If we’re going to relaunch The Verge, we might as well reinvent the whole media stack

Philip Delbourgo
Vox Media Product Team
14 min readSep 14, 2022

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Introducing a new Verge — and Duet, Vox Media’s new publishing platform

As any design professional in digital media would know, encountering stories about the relaunch of a brand or prominent website is not always noteworthy. It’s about as commonplace as trading in your iPhone for the latest model. So this piece isn’t strictly about The Verge’s new brand and website. It’s about The Verge reimagining its relationship with its audience and the way it reports the news. It’s also about how Vox Media managed to launch a new media stack to support the websites for our expanding portfolio of news, information, and entertainment brands amid two corporate acquisitions, a pandemic, and constant turbulence in our industry.

Along the way, our company changed as a result of acquisitions and mergers, and as the industry around us changed, the team that finds itself cutting the ribbon is a completely different team than the one that set out to take on this initiative in the first place.

“The goal of the Verge redesign is to change the way the Verge team works and create a new model for teams of digital journalists to attract and retain loyal readers.”

The timeline

Looking back, the period during which we hatched the plan to relaunch one of our most ambitious brands, rethink the design of our websites, and rebuild the platform is marked by four significant events:

November 2019: Vox Media merges with New York Magazine, bringing on a storied print publication with six websites, all living under the New York brand and supported by Clay, the company’s proprietary CMS and publishing platform.

March 3rd, 2020: Vox Media product design and technology team assembles in Washington, DC, days before the global pandemic is declared, for BEAT 2020, an annual team gathering. Preliminary plans for Duet, a new platform that would unify our entire portfolio of editorial brands and the evolutionary next step from Chorus, are sketched and discussed.

Eight days later, COVID lockdown begins. What the moment called for was teams of people armed with whiteboards and caffeine for days on end. Instead, two recently merged teams were to spend the next year and a half getting to know each other on Zoom.

December 13th, 2021: With plans for The Verge and Duet underway, Vox Media announces its acquisition of Group Nine Media, adding four new properties and additional web publishing platforms to its media holdings. An influx of new leadership and Group Nine talent enter the equation, bringing with it new perspectives on our platform unification approach.

Each one of these milestones influenced or changed the trajectory of our plans and our objectives in different ways and consequently had a downstream effect on our efforts to reimagine The Verge. And yet, the proposition for The Verge never strayed from its initial objective. Never known to beat around the bush, The Verge leadership spelled out their bold vision at the top of their initial brief: “The goal of the Verge redesign is to change the way the Verge team works and create a new model for teams of digital journalists to attract and retain loyal readers.”

Hello, Duet or “Help! We’re running out of music puns”

In 2012, Vox Media’s Chorus platform had ushered in an era of innovation for supporting the ability to publish and distribute high-quality, digitally native news at scale. Over time, the platform grew to be an industry-leading media stack supporting hundreds of individual sites tailored to the needs of content creators and the businesses that support them with everything from collaborative editing and analytics to community tools and access to Concert, Vox Media’s premium ad marketplace.

Ten years is an eternity on the internet and, along the way, the merger with New York Magazine forced us to reckon with a host of new challenges. First and foremost, we now had half of our portfolio on one publishing platform, Chorus, and New York Magazine’s five (now six) verticals on Clay. Moreover, New York’s premium subscription product relied on a paywall that Chorus did not yet support, and Clay had a different way of working on the front end, which allowed for a somewhat more flexible — and in many ways, easier — approach to design, but it did not possess the full range of editorial tools that Chorus did.

To unlock the full potential of both sides of the 2019 merger, we would need to be able to share capabilities across the portfolio. While each organization’s media stack brought their own benefits, they also each carried some degree of design and technical debt as part of their overhead, an inevitable consequence of the complexity of growing and managing media publishing platforms in this day and age. To truly leap into the next era, we would have to consider an entirely new platform, eventually christened Duet. Always up for a challenge, we decided that The Verge, with its massive audience and traffic, would be the first tenant on that platform, partially because, with its sizable audience, it could reap significant benefits from a more performant site.

The fact that The Verge’s mission covers the intersection of technology, science, art, and culture not only made the experience of doing all of this more interesting but also kept the stakes high, considering how tech-savvy and discerning both The Verge editorial team and its audience are.

