A comprehensive digital strategy and a new design for a world-class higher education publication

Project: Strategy & Design

Client: Harvard University Public Affairs and Communications

Category: Higher Education, Media & Publishing

Responsibilities: Research, Workshop Facilitation, Digital & Content Strategy, User Experience Design, Service Design, User Testing, Visual Design, Brand Identity

The Challenge

As the official news source of Harvard University, The Harvard Gazette has long been an integral part of the fabric of the Harvard community—from its early print bulletin days through to its modern digital state. It has evolved to be a destination for trustworthy journalism, unique perspectives, and exciting research whose reach extends well beyond the boundaries of campus. It is held in high regard by its subscriber base and is widely considered best-in-class within the higher education space. 

We were brought in alongside our frequent development partner, Human Made, in order to help the Gazette build on past success and ensure they continue to grow with the rapidly changing landscape. By creating a new mission and vision for the Gazette, updating the product and content strategies with audience insight, and improving the supporting technological and operational processes, the foundation will be laid for a new era of innovation at Harvard Public Affairs and Communications.

An example mockup of the new Harvard Gazette homepage for desktop and mobile


The initial discovery phase of the project was an opportunity to take a step back and consult with target audiences and stakeholders across the university in order to better understand their needs and perceptions of the current Gazette. This included:

- Interviews with thirty stakeholders including staff and faculty

- Eight focus groups with various target audiences

- A survey conducted with 472 existing subscribers

- Website & email data analysis

- Multiple co-creation workshops with the Harvard Gazette team

The insights gained from the research directly informed anew vision for the Gazette along with updated product, content, and brand strategies. As a newsroom that is pushing the boundaries of higher education news, the Gazette needed a strategy that would maximise editorial creativity and allow a wider range of production flexibility within a set of cohesive design guidelines. Our work focused on introducing new features and design elements to emphasise innovative storytelling alongside new content strategies to inform editorial decisions and amplify reader engagement.

A boardroom being set up for an audience workshop

Brand and Visual Exploration

We conducted a series of brand workshops with the Gazette team to explore how we could update the brand identity and look and feel of the website in order to resonate with their key audiences. Although the existing brand was mostly fit for purpose, there was a need for a more approachable, adventurous, and dynamic look and feel and a refreshed logo.

Example visuals from our Brand Exploration work for The Harvard Gazette

User Experience & Design

To start our design phase we focused on creating a flexible article template that would allow the editorial freedom to tell a wide variety of media-rich engaging stories. The editors had a strong desire to tell more immersive featured stories so we introduced the ability to choose from multiple base layouts and then build off of them using media components to enhance the storytelling. Features like audio quotes, immersive ‘scrollytelling’ blocks,and swipeable timelines add visual interest and dynamism to articles and give editors the building blocks to create more engaging experiences.

Across the rest of the site we looked at maximising user engagement by using navigation and landing pages more effectively. To support the fast-paced editorial process, our component based design provides the ability to easily build out new pages and create new sections as needed.

 A key part of the Gazette’s strategy is their daily newsletter which reaches a large audience and drives a significant portion of site traffic. Although open rates were already very strong, our research showed a desire for an updated layout, design and a new editorial approach. Similar to our strategy with the website, we created a very flexible design that uses different components for promoting different types of content, introducing more visual variety and the ability to easily vary the email layout and design.

An example of the new design for a Harvard Gazette article
Mockups of the new Harvard Gazette design on mobile

The Results

Our designs were brought to life on Wordpress WordPress by our longstanding development partner Human Made. The site is now live and can be viewed at https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/

Examples of various article header layouts for the new Harvard Gazette design

“One insight that emerged from our user research is how hungry all of our audiences are for stories about the incredible, life-changing research that goes on at the University every day. The new Gazette gives us fresh ways of telling and amplifying those stories, from a new section devoted to research findings to greater opportunities for deeper, multimedia storytelling.” - Simona Covel, Senior Director of Content and Editorial Strategy
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