Off the Hoof

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A Vibrant Website, With an Eye Towards a More Just World

Click to see the old Open Society Foundations site
Click to see the new Open Society Foundations site

We aspire to help organizations meet their goals by telling their stories more effectively. And we love solving tricky problems with real meaning. Our work with the Open Society Foundations was a tremendous opportunity and honor. We worked alongside a dedicated team to tackle a daunting task. We emerged with a coherent, vibrant system that connects the sometimes abstract work of a distributed organization to the lives of real people.

Established by investor and philanthropist George Soros, the Open Society Foundations fund a range of programs around the world, from public health and education to business development. The original website echoed their complex internal structure and was a labyrinth of programs and initiatives, offering no consistent way to showcase their work. Together we set out to design a system that reflects their mission, promotes grantees, raises awareness about key issues, and is easy to maintain.

The role of a foundation is to support the work of grantees, the organizations and people who receive grants that fund their efforts to make the world a better place. We created space and structure to make the work of the grantees visible.

A key function of any foundation website is to provide information about available grants to grant seekers. We completely redesigned the grant-finding tool to be easier to use and set clear expectations about the types of grants that are available and the application requirements.

Because much of the work output—the highly technical reports and briefings about specific issues—can be months in the making and are aimed at an audience of policy makers and experts in a particular field, we worked with the communications team to design the Voices section. This is a frequently updated blog where grantees and Open Society staff can publish more accessible information about the lives of people struggling to live in intolerant societies or unjust conditions throughout the world, as well as provide updates about the work of the programs and foundations.

While the site as a whole is in English, each individual program or project might have work specifically directed at audiences who speak other languages. We designed the navigation and page structure to support the arbitrary presentation of individual pages in any language, reading either right to left or left to right.

We also designed a clear and browseable directory of experts, to promote the many fellows and staff who are leaders in a particular field. These experts are available to members of the media to provide input on the complex issues the Open Society Foundations work on and related policy issues.

One of the most striking aspects of the work of the Open Society Foundations is their support and use of documentary photography. These indelible images capture specific realities of human lives lived under conditions no text reporting can depict as effectively. It was essential for us to incorporate these images in the design of the site, while respecting them and the photographers who made them. We could not crop or alter the photos or use them as decorative elements without destroying their integrity.

From this constraint, the home page design emerged. The site content appears as an overlay over a large photo, in which the central subject is framed, but the photo is not cropped. The full image is revealed with a click. Each of the key images connects both to a specific story and to a larger issue, communicating the immediacy of the organization’s concerns.
In the hierarchy of the page, all news and information from and about the organization follows in a structured grid down the page, visually supporting the issues illustrated above.

Throughout the entire site, we worked to establish and maintain context, incorporating a navigational system that links regions, issues, and programs associatively rather than hierarchically. These connections in the interface underscore the plurality inherent in the Open Society Foundations philosophical stance and operational realities.

Phase2 Technology, a leading Drupal developer and delightful group of people, built out the final website.

We are so thrilled with the site, and we hope it proves a fantastic support for the OSF team.


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