The design process

“I think it looks like a neon sci-fi dream.”

The Verge has also always had a strong design tradition. It launched in 2011 with a bold, splashy desktop presentation that challenged news website design conventions of the time with its striking rectangular visuals and Day-Glo palette. A refresh in 2016 expanded on the colorful retro aesthetic but also overhauled the experience itself with an eye to the rapid changes in media consumption on mobile, video, social media, and beyond that had overtaken the desktop as the primary touchpoint of the brand. The Verge’s original word mark and typefaces were tweaked to read better on small screens. Still, the bold graphics and transgressive punk spirit of the brand continued to be a part of its identity. In the words of Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Verge, “I think it looks like a neon sci-fi dream.”

In 2020, when our design team met with The Verge to discuss the brand, it was clear that The Verge had grown substantially from its formative early roots as a niche technology blog, and while there was a strong pull to hold onto much of that retro punk spirit, everyone implicitly understood that maybe the neon sci-fi dream, although perhaps appealing to hard-core Verge loyalists, wasn’t as inclusive and future-forward as the mission of The Verge called for.

Vox Media’s editorial product experience design team, led by its VP, Miranda Dempster, along with principal designer Marcus Peabody, teamed up with Vox Media head of creative Ian Adelman and Verge creative director Will Joel to forge a path toward a new direction, beginning by outlining some conceptual territory.

We decided to return to the definition of the word “verge” as a border or edge or limit of something as something that was extremely relevant to the space that The Verge inhabits on a number of levels, whether we’re talking about the border between now and the future, human and machine, or what is known and unknown. We call this conceptual starting point for a direction “interface” and defined it thusly: The Verge is the [interface] between you and the people, events, and innovations that are shaping our future.

This starting point became the springboard for a variety of different visual branding ideas, eventually narrowed to one, all focusing on aspects of that definition and often playing off the theme of liminality or of living literally in between two states.

The new Verge logo features gaps between the letter forms
The Verge logo design led by Ian Adelman in collaboration with Marcus Peabody, Will Joel and Vox Media Design

The new Verge logo, whose design was created in house, is the main vehicle for this expression. Parts of the letterforms are visible while other parts remain hidden, allowing for just enough of the word to be apparent. In its eventual application, these concepts of emergence, liminality, and change will be reinforced through motion.

Animated version of The Verge logo

The brand’s typography draws on both classic and nontraditional influences. The design team consciously avoided typefaces that evoke a techie feel in favor of a variety of font families that could express a range of voices, from strictly editorial to more expressive and idiosyncratic, always keeping in mind some presence of the human element. Will Joel, creative director of The Verge, explains how this lines up with one of The Verge’s core themes.

Much of The Verge is focused on the intersection of people and technology — how technology is influenced by people and how it affects people. That intersection or relationship can be complicated, like how companies grapple with their platforms and users over complex issues, or simple, like how pressing a button makes us feel. This dynamic is always present in our work. It’s in our reviews, guides, special issues, and features, so it felt important that our branding reflects that, that when you see The Verge, there is something human there. In the end, The Verge is made up of people writing and blogging about technology — it should look and feel like that.

For the article headline, subheading, and subject line, we selected several weights of the Poly Sans family of typefaces from Gradient foundry, a sans-serif distinguished by its rounded ink traps. Like teardrop-shaped ducts tucked within the letterforms, ink traps are a vestige of the printing process where notches were carved out of characters to capture excess ink on the paper so that the type wouldn’t bleed at smaller sizes. The article body copy is set in FK Roman, a modern take on Times New Roman from Florian Karsten and chosen by the team for its legibility. For special feature headlines and for branding accents, we selected Manuka, a big, bold, tightly condensed sans-serif that has its roots in mid-19th century German typefaces, reimagined by Klim Type Foundry for the digital age.

The three Verge typefaces on display
The new Verge typefaces
Mobile article design
The Verge’s typefaces on display on mobile articles

The Verge loves color as an expression of brand personality, so the team kept to a vibrant — although not quite Day-Glo — palette (illustrations are still fair game!), covering a broad spectrum from purple and turquoise to green and pink, along with some more neutral shades for contrast.

