The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment is an environmental think tank focused on discovering solutions to the Earth's biggest environmental challenges through research, leadership development, and engagement. Their team wanted to expand the reach of their acclaimed magazine, Momentum, but were unsure how to best utilize the web to do so. Their existing digital tools weren’t built to convey the power of their content: inflexible layouts, limited rich media, poor interactivity, and a lack of social media integration, tied their hands. They were unsure about how to adapt to more demanding digital content schedules, and how to best reach new audiences. Meanwhile, their organizational structure and the somewhat common name of their magazine made positioning difficult. more
Moving to a digital setting demanded a whole new way of thinking about the publication. First, it needed a more defensible name, and a distinct identity (without sacrificing their credibility). A clear IA plan had to structure content for the future and cross-pollinate with their events. Design, we argued, needed to be transparent, with the sole task of properly housing content—be it in the form of interviews, information graphics, event videos, or photo essays.
This content would have to be scheduled, culled from a larger pool of contributors, and released regularly—in a format that worked on any device. We’d also encourage readers to comment on posts and share them, and made the case that all promotion should focus on their stories instead of leaning toward gimmicks.
Ensia (Environmental Solutions in Action) is the result of these efforts: a touch-friendly Responsive Design solution that treats content as king. The highly visual home page reflows to fit each device, allowing readers to survey content by subject/type, or drill down specifically through navigation. Design rules afford consistency from one story to the next, while adaptable layouts best showcase the content within. Text is easy to read, illustrations and photographs are more prominent, information graphics can be zoomed into, and things like interviews feel like real discussions. The online magazine has been met with enthusiasm, helping the organization quickly reach a broader global audience, vastly increase conversations on social networks, and gain new contributors. Above all else, Ensia’s position is now immediately clear to the viewer, better equipping them to spread their important message and build this brand.
The colorful tiles on the Ensia homepage give visitors an immediate sense of the rich content to be explored; meanwhile, the responsive site design ensures content is always presented properly for whichever device a visitor is using.
The push down navigation bar allows visitors two methods for filtering content. Categories sort by specific subject matter such as Business or Energy; while Sections organize by article type (e.g. interview, infographic, photo, video).
Main content pages feature two sidebars that offer additional articles that are relevant to what the visitor is reading. As screens become larger, this content adapts to the browser window; as they become smaller, content is pared down to just the essentials.
All pages are designed to present specific types of content ideally, while remaining visually consistent with the overall look and feel of the site. Pictured (from top left, clockwise): updates and notables; an information graphic with zoom-in functions; a standard article; a page to acknowledge contributors.
The mobile site pares down the content found on the desktop site, optimizing the layout for the small screen—all while maintaining the overall treatments used in the “full-sized” experience. At the same time, navigation is collapsed to maximize viewing space, while remaining accessible from the top-right menu.
The Live section of the site is used to promote Ensia’s annual events. It gives readers an overview of what to expect, alongside brief bios of each key speaker. The sidebar areas support this by providing an opportunity to view past events and the scan Ensia’s Twitter feed.
The About section neatly packages general information about Ensia, as well as its staff and contributors. It also offers ways in which people/organizations can get involved. Past issues of the Ensia’s printed publication are also made available for download.
“This platform helps us stand-out in a crowded space, and connect with environmental leaders around the world, all while increasing our ability to generate content.”
—Todd Reubold; Director and Founding Editor; Ensia