Bureau for Visual Affairs talks us through the new and improved It’s Nice That website
We hear from Simon Piehl, the founder of the London-based digital agency, who explains some of the design decisions he and his team made in reimagining our site.
As you may have noticed, we’ve had a bit of a makeover here at It’s Nice That. Over the past few months, we’ve been working away behind the scenes on a new website, which launches today with a fresh look and tonnes of exciting new elements. It’s been a long journey getting here and our digital partner, the London-based agency Bureau for Visual Affairs (BfVA), has been alongside us every step of the way. We sat down with BfVA’s founder, Simon Piehl, to talk through some of the design decisions he and his team made during the process.
First off, the biggest change we’ve made to the website is actually not the most immediately obvious – but it will hopefully transform how you, our readers, find and enjoy the stories we write and have published since our launch way back in 2007. Because, thanks to a brand new search and tagging system, the site now unlocks our archive of more than 25,000 articles and helps you access the stuff you’re looking for.
A key part of this was the creation of around 100 new tags that can be pinned to particular stories. “Instead of a list, like a phonebook where things belong to one group such as ‘Graphic Design’ or ‘Illustration’, we can have a far richer set of inter-relationships,” Simon explains. So, now you’ll find tags that cover topics – everything from “Politics” to “Sustainability” to “Technology” – and others that describe creative work and bridge various creative disciplines – like “Portrait”, “Documentary” and “VR”. We’ve compiled a list of Top Tags on the homepage for you to look through and explore.
“The outcome is not necessarily obvious, but it contains character, joy and purpose at the same time.”Simon Piehl, Bureau for Visual Affairs
We’ve also gone back through our archive and re-tagged thousands of articles so that these too can be part of your search and discovery. Pitying the poor sod who had to go through every article and manually add in these tags? Well, fear not – our friends at BfVA actually used an AI engine to go through 12 years’ worth of content and map it onto the new taxonomy. “This was the first time we’ve used AI,” Simon explains, “but without it, we feel we simply could not have delivered.”
The next step for him and his team was to ensure our new tags were always visible and clickable, which required some smart UX design. “We looked at ways we could articulate the content better to the user,” says Simon, “by exposing the taxonomy, but also by creating multiple routes into content – using the taxonomy to tease content streams apart and then presenting these to the user in an organised, segmented way.” So, click on the “Categories” drop-down in the masthead, for instance, and you’ll find a host of tags waiting to be explored; or open an article and you’ll see, right at the top, up to half a dozen tags that have been added to that story – click on one of these and you’ll be whisked off to a list of every article we’ve ever published that relates to that subject or topic.
When it came to the design of the homepage, Simon and his team at BfVA were keen to foreground the inspiring creative work we write about on a daily basis. “The core aspect of the redesign was to ‘free’ imagery from constraining containers, to de-commoditise it, if you will,” he explains. So, instead of cropping every image on the homepage to the same ratio, the new site works with a grid and any aspect ratio fits into it. “We wanted the experience to feel more curated and editorial, with a greater focus on the imagery,” says Simon, “taking it further away from the shallow content aggregation now available through Instagram, for example, and focusing on making the content and editorial shine.”
“From the fullscreen approach to the title image to the pull-quotes, it’s all on 11.”Simon Piehl, Bureau for Visual Affairs
These are some of the more major evolutions we’ve made, but you – our eagle-eyed readers – will definitely also spot the details. Like the typefaces we’ve chosen. We’ve opted for two typefaces across the site: Labil Grotesk by Kometa (the sans serif with a quirky “wobbliness” that can be dialled up and down) and Bradford by Lineto (the serif we’re using for all body copy – and which you’re reading right now). The former was chosen for its playfulness and sense of fun, the latter for its legibility and unique character.
“The choice of typographic stance reflected a tension in the brand for us: legible, communicative and authoritative, but never without joy and playful expression,” says Simon. “I think the outcome here is not necessarily obvious, but it contains character, joy and purpose at the same time. We wanted the brand to be there always, in every word, but never in the way.”
One of the other smaller changes that we’re most proud of is the way that video content now appears on It’s Nice That. We regularly write about amazing feature-length films, animation projects, music videos and shorts, and we wanted to be able to celebrate this work in a beautiful and engaging way. So, BfVA created a new kind of page, a “Watch” page (you can check out an example here), where you can enjoy videos in all their glory. “We saw the need to delineate video content from the rest, as it offers or even requires a different mode of engagement,” says Simon. “To achieve this, the video content is now presented reversed out of a dark background, which gives greater emphasis to the video content, just like in a cinema.”
“The choice and usage of typeface is the voice or timbre through which the content is received.”Simon Piehl, Bureau for Visual Affairs
Finally, we’ve also spruced up our Features. We publish on average two long-form articles every week and these stories often contain original creative commissions, so we wanted to make sure we were giving these pieces and the creative work the respect they deserve. “We wanted to reflect the fact that these are high-value items of content, so the visual modules are effectively a little more amplified,” says Simon. “From the full-screen approach to the title image through to the pull-quotes, it’s all on 11.” Check out our interview with Matt Pyke from Universal Everything to see what we mean.
We and BfVA have made plenty more subtle and slight changes and updates across the site, but we won’t bore you by listing them out here. Suffice to say, it’s been a long but also incredibly creative and exhilarating process, and we really couldn’t be happier with the result. We hope you like it too!