The Verge logo on a color background

As the new branding and site design was coming together, fundamental decisions about the architecture of the new platform, Duet, were taking shape while some earlier assumptions were being revisited.

Duet’s tech stack would rely on modern web technologies that have become the industry standard among other leading digital media businesses. Kwadwo Boateng, senior engineering director on Vox Media’s core experience team, explains how this new standard significantly speeds up iterative work on our sites.

Everyone has been moving toward the process of creating highly interactive client-side experiences without sacrificing any SEO requirements by using frameworks that support isomorphic rendering of pages. This makes it easier for the engineering team to maintain templates and simplify web development.

This approach would also enable the team to move more nimbly in the implementation of new features and design formats on our sites, which had become increasingly necessary in light of our growing portfolio, whose coverage spans diverse audience interests and is supported by an expanding variety of media formats and underlying business strategies.

Kwadwo is part of the new engineering leadership that joined Vox Media from Group Nine. The introduction of new perspectives from the Group Nine team also offered other opportunities to speed things up. The team’s experience with Pinnacle, the already existing platform that supported the majority of Group Nine sites and which also relied on the same type of modern framework, along with Negroni, its recently implemented design system, provided useful blueprints from which many valuable lessons could be learned.

At the same time, our core product team, whose expansive roadmap covers everything from building site experiences like The Verge to audience growth, ongoing platform optimizations, and tackling SEO and site performance, reevaluated our launch plans for The Verge, streamlining both the scope of our MVP (reduced) and adopting a more iterative approach to shipping portions of the site in advance of the public launch. The ambitious effort to relaunch the platform and a redesigned Verge site simultaneously while running the day to day across all of our properties, although hobbled by everything from the strains of the pandemic to the fierce competition for labor in the tech market, began to pick up steam. Zahra Ladak, Vox Media’s VP of product, core experience, underscores the ambition of the effort:

This effort is a full reboot. On a product level, we’re building a unified platform that offers flexibility, better performance, and intelligence such that Vox Media brands can quickly and creatively grow their unique audiences.

While the ultimate goal of Duet is building the best platform to eventually be able to support all of our publications, we also maintain a flexible and pragmatic mindset. We’ve come to understand that change needs to be managed carefully and allow for iteration, improvement, and optionality. Along the way we will continue to invest in Chorus, Clay, and Pinnacle, all resilient in their own ways, until we’ve migrated fully to Duet.

The new Verge

Home page scroll

The team dedicated to designing The Verge is called “editorial product experience design” for good reason; its philosophy is characterized by a holistic approach to thinking of the brand and the product as inextricable. The Verge’s new design comes with wholesale improvements to the reader experience, including a mobile-first design, new article formats, a restructuring of the homepage, and better signposting of The Verge’s expansive slate of video and podcast content. Miranda, who leads the team, explains both the process and the stakes:

The same team that designs the new brand and identity also handles product definition and design. Rather than thinking about experience design as a coat of paint or “theme” that is often applied to a ready-made-cookie-cutter-webpage, thereby “commodifying content,” we are rethinking experiences to accurately reflect our core product: premium quality, highly ambitious journalism. The Verge has evolved into a mature, authoritative news entity far beyond its blog roots. The new Verge is still published via a fully automated CMS — but retains the look and feel of a carefully crafted and special “magazine”-like experience through a wider array of built-in options that reduce any reliance on custom CSS.

Redesigning The Verge — both the brand and the product experience, which incorporated a new editorial strategy and news format, as well as defining a new platform along the way — was an intimidating and tremendously ambitious undertaking. The Verge’s audience, as well as its editorial teams and stakeholders, are discerning, articulate, and very opinionated about digital experience design. Consequently, this has been the largest scale and scope site relaunch the team has worked on to date, and the stamina required has been formidable — a marathon.

