expanded their online business directory to improve their ability to support local businesses and advertisers.
The result of all this work is a stunning, intuitive site that celebrates 417 Magazine and, by extension, all that makes 417-land wonderful in the first place.