Off the Hoof

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Strong Voice, Engaged Newsmaking


ColorLines is a publication that deals with racial justice; they analyze race from a political and structural perspective, making news out of elements and forces of society too frequently taken for granted.

Saving journalism has been a hot topic for a while now. And rightly so: newspapers are closing. Magazines are halting the presses, and people are scrambling to find ways to move traditional publications online. At Mule we have been working in many different industries to explore some new publishing models, and on the face of it, ColorLines came to us simply to move from a print publication to an online publication. But since ColorLines works to reframe social issues and uncover the nuances and structures that affect all of our lives, I will be precise. The ColorLines staff came to Mule to create a website that more actively embodies their strategy for making social change.

As an advocacy focused media maker myself, I have received calls and blasts and bursts about nonprofits and activist groups launching new websites and inviting people to collaboration campaigns. On more than one occasion, these new initiatives do not support the organization’s mission well or end up looking like little more than thinly veiled requests for other people to make content for them and to increase their traffic.

When first speaking with ColorLines, I was excited not only by their insightful writing grounded in solid research, but also the passion they had for being conversation starters. ColorLines wants to raise issues and focus discussions on high level structural racism that journalists, filmmakers, and other people with ideas can take to examine further.

It was clear from the beginning that the motivation for this website redesign was not simply to take their writing to a place where the articles would get more readers, but to raise awareness about the structural injustice that many organizations cannot or do not take the time and care to report on.

We needed ColorLines to have the freedom to work in a strong voice and design system that is as authoritative and more insistent than the entrenched forces they are working to uncover. And we wanted to create a website that does not simply encourage commenting or contribution to the ColorLines website but to build a site with tools that allow readers to make connections to other media outlets or add their own take while keeping the context of racial justice at the forefront. To focus on those active newsmakers that ColorLines partners with, we focused on understanding the writers so we could design a site that can inform and galvanize people but is also just a really attractive place to have your work published.

The subtle developments on the publishing and community-building model made working with ColorLines an interesting design problem, but it was the importance of communicating their specific mission to reset the dialogue about racial justice from the level of the personal to the structural that made me so excited about the project and turned me into an enthusiastic regular reader and community member. We take projects like this not only because we are excited by the challenges they provide; we were inspired to create an online strategy that complements and extends the ColorLines mission that has them researching and publishing the most comprehensive coverage of a critical trial like Oscar Grant as well as the most insightful analysis of chronic injustices that we all deal with silently everyday.

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About Mule Design Studio

Mule creates delightful interfaces, strong identities, and clear voices for useful systems and nice people.
Also, We are funnier than all other designers.


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