At the Washington Post, story ideas can come from anyone — reporters, editors, designers, photographers, you name it. In 2016, it was common for an editor or reporter to come to me with a seed of an idea — in this case a digital museum for Obama’s eight years in office — and to lean on me to transform that idea into something real. I felt strongly that we would need a unique visual approach to stand out amidst a plethora of Obama legacy stories published by our competitors. I also wanted to create something browsable, yet definitive and with a lot of depth. Some of my initial inspiration came from mural-esque illustrations like this and this. I was also inspired by the New York Times’ photo series on waiting in line and this website, which publishes an endless number of interesting CSS animations.
This project came with a handful of design challenges. First, it would publish in five installments, over the course of a year, so I designed a presentation that could feel complete with only one installment, but could also grow as we published 2, 3, 4 and 5. Second, it would include 60+ pieces of content, needed to appeal to a broad audience and needed to stand out amidst a plethora of Obama legacy stories by our competitors. I used conceptual illustrations to make the project browsable for the casual reader, while not taking away the depth that an engaged reader is looking for. The illustrations also gave us a unique visual to work with in promoting the project. Every other organization used archival photos of Obama, giving us a leg up in setting our content apart.
Before this project, I had never contracted or art directed an illustrator. After getting approval for my ideas, I worked with Suzette Moyer — a design editor and experienced art director — to select an artist for each installment and art direct them to create 7-8 illustrations. I learned so much from Suzette about different illustration styles and how to match them to the tone of your project. I also learned how illustrators have different strengths — illustrating likeness, texture, emotion, symbolism, etc. Since this project, I have taken the lead on working with illustrators and it’s one of my favorite parts of my job.