Designing for Discover

I… er… don’t usually do things like this. Writing blog posts, I mean. But a bit of work went live the other day that we’re pretty excited about.

On Tuesday Snapchat launched Discover, and with it, we launched our MailOnline ‘editions’.

If you haven’t come across their new feature yet, Snapchat described it as:

“A new way to explore Stories from different editorial teams. It’s the result of collaboration with world-class leaders in media to build a storytelling format that puts the narrative first. This is not social media.”

Discover is really exciting, and very possibly a bit of a game-changer, but I want to talk about something else. I don’t want to dwell on our business case for doing this, or the financial opportunities — though they are compelling — because much has already been written about that and I’m sure more will follow in the industry press.

Snapchat say:

“Discover isn’t about what’s most popular. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important.”

I want to focus on that; the fun bit, what you see every time you view the Mail’s stories on Discover.

What an opportunity

Right from the start, the brand opportunity was obvious. While MailOnline is well established here, is only starting to establish itself in the States, where the bulk of the Snapchat user base is. Add to that, that the majority of Snapchat users are young women aged between 13 and 25 — a demographic often perceived as a hard to reach — it was clear we were going to have to create a completely new approach to styling Mail content to resonate with and engage this audience, and own this marketplace.

Though the challenge was the same for each media partner — how to distill their content into ‘Snaps’ — for us it was how we were going to turn our extensive and detailed news articles into something bitesize and delicious. Turn a three-course meal into something you can pick up with a cocktail stick and savour — an amuse bouche if you like. Erm, anyway…

Getting cracking

A very early mood board

We went through several rounds of early concepts and development. We worked extensively with our publisher in the formative stages, to find the best way to really squeeze the juice out of stories, and find the right fusion of editorial and art direction for our Snaps.

Early thoughts on visual style

With editions of 10 or more stories going out once a day, seven days a week, turning editions around fast was a priority. So we initially explored a templated design approach. It became clear very quickly that templates weren’t going to fly. The content needed to be hand-crafted for each Snap in order to do justice to the essence of the story — editor and designer had to work together to craft each one.

This demanded a design system that would have consistency and a recognisable family style, but would never constrain, and would allow a huge amount of creative flexibility. No single edition should feel samey, and the content should never be allowed to feel repetitive.

We wanted a visual style that felt rough and ready, gave the impression of being a little unpolished, and chimed with the brand’s gritty approach to journalism. What we wanted to avoid was this idea that by presenting overly designed visuals, you distance the user from the content through a perceived lack of immediacy.

After weeks of pushing, reworking and playing, we’re really happy with the result. We have a handful of simple rules around typography and layout. We’ve unashamedly stuck with Arial as the brand font — Arial’s ubiquity and workaday qualities mirror those of the Mail’s, but we’ve been playful with it and we customise headlines to enhance character or humour wherever appropriate.

We’ve blended classic tabloid image treatments and techniques with a more contemporary style through angles, flat shapes and graphic marks. At the same time, we’ve maintained the particular visual quality to some of the pictures that is intrinsically Mail. Then we’ve used a sprinkling of the Mail website’s core colour palette throughout.

As we moved forward, some Snaps worked best as still images but we increasingly found many worked as short video stings or loops and we’ve been pushing at what we can do with those too.

All of this combined with some really great sub-editing and picture selection means we ended up with something unmistakably Mail, yet fresher, more vibrant and youthful, and can transpose the Mail’s content perfectly into a completely new medium. What’s more we have something that we think will continue to feel new every day and that will evolve further as we go along.

We’ve been slowly ramping up, working through dummy editions daily for the last couple of weeks, and been in dialogue with Snapchat to make sure we’re in line with their product direction, while at the same time remaining true to our brand and delivering our publisher’s vision for the new platform. It’s also been an invaluable way to hone our style and process until we reached a kind of escape velocity where we were ready to go.

Then yesterday we eagerly awaited the launch of Discover, with the excited feeling that every designer knows when their work is about to be released to the wild.

It’s early days

Obviously, we don’t really have any results yet, but we do expect to learn very quickly what works well and what doesn’t. We’ll be able to tinker with the mix of news, showbiz and other stories in order to maximise our readership on Discover, and who knows, maybe turn into visitors to our site.

Tweets from Snapchat users yesterday seem pretty positive — once you decipher all that millennial speak!

It’s been exciting for everyone involved, and Snapchat themselves are excited about what we’ve been creating too.

I’ll keep you posted.

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