AMA: Curbed.com Design Team, Vox Media

almost 5 years ago from , Senior Designer at Vox Media

Hey everyone!

We’re the design team behind the recent Curbed.com relaunch at Vox Media. We are Georgia Cowley, Courtney Leonard, Yesenia Perez-Cruz, and Cory Schmitz. The new Curbed.com was the start of a new era at Vox Media. It was the first of our brands to launch on a new, unified version of Chorus. We also shifted how we approach redesigns, with a focus on building brands instead of webpages.

Vox Media builds smart brands people love in categories they're passionate about. We are SB Nation, The Verge, Polygon, Eater, Curbed, Racked, Vox & Re/code.

Georgia Cowley is the Brands Design Director at Vox Media based out of Washington DC where she works on launching new brands and executing brand refreshes of Vox Media’s existing brands. In addition to Curbed, she has been part of many Vox Media launches like Polygon, Eater, Racked and SB Nation.

Courtney Leonard is a designer on the Vox Media Brands team based out of Austin, TX. Previously, she worked at Visually and nclud for clients like Red Bull, Amazon, and Habitat For Humanity.

Yesenia Perez-Cruz is a senior designer at Vox Media based out of Philadelphia, PA. In addition to the Curbed redesign, she has been working on a more unified design system for Vox Media sites. Previously, she worked at Happy Cog and Intuitive Company for clients like MTV, Harvard, and Papa John’s.

Cory Schmitz is a freelance designer based out of Cambridge, MA. He designed the Curbed logo system, and in the past has designed the Eater and Polygon logos. He’s also worked with clients like PlayStation, Oculus, and Square Enix.

We’re happy to answer any questions you have about designing scalable brands, design systems, working as a remote team, or anything else!

We'll start answering questions at 1pm EST.


  • Shiraz Ahmed, almost 5 years ago

    Is there an editorial role on the actual design team or is it mainly consultation-based?

    Also, where do you get your ideas from for site/brand redesigns?

    5 points
    • Courtney LeonardCourtney Leonard, almost 5 years ago

      The editorial team played a huge role in the redesign, and it would not have been nearly as successful without them. We had Hangouts with them at least once a week to show them our progress and determine how to iterate on directions according to the editorial strategy. This was a great design challenge because very early on, we were working on creating solutions for tons of situations rather than just making nice things and forcing them into surprise applications later.

      For inspiration, I was on Branding Served quite a bit. Dribbble was super helpful when I was looking around for color palettes and how to balance them. Before we began designing, we worked on an in-depth competitive analysis and constantly went back to the editorial team's feedback on that to shape design parameters.

      3 points
    • Yesenia Perez-Cruz, almost 5 years ago

      The Curbed editorial team played a major role in the brand redesign, like Courtney said. They also created Pinterest boards with typography, design, and illustration inspiration that were really helpful in establishing a shared language between everyone.

      2 points
    • Georgia Cowley, almost 5 years ago

      While our design team played a major role in the inception of and realization of the redesign, Curbed’s (wonderful) editorial leadership team had equal parts ownership. In speaking with them weekly (whether over Slack, on Google hangout, or in person) both design and editorial teams were comfortable and empowered to speak about the reasoning, goals and execution of the design.

      In addition to what Courtney and Yesenia mentioned, our editorial teams fill out a branding questionnaire prior to each project kick off, which helps us place the brand in the competitive landscape and inspire our design choices. This document includes questions about brand personality vs. anti-personality, what their audience counts on them for and can get as granular as color preferences.

      We love looking to print for inspiration for our brand redesigns. For instance, the new Curbed’s visual hook was discovered while Kelsey Keith (Curbed’s EIC) and I were leafing through magazines over coffee one morning. Similarly, Polygon’s design process was set in motion by a trip to a used bookstore.

      0 points
  • Vinh LeVinh Le, almost 5 years ago

    Favorite lunch spot in DC?

    5 points
  • Max LindMax Lind, almost 5 years ago

    Hey Guys - thanks for joining us!…been a fan of Vox properties since the This is My Next days.

