Re-Designing Bitch Media


By The Portland Egotist / / Website re-designs can be one of the most rewarding projects to undertake. The process of taking what’s old, re-envisioning it, reshaping it, molding it, and then releasing it back into the wild can be extremely satisfying for client and team. The process, though, can also be long, complex and multi-faceted–especially in the case of editorial design. Balancing the moving parts of an online publication can be difficult. It requires a lot of planning and a deft hand to arrive at a solution that adequately balances the visual and the structural while supporting the content within. Bitch Media has just undergone a top to bottom re-design of its main website. Now, in its third incarnation, the magazine has taken its most evolutionary step. The pages of the site are more open with clear separation between content sections. The grid-based layout supports a myriad of diverse content across pages that unambiguous and don’t sacrifice readability or the user experience in favor of visual complexity. The team at Bitch media handled the majority of the structure and visual nature of the re-design in-house while subbing out the development. Art director, Kristin Rogers Brown, helmed the re-design initiative along with a small team of designers and input from the entire team. We kindly interrupted Kristin’s day to ask her a few questions about the project. Bitch Media’s strong use of structure makes content easy to find Bitch is in its third major interpretation since 2007, what was the motivation behind the latest re-design? That word — interpretation — is kind of fitting, because to me it either felt like an interpretation of a magazine, or a blog that went along with a magazine. Over the past two decades, our website stood in the shadow of our award-winning quarterly print magazine. It suffered from its blog-style format, where every article got pushed off the front page in hours, and highly-researched, long-form pieces were indistinguishable from topical responses written quickly to address news of the day. We’re heading into our 20th year! It was time. The site needs to serve the content. For the re-design your team handled all of the UI design, UX and strategy work in-house. What was the most rewarding part of doing the project internally? We know our users so intimately, both personally and as an organization. It was SO satisfying to be able to have conversations about user stories, starting from such a high, shared level of understanding together. Also, while we all have defined roles within Bitch and lots to do here already, we all bring expertise from past lives–publications, design firms, nonprofits, fundraising, etc.–and got to bring our diverse backgrounds to the table on this project, in new ways. While we did as much as we could internally, I think having those outside lives gave us the confidence and the resources to reach out when we knew we didn’t know how to do something or needed to test our assumptions. We got to question, stretch, and learn, and we did use outside advice at times, but it was hugely rewarding to come together internally to make design decisions knowing the ins and outs of the organization intimately. While there are definitely benefits of outsourcing, now we get to live with the site and make upgrades in the future incrementally, building on what we learned and developed. That’s really exciting to me. A strong typographic sensibility and order makes content easy to find. You wrote a post shortly after the site went live about your favorite aspects of the new website. What were the most important things you learned as you went through the process? PUBLICATION DESIGN AND UX ARE CLOSE RELATIVES. I have long maintained that good UX and good publication design are close relatives, and this project proved that to me over and over. While we debated various details, I think we generally landed on solutions that are inspired by good design basics and layout. Good hierarchy, intuitive organization, type, line lengths, these are all things I’m used to thinking about in the magazine. Looking at the entire site design from a blank slate would have been completely daunting if I had not been inspired by design basics…a scalable grid, color and typography, and consideration for different learning styles. Above all things as a designer, I’m inspired by how people navigate the world, so it was satisfying to see the complexities spin out from the basics, logically, in such a deep redesign. HEAD-DOWN HEROICS WILL ONLY TAKE YOU SO FAR. We’re a very deadline-driven organization…both as a publisher of a quarterly print magazine and as a non-profit who is used to goal-driven fundraising campaigns, we do well under pressure and tend to power through with a “whatever it takes” attitude. With a project this size, it was simply not possible to maintain that kind of energy consistently throughout the entire process. As for something I learned personally, I think celebrating milestones and key hurdles is vital to keeping momentum. Giving people space when they need it, to figure out a solution before we talk it through. Having human conversations aside from the work that needs doing. Saying thank you. We work so closely together at Bitch, but when we worked virtually or communicated with our developers, I was reminded how important that is. That seems so simple! I’m pretty introverted and taking too much time to celebrate makes me squirm, I like the work. But I won’t forget those things. A strong responsive design supports reading at any device level.