Behind the Scenes: Creating a New Vera Era

Learn about the work that went into our new look and redesigned home online.

Since 1961, Vera has worked to drive change in the justice system by producing ideas, analysis, and research that inspire changes, and working in close partnership with justice system and government leaders to implement them.

Fifty-five years later, in a critical moment for justice reform, we’re joined by more voices around the country and across party lines than ever before. We have a recently updated mission statement that clarifies our charge: to “respect the dignity of every person and safeguard justice for everyone”

With our redesign we wanted to match the urgency of today’s calls for change with an updated visual identity that would be at the heart of a new website — illustrating both the possibility and promise of working together to find solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

With that in mind, we requested proposals last year for a total website redesign and new visual identity that would better tell the story of our work, and who that work impacts. We selected Hyperakt, a Brooklyn-based, social impact design firm.


REFRAMING JUSTICE

Through a series of branding exercises Hyperakt led us to the concept of “Reframing Justice,” a theme that would inform the entire project. By seeing justice through the lens of fairness and human dignity — instead of retribution and punishment — we could begin to reframe the notion of justice in America. The frames also focus attention on the people directly impacted by the system, getting to the heart of the matter.

THE BIG PICTURE

One of our biggest challenges was framing content in a way that would speak to shared values and resonate with a wider audience. Given the depth and breadth of Vera’s work, how could we communicate the big picture and deliver not just content, but meaning?

Seeing the forest for the trees during an information architecture card sorting session.

After card sorting and brainstorming sessions we distilled our work into three buckets or themes, called “Commitments”: Securing Equal Justice; Ending Mass Incarceration; and Strengthening Families and Communities.

Artist and illustrator Brian Stouffer created the iconic images below to represent our three commitment areas:

As shown below, Commitments contain our Action Areas, where Vera’s on-the-ground justice reform efforts are actively engaged.

HUMAN CONNECTION

“Emotional Experiences make us feel like there’s a person, not a machine, at the other end of the connection.”

—Aaron Walter, Designing for Emotion

We’re using rich media and storytelling techniques to humanize the work and connect to our audience on a deeper, more emotional level. A mountain of statistics about incarceration is edifying, but learning first-hand about the human toll of jail — and other injustices — can inspire us to action and catalyze reform.

We didn’t just want to tell our audience about our work and why it matters — we wanted to show them too.

We wanted the visual imagery to reflect Vera’s unique position as a change agent working alongside government partners, helping them find and implement practices that ensure fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities.


Our ultimate goal was to create an inspiring and differentiated visual experience that reflects our mission, vision, and core values.

The result is the new vera.org


VISUAL IDENTITY

The new visual identity had to reflect our values and our vision — in a perceptible way. The red is bold and assertive, matching the urgency of the problems in our justice system and our ongoing commitment towards addressing them.

The angularity of the frames is present here, harking back to past achievements while pointing toward new solutions. And, it’s no longer all-caps (VERA) so there won’t be any more confusion over whether our name is an acronym. We’re just Vera — named for our founder’s mother — but there’s more to it than that.

The font, GT Sectra, was designed for longform journalism back in the early days of print media.

The typography is acute and forward thinking — the minor slants and cutouts in the lettering combine the old-style calligraphy of a nib pen with the sharpness of a scalpel.

The sharp contrast between our old and new sites reflects that acuity. We’re shifting the focus.

DIGITAL FIRST

We’re shifting from a print-first to digital-first mentality to serve how people consume information in a digital world; and we’re leveraging new technologies, like data visualizations, to unlock data and research from pdfs.


For the latest, check out our Incarceration Trends data tool.

We’re also pushing ourselves to grow alongside the digital culture instead of simply responding to it. One way we’re doing that is by retooling the way we present our work to the people we know are most frequently consuming it, while also making it easier for them to share it by email or on social media.

In short, we’re getting to know you — our audience — and meeting you where you are. So where are you? Well, the majority of you got here from Vera’s Facebook page or Twitter account. You’re following our work, but you’re also keeping up with us while you’re on the go.

You’re not alone — this year, six of every ten people going to vera.org will be doing so on their smartphone. We know how important mobile usage is to future online growth, and we worked extensively with Hyperakt to make sure the website was both intuitive and user-friendly for all sorts of mobile devices.

We’re pretty confident you’re going to love interacting with us on our new home. Our team, along with Hyperakt, have put lots of thought and work into it.

Wherever you live, and however you came across the new Vera, we’re very glad you have. If you’re interested in learning even more about how this new identity fits in with our work, read this message from our president, Nicholas Turner.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


Vera Institute of Justice Web Development Team:

Mary Crowley, Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs

Denise Dalton, Director of Human Resources and Operations

David Hanbury, Communications Associate

Jordan Kessler, Director of Development

Michael Mehler, Online Communications Strategist

Gloria Mendoza, Communications Associate

Kindred Motes, Digital Community Manager

Scarlet Neath, Senior Communications Associate

Jim Parsons, Vice President and Research Director

Karina Schroeder, Communications Associate

Ram Subramanian, Editorial Director

Erika Turner, Managing Editor

Nicholas Turner, President and Director