    • Building brands not webpages is an interesting concept (now more than ever), have you noticed your team being more transparent with ideas or taking more chances without the restrictions/limitations of the old website structure.
    • How often do design teams across Vox Media get a chance to meet / collaborate / etc? (especially now with the new Chorus)
    • re: working remote - beyond the apps you use to manage todos and stay in touch, how do you focus on ensuring everyone feels connected to both the project and the people?
    • While working on the new Curbed design, how much time was spent actively using Chorus will tinkering with the design? Add to that, how important is/was it for everyone to know the ins/outs of Chorus?
    • The transparency of the behind the scenes is interesting to follow, how long was the entire process? (if you can’t answer specifically… which step took up the most time?)

    Great stuff all around, kudos on the launch!

    3 points
    • , almost 5 years ago

      Building brands not webpages is an interesting concept (now more than ever), have you noticed your team being more transparent with ideas or taking more chances without the restrictions/limitations of the old website structure.

      I primarily did client services work before I joined Vox Media, and a huge part of the design exploration phase would involved getting a brand guidelines PDF and figuring out how to apply that to a website. The guidelines would typically be pretty rigid. What is really interesting to me with the way we developed the Curbed brand is that it's much more responsive. We came up with the basic building blocks of the brand and then figured out how those elements would adapt to different mediums-- be it video, social media, or a website. But it still all feels like it's part of a cohesive brand.

      This also meant that the website didn't need to carry the entire weight (pun intended) of communicating the brand. We used a limited typographic palette and were really purposeful with the design elements on the website to ensure that it loaded more quickly for users.

      1 point
    • Courtney LeonardCourtney Leonard, almost 5 years ago (edited almost 5 years ago )

      Of all the remote work I've ever done, which is most of the work I've ever done, this process was by far the most seamless. That's because Vox Media as a company has systems in place to support and empower full-time remote employees. All of us are in different cities and (in some cases) time zones, so it's baked into the culture to be considerate of that.

      I'd mentioned in another comment that we had daily morning meetings using Google Hangouts. It was great because some of us travel a lot, but we could rely on a similar schedule every day to sync up and make sure what we were working on was the right thing to be working on. Sometimes we'd be on calls together for 2-3 hours to realign if something came up that could potentially rock the boat. The most important thing to remember in remote projects is that we're all on the same team and we put complete trust in each other's expertise. Everyone on the project did an amazing job with communication and supporting each other's work.

      As for meeting up IRL, we met in DC twice and NYC twice to meet the editorial team and launch the site. Our team leadership is great about gauging the temperature of remote workers and flying them out to sync up as needed.

      1 point
    • , almost 5 years ago

      How often do design teams across Vox Media get a chance to meet / collaborate / etc? (especially now with the new Chorus)

      For this Curbed launch, we all met in NY for the project kickoff with the Curbed editorial team. We also came to NY for a two day on-site meeting with the entire Curbed team and the Vox Product support team. Towards the end of the design phase, Courtney, Georgia, Lauren- the project PM, and I all met in DC and for 2 days wrapped up as much work as we could. (And then went and got tattoos to celebrate) And then the design, dev, and support team members met again in NY on launch day to support the launch. So that's 4 in-person meetings for the 4 month project.

      re: working remote - beyond the apps you use to manage todos and stay in touch, how do you focus on ensuring everyone feels connected to both the project and the people?

      The frequent design checkins that we had with the Curbed editorial team helped a ton in keeping us all focused. As far as keeping everyone connected to the project, we did a lot of volleying work around, so if I got stuck on something, I would post it in Slack and get feedback or I could ask Georgia or Courtney to take a stab at solving the problem. More than any other project I've been on in the past, it felt like everyone contributed to the design equally and I think that helped keep us all connected too.

      0 points
    • Georgia Cowley, almost 5 years ago (edited almost 5 years ago )

      re: working remote - beyond the apps you use to manage todos and stay in touch, how do you focus on ensuring everyone feels connected to both the project and the people?

