Virginia Quarterly Review

Marrying great content with great design


What do you do when your content and your design aren’t playing nice? VQR featured beautiful stories, but they needed a beautiful design to match.

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VQR is a project that we’re, truthfully, pretty proud of. The Virginia Quarterly Review has provided its readers with literary gold for almost a century, but they weren’t experiencing the online engagement they wanted.

This was a classic case of clients knowing where they want to go, but unsure how to get there. They wanted to increase their recognition among readers, but they weren’t entirely aware of who their readers were and how they were utilizing the site.

Understanding your user

VQR’s journey started with research, and a lot of it. We needed to find out who was on the site, why they were there, and what we could do to make their overall experience enjoyable. We started out by creating personas to illustrate the types of readers VQR might be hosting. We also used analytics and heat mapping to find out where visitors were spending most of their time. It turns out, readers weren’t as focused on the stories as we would like.

This was pretty surprising for VQR since their main focus was, and always has been, the content. They featured truly engaging stories, but we soon realized we had to package them in eye-catching ways to draw in readers.


Center Stage Stories

The great part about working with VQR was their attention to detail and understanding of content. They’re editors, they know what good writing looks like and that it should be highlighted on their site. What we had to do, though, was make sure the content was purposed in an attractive way that also makes sense.

The design team knew that the story page had to be the main focus. We actually designed that page before we designed the home page, which is pretty unusual. But VQR had a story to tell, and we wanted it to shine through on their story pages.

They also knew they had to give people a great reading experience no matter what device they’re on. We spent a long time on typography and color palates, using mood boards to create the right feel before other design elements came into play.

For the story pages, we wanted to start with a big picture at the top. We also wanted to allow VQR editors to embed video easily, something they weren’t able to do before. The showy elements are important, but the details we also incorporated make for a satisfying user experience that you can’t get just anywhere.

We also helped redesign its paywall system, something that many organizations continue to struggle with. We made it so visitors are allotted ten free articles per month before they’re required to subscribe to the site. VQR also keeps track for users and displays the number of articles read on each story page.


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