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The Boston Globe

I’ve been working with The Boston Globe for the better part of this year on the design of a new site. I first made that announcement in Boston, on the stage of An Event Apart this past May, to a ballroom of very enthusiastic (and, I assumed from said enthusiasm, very local) designers and developers. Today, on the New Media Days stage in Copenhagen, I made another announcement to a room of designers and developers from the news media: that earlier today, the Globe launched onto its new online home.

Now, you might have noticed the new site is responsive, which, given my obvious biases, I’m rather excited about. I played a small part in its design, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about it.

Honestly, I got excited in December of last year, as Filament Group dropped me an email to chat about a project they were about to start working on. Now, I’ve admired Filament’s work since Dan and I met them over beers and pizza a few years ago. But when they approached me with the prospect of working with them to design a new, responsive home for the Globe? Well, it’s like I said: with folks like Todd, Patty, Scott, and Maggie among their ranks, there are some people and projects you simply can’t turn down. (That Mat curmudgeon fellow has been contracting there as well. You try saying “no” to that guy.)

The Globe had also hired a local design firm called Upstatement, and they worked closely with Miranda Mulligan, the Globe’s adroit digital creative director, to establish the new site’s look. Filament’s Patty Toland has already provided a better write-up of the project than I ever could, but I’ll echo her excitement over the collaborative workflow Miranda cultivated between Upstatement, Filament, and myself. I can’t think of any project I’ve worked on that was nearly as fun as the months that followed, as they were a giddy blur of building, sketching, and thoughtful discussion. We tried to work as iteratively as possible, quickly moving from Tito and Mike’s goddamned exquisite mockups into responsive prototypes, in order to experience the design “live” in the various devices and browsers we were supporting. As Aarron Walter might say, we were letting the use of the site inform its design—vetting our early design assumptions with prototypes, which also allowed us to identify areas that needed further visual refinement.

The site you see today is the result of that more collaborative workflow. A process that occurred between two teams who, on a more traditional design project, might have never met, nor established the kind of rapport that ultimately shaped the final product. If you’ve read my book, the final chapter discusses this process in a bit more detail. Heck, if you’ve seen me speak this year, chances are good you’ve already heard first-hand how wonderful I think this more cyclical approach to design and development is.

And on that point: it’s been kind of a weird experience, talking publicly for the better part of this year about a site that hadn’t yet launched. I mean, I was—and still am—incredibly proud of the small contributions I made, of the talented team I collaborated with, but still: talking about a site that hasn’t launched yet? There’s some part of me that’s felt, well, odd about that. What if people’s expectations aren’t met? What if we can’t deliver? What if the Internet gets hit by an exploding unicorn and we somehow don’t finish the project because NO MORE INTERNET YOU GUYS.

(Also, it might be a teensy goddamned bit terrifying/mind-blowing to see the phrase “responsive web design” pop up in a mainstream news publication. I’m just saying.)

A few months ago, Mark Boulton said something on Twitter that really resonated with me, and helped the stress attacks abate: namely, that “design is the stuff around the end result.” Emphasis mine, but Mark reminded me that “design” is the means, not merely the end; the path we walk over the course of a project, the choices we make. And that’s a process that continues throughout the life of a site, even after launch. Because as with any site of this scale, there’s work still to be done. Some optimization is being done as we speak, both on the front- and back-end; some bugs are being tracked, isolated, and squashed; and as the Globe’s content producers become more familiar with the framework and start making bolder decisions, I’m sure the design will be refined to better meet their needs. And above all else, the Globe definitely wants your feedback.

And so, yes: while I’m impossibly proud of the new Globe site of today, I’m most excited about where it’ll be tomorrow. There are too many fine people on the Globe dev team to properly thank them all, but staffed by people like Dan, Jesse, Ian, Caz, Fran, and Adam, I know they’re primed to do great things. People like Michael Manning and Jennifer McNelis helped us chart paths through some challenging questions. And it’s worth mentioning that none of this would have been possible without Jeff Moriarty’s endorsement of a broadly accessible, responsive design; with a champion like that, we could do—and I think the Globe will continue to do—some truly exciting things.

There’ve been a healthy number of reviews already: Andy Boyle is tracking the ones he can find, and Joshua Benton at the Nieman Journalism Lab wrote up a few more business-minded thoughts and observations. More will follow, I’m sure. Some will (I hope!) see the Globe’s new site as a referendum for the merits of a responsive design; others will find plenty to critique, and justify a more device-specific way of designing for the web.

Me, I think the answer’s inevitably somewhere in the middle. But honestly, the response I’m most looking forward to reading is yours: what you see online at bostonglobe.com is the result of a particular process, tailored to the needs of one project, one audience. There’s much we’ve done that could easily be approached from a different tack, or executed in another, perhaps better, way. And if you do happen to stumble upon that approach, that alternate solution, I really hope you’ll write about it, and share it with the rest of us.

In the meantime, I’ll be exploring the Globe site, hopefully alongside the rest of you. So much of it’s new to me, and I really can’t wait to see where it goes next.

This is a blog entry posted on day 12515 in the Journal.

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