      To echo Courtney and Yesenia's comments above, we co-locate as much as possible, with people's lives and budgeting in mind. Two of the most rewarding days of this redesign were when design + our PM, Lauren Rabaino, sat in the same room, and crossed the final design deliverables off of a list written up on a white board. (We really did get celebratory tattoos together.)

      I also can't stress the importance of ACTUAL CALLS (video not necessary on bad hair days) daily when remote work is involved. Having these in the morning as 15 minute stand ups really helps to orient the team to the work to be completed during the day and helps us feel connected as a team and as humans.

      0 points
    • Georgia Cowley, almost 5 years ago

      The transparency of the behind the scenes is interesting to follow, how long was the entire process? (if you can’t answer specifically… which step took up the most time?)

      This relaunch happened over the course of October to February, with a few caveats:

      Curbed was the first Vox Media brand to launch on the new, unified version of Chorus. This timeframe supported some additional development work and visual QA time.

      In tandem with the Curbed launch, Yesenia and I were also refreshing the design of and supporting the launch of Vox Media on the new Chorus. (It launched March 1st!)

      0 points
  • Robyn KannerRobyn Kanner, almost 5 years ago (edited almost 5 years ago )

    Thanks for doing this!

    I'm curious to know why the decision was made to continuously nest the comments like Reddit as opposed to doing just one level with an @ sign like the majority of social media platforms?

    2 points
  • Kyle ConradKyle Conrad, almost 5 years ago

    Long time, first time.

    You got the Bodega Boys to do a promo for Curbed. How do I get to hang out with Desus and Mero?

    I'll hang up and listen.

    2 points
  • Greg Storey, almost 5 years ago

    Really nice work team!

    If you all have had time to process what you just went through, I'd love to know what your top insights are after completing the project. What did you learn about scalable brands and applying design systems to an existing site?

    2 points
    • Courtney LeonardCourtney Leonard, almost 5 years ago

      It's really nice to be able to focus on the system itself, and not just building a website. I've found that in the past, I would design a site and then try to force its elements into other applications. The overall brands weren't as strong as a result. While it was hard to stop thinking about ideas for interactions and user experience during the beginning of this process, I learned a lot about designing more subtle characteristics into scalable systems that feel more impervious.

      We worked really closely with the engineers to build customizations for certain elements. While we weren't necessarily building from the ground up, we knew that every decision would effect the future sites launched on Chorus. This was new for me personally, because having worked at agencies in the past, most client projects didn't matter to one another in that sense.

      1 point
    • , almost 5 years ago (edited almost 5 years ago )

      One of the most interesting challenges to creating a design system that scales for a variety of brands is accommodating for different editorial strategies within this framework. Going forward, we're going to keep figuring out where we need flexibility within the design system and how to build that in, in a sustainable way.

      1 point
  • Vinh LeVinh Le, almost 5 years ago

    What is your logo design process?

    1 point
    • Cory SchmitzCory Schmitz, almost 5 years ago

      I'll go through some points from the process of making this logo—

      After I got all caught up with the brief & I had a good grasp of the tone/personality/vision the Vox folks wished to communicate with the redesign, I got to work with sketching out ideas in Illustrator. In the early phase of a logo design, I usually ignore the Illustrator artboard & just spread ideas all over the file.

      Georgia thought it would be best to pitch a design that riffed off the previous logo (similar to what we did with the Eater rebrand) & a couple other different directions.

      For the design that riffed off the previous logo, I identified the overall shape & condensed type from the previous logo as points of memorability, so I focused on those elements. Actually, the first idea for the logo that popped into my head when I started is pretty close to what we ended up with at the end. (This was some of the first stuff I came up with: http://cl.ly/0J3L0T0C1L31) I sent this idea along with a few others to the team & it seemed pretty clear that this was the direction to move forward with.

