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We’re creating a new site for Reading Is Fundamental and openly documenting our process along the way.




The first chapter in the public story of a new site for Reading Is Fundamental

Reading Is Fundamental

Last May, I got an email from Reading Is Fundamental, the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States, about helping them with a new site. They give free books to kids who need them. I can certainly recall growing up and seeing many of RIF’s great PSAs (as I hope you can), so I was really excited to receive a note about working with them. A few conversations later, SuperFriendly and RIF are embarking on a journey together towards a new site.

It’s a great thing when clients are willing to be brave with you. I mentioned in passing that it’d be great to design this new site publicly (to borrow a phrase from Chris Coyier), as it’d be great for both the design community but—more importantly—also serve RIF ’s mission to give away great resources to those who might need them. That also includes other non-profits that might not know what goes into the process of making a site. Not only did RIF agree with this notion; they were bursting at the seams to try this for our process together. Win!

To make sure we can do the best job we can for RIF and their audience, we’ve assembled a dream team of partners to knock this out of the park. Kevin Hoffman will be tackling information architecture and content strategy. Noah Stokes and his crew at Bold will be coding the front-end and helping RIF migrate to ExpressionEngine. SuperFriendly will be handling design and overall project management: designer Josh Luciano will be helping to craft an appropriate look and feel, project manager Matt Cook will be making sure everything runs smoothly and that all the pieces fit together nicely, and I’ll be concentrating on the overall creative direction & strategy to make sure we’re making the best possible site for RIF and that the quality of all of our work is something we can be proud of. Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing updates about this project: the good and the not-so-good, the failures and the victories.

First up: the kickoff meeting.

Game time

We kicked this project off a few weeks ago. The five of us trekked to the RIF office in Washington D.C. to meet the team and dream together about the new site. Here’s the agenda we sent them to prep for the day:

Time Detail



Go around the table and discuss roles and responsibilities.


Brain Drain

Let’s find out the latest status about the project and everything we can about Reading Is Fundamental. All info from all parties are fair game.




Content Discussion

Brainstorm info about old and new ideas for site content/functionality.





Design Studio

Break up into small groups for sketches and critiques.


Technical requirements

All things tech: servers, JavaScript libraries, launch processes, etc. Though it sounds technical, everyone involved in in some capacity should attend this, as we’ll talk things like publishing processes, pain points, and other things that start with the letter “P.”


Successes and Failures

How will we measure success on this project? How will we measure failure? Sharing our “closed door moments.” (We’ll find a better name for that.)


Visual Inventory

Brand traits, competitors, best-of-breed, 10-second impressions exercise.



Basecamp etiquette, schedules, approvals, etc.



Kisses, blessings, handshakes, fist bumps, etc.

We prepped together as a team at dinner the night before. Kevin, being the meeting guru he is, advised that the schedule looked too tight to be doable, especially the after-lunch sessions. I brushed off his warnings. (He was right.)

We had a great conversation, especially during the Content Discussion and Design Studio sessions. However, one question kept coming up that still remained unanswered at the end of the Design Studio: what’s the right balance of value for the user vs. information about RIF that should exist on the site? Of course, the RIF site should be a place where people can learn about the organization and all it does to benefit kids in need. However, people generally don’t like being broadcasted at; content on the site needs to provide value to its audience—in this case, parents—arguably even if it’s not about RIF.

This was my favorite part of the meeting: knowing that we still didn’t have this answer fully solidified, we decided to break the rest of the agenda and instead refocus as much of the rest of the meeting as we could into answering this question and all the details that surrounded it.

We decided on 2 new exercises. The first was a discussion about sites that each person in the room used every day and plotted them against sites each person found beautiful. We ended up with a chart that looked like this and discussed in detail where the new site should fall in this spectrum and why:

We never needed the second exercise. (For the curious, we were planning to do another design studio, solely focused on this question.) I love that our team wasn’t afraid to call an audible here; we knew what was important for us to answer that day, and we pulled out all the stops to get it. I’m so grateful to work with a team—of which I include RIF—that has a shared goal of creating the best possible site we can create together.

We all left that day energized and excited for what’s to come. As we make progress, you can bet I’ll report back as often as I can. We’re knee deep in simultaneously exploring architecture and aesthetics. More on that in the days to come.

I hope, dear reader, that this has some value for you. By creating this site in public, I hope we can all learn together, you from us and us from you. I’d love to hear from you. What can we be doing better for RIF? What can we be doing better for you?

We’re creating a new site for Reading Is Fundamental and openly documenting our process along the way.



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