National Geographic rethinks its design and media production

This afternoon Jody Sugrue and Mike Schmidt of National Geographic presented “Do Robots Dream of Electric Lions?” a session about the ongoing process of rethinking National Geographic design and media.

Here are five key takeaways from their talk:

1. “We’re figuring it out as we go along.”

Sugrue and Schmidt take the time to explain that this session is meant to explain their thought process behind the National Geographic “rethink.” The rethink process is just that — a process. For that reason, they say, this was not a “tips” talk, but an explanation of how they are thinking things through.

2. A “rethink” helps not only redesign the look, but the feel

National Geographic has several goals for its “rethink” of redesigning, restructuring and reworking itself. These goals include: a sense of wonder, a not-academic feel, rich yet simple content and design, and a reason for the audience to come back. “We are here to help evolve the digital expression of the brand,” said Schmidt.

3. “Our value is in our stories and our unique point of view on the world.”

National Geographic’s goal is to use emotion in its media, especially in an online environment where it can be difficult to express emotion. “We’re taking them to the most remote parts of the planet and they really need to be there,” said Sugrue. This can be achieved through the use of meaningful interviews, voice, and style that is authentic, personal, clean and elegant.

4. Let the content speak louder than the pages

If design gets out of the way, content can be absorbed clearer. Design should be such that it enhances content, not distracts from it. National Geographic is doing this by implementing “small but mighty changes,” according to Sugrue.

5. Build a framework that best tells the story

Rather than trying to get ideas from other media organizations’ projects, use your unique content in the form that suits it best. If the story is best told in video online, then tell it that way. Content-driven design is key.