      Once that direction was chosen, we explored different fonts (http://cl.ly/0k3p1J0V2P3p) After Trade Gothic was approved, there was a lot of fine-tuning done to the type so it wouldn't look wonky/distorted (because the type was sheared) For instance, I slightly enlarged the bowls on the top of the B & R so they looked more balanced (http://cl.ly/40312D1c1K1P). In this image, the orange markups show the areas of the type that were modified: http://cl.ly/2F1L013E3F2n This was probably the trickiest part of the project because not everyone sees the same optical problems.

      These are some of the other directions that I sent over: http://cl.ly/1h2E3V2u1T0f There were some magazines listed in the "Brand References" section of the brief, so that's another visual element I had in mind throughout the process (e.g. http://cl.ly/3r3U0v1P1W2x)

      I'm really pleased with how the logo ended up, because it preserves the essence of the old logo, & is now much easier for the team to work with. Not only that, but it now better compliments the logos of the other Vox Media brands.

      Sorry if I rambled a bit.

      4 points
      • Sean O'GradySean O'Grady, almost 5 years ago

        I love how the logo extends to the cities, whats the plan of action when the cities name doesnt fit inside the bounds?

        0 points
  • Jody Ferry, almost 5 years ago

    Love the new site! What are your thoughts on that flash of unstyled text?

    1 point
    • Georgia Cowley, almost 5 years ago

      Much appreciated, Jody!

      Ideally, we wouldn't have this flash of unstyled text at all, but getting content in front of our reader's eyes is our top priority. With that in mind, our performance engineers opted to show a flash of unstyled text versus having invisible content on the page while fonts load in. (Another positive of loading text before it's styled is an increase in perceived load speed, or how fast a user perceives a site to load.)

      1 point
  • Jon MyersJon Myers, almost 5 years ago

    I'm a regular consumer of Vox content. In particular, long form content on TheVerge. In a sea of publishing churning out the equivalent of data driven junk food fighting for eyeballs, the long form stands out.

    Thus, one thing in particular jumped out at me regarding the shift "building brands instead of webpages". It sounds like (would love to actually see/ use Chorus) - this signals a more streamlined process for publishing deeper, more engaging/ unique article types, like long form for the right stories.

    So, with that in mind - does the design team get involved at a deeper level for bigger stories and different article types like long form? Or is Chorus designed to mitigate the design teams involvement in the creation of these types of articles?

    Thanks. Great work.

    0 points
  • Olivia Barrett, almost 5 years ago

    I’m interested in working in digital editorial design and Vox is a team whose work I often admire. So apologies that this is a little vague, but I’d love any insight on what you look for in potential candidates and/or your hiring process for design team members.


    0 points
    • Courtney LeonardCourtney Leonard, almost 5 years ago

      Yaaaas! Check out our jobs page: http://www.voxmedia.com/pages/careers-jobs

      Feel free to reach out because we're always hiring! I just joined the team right as this project kicked off in October and can talk about my experience during the hiring process and becoming acclimated to Vox's working environment. Georgia can tell you more about what design leadership looks for in their candidates :)

      1 point
  • Dirk HCM van BoxtelDirk HCM van Boxtel, almost 5 years ago

    Not sure if this is still going but I'm curious:

    A while ago, Vox released a statement they were involved in Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. Has this affected your workflow or thinking, at any point in time?

    0 points
  • Carl Neubert, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Cory. Most of your work has been done with mostly West Coast teams and companies. How did you start and make connections when you live on the East Coast?

    0 points
    • Cory SchmitzCory Schmitz, almost 5 years ago

      I actually lived in Seattle when I started out... I moved out here in 2013, but that actually didn't end up mattering much in my experience; almost all my connections have been made online, through a series of Twitter conversations, coincidences, friends-of-freinds, etc. For example: My art school thesis project was a video game magazine. It got posted on some game blogs, & some folks from game studios reached out to me to contribute. These game studio folks recommended me to more game studio folks for design gigs, & somewhere down the line Chris Grant (EIC at Polygon, Vox's video game blog [he was at AOL's Joystiq blog at the time]) saw my stuff online & reached out to me about the Polygon branding project. That was my initial intro to Vox Media, & I've enjoyed working with them ever since! Ha. So perhaps a mix of networking & luck.

      2 points