The evolution of long-form stories at Vox Media

This afternoon, Pablo Mercado and Ted Irvine from Vox Media presented “A short history of Vox long-form.” Vox publishes The Verge, SB Nation and Polygon. The talk covered the evolution of stories “that were literally just really long” into responsive, media-rich interactives. Irvine and Mercado discussed the process, teams and technology that makes it happen.

Pablo Mercado (left) and Ted Irvine of Vox Media.

Pablo Mercado (left) and Ted Irvine of Vox Media.

Birth of their long-form

Before Vox, there was SB Nation alone. “There were no design resources attached to it,” Irvine, Vox’s director of design, said. One day, a writer photographed himself watching the game and captioned the images with what he was thinking. It became a part of the narrative. “We did the easy thing and went out and hired a designer.”

Launch new brands

As long-form design was gaining steam on SB Nation — which has grown to a network of over 310 sites — The Verge was launched and Vox was born. Not long after, the gaming site Polygon was formed, as well. The team began the challenges of developing a mobile life for each of the products, effectively integrating ads and scaling the production of long-form features that had been growing on SB Nation.

Built-in tools

Vox’s CMS has flexible editing tools built in that allow the CSS to be easily manipulated by the front-end designers for each feature. “We do these experiments then figure out the technology to support them,” Mercado, who is Vox’s VP of Technology, said. This paired with the deployment of different web fonts on a story-by-story basis has been a huge force in the way that Vox’s stories express themselves.

Incorporate ad thinking into design

Vox’s ad strategy relies on fixed-background advertisements that reveal themselves as you scroll down the page and then hide again as you continue scrolling. Irvine says they asked themselves: “When you’re in a feature, what would be a compelling advertising experience? What would be the equivalent of a full page advertisement on the web?” Then came up with this technique.

Constant evolution

They can’t stop because the web moves too fast. “We’re all kind of learning,” Irvine said. “You have to mine your past to effectively and successfully launch things.”