Central to The Verge’s publishing strategy and the new homepage design is the introduction of Quick Posts, a new short-entry type of content intended to enable rapid, low-overhead publishing of brief observations, aggregation, breaking events, news fragments, commentary, and the like. These posts, which can be deployed with the speed of a tweet, live alongside full articles in The Verge’s reverse chronological news feed on the homepage. They provide a real-time running narrative of the day with the added benefit of continuously refreshing homepage content and, in turn, hopefully engaging The Verge’s loyal audience by bringing them back frequently to see what’s new. Ian explains how the inspiration came from another Vox Media publication’s earlier development:

We were excited to collaborate with Nilay and The Verge on developing Quick Posts — the pace of news and audience expectations for coverage and responsiveness demand nimbler tools to complement traditional story formats. An experimental, bare-bones version of the format had been built for the relaunch of New York’s Intelligencer a few years ago, and this provided an opportunity to craft a more robust, sustainable, and reusable evolution of the capability.

Quick posts on the The Verge homepage

We built Quick Posts knowing that the majority of news website readers arrive at articles via search and social. Still, The Verge enjoys surprisingly significant traffic to its homepage. Nilay has high hopes for the new content feature:

We didn’t set out to design a website; we set out to rethink our entire approach to running a digital newsroom at scale. Our goal is to make The Verge worth visiting directly several times a day, and that meant we restructured our entire news operation to support Quick Posts and the idea of vibrancy at all times.

Beyond return visits to the site, Nilay expects the changes in the newsroom brought on by Quick Posts to allow readers to enjoy an expansion of both the breadth and depth of The Verge’s reporting.

One promise The Verge makes to the audience is that it’s comprehensive — that we exhaustively cover the world of consumer tech and science. Before Quick Posts, we had limited formats to work with, and even small pieces of news demanded a full editorial workflow. Quick Posts allow us to keep our promise in a faster, simpler, and familiar way — all while freeing up time for our reporters and editors to deliver even more impact when that full editorial workflow is called for.

The excitement could only be characterized as giddy in August when The Verge’s news team leadership assembled to kick the tires on Quick Posts at Vox Media’s Broad Street office. The intense atmosphere was broken up with irreverent wisecracks as the team, which rarely had spent in-person time together of late, considered new protocols to implement the posts into their news diet.

How would the determination be made between what constituted a longer story versus a Quick Post? How could we resist the temptation to make everything a Quick Post (one Verge team member referred to standard articles as “slow posts”), and who would monitor the fuel mix on the homepage? The answers will reveal themselves over time, but one thing was clear — the unanimous verdict from The Verge team on Quick Posts: “this shit’s fun as hell.”

This work wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions of the incredible members of the Vox Media product, design, technology, and analytics teams who contributed along the way. Special thanks as well to our partners at The Verge: Nilay Patel, Helen Havlak, William Joel, Chris Grant, and Dieter Bohn.

The following individuals were instrumental to The Verge and Duet launches:

Omar Abed, Miguel Abreu, Ian Adelman, Eleni Agapis, Ben Alt, Becky Becker, Kwadwo Boateng, Andrew Breja, Ambika Castle, Jeff Chin, Stefan Chlanda, Marie Connelly, Nan Copeland, Matthew Crider, Jen Cullem, Michele Cynowicz, Phil Delbourgo, Miranda Dempster, Jon Douglas, Nate Edwards, Ryan Gantz, Colleen Geohagan, Sara Ha, Sam Hankins, Ruba Hassan, Joe Higgins, Laura Holder, Willy Hu, Phil Hwang, Jose Junior, Tara Kalmanson, Sean Kaufman, Kristin Knight, Konstantin Kopachev, Simon Korzun, Zahra Ladak, Josh Laincz, Chi Vinh Le, Meena Lee, Steven Leon, Andrew Losowsky, Michael Manzano, Maria Jose Mata, Miriam Nadler, Katie O’Dowd, Miray Palaz, Marcus Peabody, Ken Peltzer, Anh Phan, Jessie Rushing, Heather Shoon, Christine Short, Matt Singerman, Sammy Sirak, Lenny Sirivong, Derek Springsteen, Sarah Stanek , Thomas Stang, Jordan Stewart, Bart Szyszka, Tessa Thornton, Kristin Valentine, Hart Van Santvoord, Lucio Villa, Paige Vogenthaler, Megan Walton, Kara Wilson, Grace Wingo, Nikolas Wise, Melissa Young, Nicole Zhu

We’d also like to thank those team members throughout our organization whose day-to-day work creates the pathway for others to focus on this project as well as former members who contributed along the way and have moved on to new pursuits.

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Philip Delbourgo
Vox Media Product Team