Kaeti Hinck on INN’s redesign, rebranding efforts

The Investigative News Network became the Institute for Nonprofit News, and design director Kaeti Hinck takes us behind the scenes of the redesign.

How long did the process take?

About two months of work, spread out over the course of about four months. We started some of the planning conversations toward the end of 2014, but didn’t kick off web development and the branding work until midway through January (both because we were waiting on budget approvals and were busy with client projects). We launched March 10, only a week past our target deadline.

Why was it important to you to blog about the changes and the process?

I’ve learned so much from reading about other peoples’ experiences, and I want to pay that forward in any way I can. One of our team’s driving values is transparency, and that means a commitment to documentation. I also think it’s so important that we communicate the constraints and challenges of a project — nobody designs in a vacuum, yet so often we’re judging projects without any context for how and why decisions were made. I love seeing behind the scenes, and exploring the messiness and humanity of our processes.

Honestly, it can be hard to motivate yourself to write this kind of retrospective — especially when you’re neck-deep in the middle of launching a project. But I’m always glad when I do (and glad when other people take the time to share their work). Lately, I’ve been keeping notes and screenshots from the beginning of a project and adding as I go, which makes it easier to pull together a recap.

How was writing out a project summary helpful to the process?

The project manifesto acts as the North Star for the whole process. It gets everybody pointed in the same direction and aligned on the project goals. If we start to succumb to feature creep, or get stuck on how to prioritize tasks, we can always look back to the summary to help clarify things.

Having a conversation at the beginning of a process to clarify exactly what you are setting out to do — and what you’re not doing — helps everybody understand the goals and constraints of a project. Having it in writing keeps everyone accountable to those goals.

What are the pros and cons of having nine logo varieties?

I love the idea of a living logo. I think it reflects our mission well (building the future of nonprofit journalism and supporting our member newsrooms), and keeps us from seeming too stolid. To prevent things from getting too chaotic, we have the standard logo and symbol that act as a foundation and then we can depart from that in situations where it makes sense (print collateral, buttons and stickers, etc.).

There is definitely a risk of the visual identity being applied inconsistently with a system this complex with so many variations. That’s one of the reasons we took the time to create a brand standards manual. Not everyone will read it or follow those guidelines, but that’s always the case. We’re keeping the style guidelines as a living document, so we’ll continue to update the standards as we see how the visual identity plays out over time.

Do you have any concerns with a bright color palette? (Sometimes I get nervous using our bright red on super serious stories.)

I’m not too concerned about this. As a service organization, we’re in a slightly different situation than our member organizations that do more intense investigative reporting. For situations where we might want a more serious or muted style, the variety of the color palette makes it easy to adjust accent colors as needed.

What sort of feedback did you get from non-designers during the QA process?

Reactions were overwhelmingly positive, I think in part because we were starting from a pretty low bar. Everyone on the team gave great feedback on the structure of the site, how we could refine the user experience, and places where the design or copy was confusing. Adam and Ryan, especially, worked so hard to make the site happen (and patiently talked me out of some of the design elements I wanted but that weren’t necessary for launch). This kind of project is a practice in letting go and adjusting expectations, and good feedback is absolutely crucial to that practice.

How did bringing in someone from outside the organization aid in the redesign?

It’s really hard to do a rebranding without any outside perspective. Working with Tony helped push the design further, and it pushed me beyond where I might have landed working by myself.

Did you also change typefaces?

Yes, the previous site was using Proxima Nova and Museo Sans, I believe. We’re now using Effra and Leitura News for the website (and FF Mark for the logotype). Leitura had good readability for body copy and Effra is quirky and geometric in a way that plays well with the logotype. We also chose these two typefaces because they’re on Typekit and we had an existing account — we didn’t have a large budget for this project, so this was a place where we needed to choose the best solution available to us.

Will these design changes influence smaller pieces, such as the INN Nerds newsletter?

Definitely. I’ve had a lot of fun updating all our various newsletters, social media accounts and other products. Each newsletter (we have four) got an updated header and a new color system based on the brand identity. In the near future, we’ll also be creating some INN swag, like buttons, Scout Books, and T-shirts.

Over the next couple of months, we’ll be updating the styles for Largo Project, Journo.biz,newstraining.org, and all of our other projects. I’d like everything INN does to have a cohesive and consistent visual identity.

[See an awesome design project and want to know more about it? Send it my way! You can email me at rschallom@gmail.com or find me on Twitter.]