Modernista! teamed up with FL2 to design and develop a micro
site for the National Park Foundation that coincided with
Modernista!'s broadcast campaign supporting the Ken Burns PBS
documentary The National Parks:
America's Best Idea. The site provides a destination for
users to explore the National Parks, make a personal contribution,
and most importantly share it with others—reinforcing the sense of
collective ownership, pride and responsibility of our National
With the unprecedented visibility offered by Ken Burns'
documentary, the National Park Foundation needed a digital
experience that could drive action and involvement—primarily in the
form of email submissions and donations. The Foundation had never
engaged an agency to design a major campaign like this. We had an
opportunity to explain that the National Parks system is deeper and
more expansive than the average citizen may know. Ultimately, we
wanted users to be able to quickly and intuitively navigate through
this vast catalog of information and actively contribute to the
site and make it personal, as well as universal—like the parks
themselves. And we had what most marketers crave—a quality product
that is timeless, true and visually compelling.
Modernista! sent a creative and production team to FL2's Denver
offices for a condensed two-day assault on the project. We
collectively identified the key objectives of the campaign, which
were to enable the user to:
We then began organizing information and shaping the user
experience around these three philosophies. At the end of the work
session, we had a solid information architecture that organized
official information in a grid-based layout and allowed
user-generated content to grow and be displayed more organically.
From there, we had just under three weeks to design and build a
Users are asked to comment on their own personal National Park
experiences, and tag those locations on the site. We created a grid
catalog of information that allows the user to sort through the
database visually. All changes happen in real time, using
same “page.” A breadcrumb is also prominent in the design to allow
users to back up to their previous content area at anytime. This
approach, when focused around stunning Flickr-sourced imagery and
the emotional context of the documentary series, was well received,
as a steady flow of user generated content began to stream into the
site immediately. Additionally, we have seen “average time on site”
figures continuing to float in the 4:00 range, clearly suggesting
that users are easily accessing a variety of engaging site
We decided to leverage existing Flickr photography content in
relation to the National Parks themselves. While this reinforced
the notion that we all contribute to the parks, it quickly became
apparent that finding multiple images for more than 400 parks in
only a few weeks' time was no small feat. Our developers wrote a
script that allowed us to scrape Flickr for public images that were
the appropriate size, matched the park we were searching for and
provided the contributor's information to be displayed on the
As mentioned we had a very tight time line that conveniently
pushed bureaucracy, ego and singular ownership out—we had to trust
the expertise and first-reaction contributions of each of our team
members. All stakeholders stayed out of their own way. And in order
to reach this deadline, we had to build a highly collaborative
environment. We cast two passionate teams together on equal ground.
The typical client/vendor relationship dynamic simply wasn't there.
Finally, this small team of collective owners represented the full
breadth of skills that encompasses any digital project of worth:
copywriting, design, user experience, technology, digital strategy
Our entire team was thrilled with the results of this
project—not only over how quickly the site was put together, but
also how comprehensive it is in addressing the client's goals and
how different it is from anything it had done before. To our
knowledge and research, the NPF has in the past provided a way for
people to browse all of the parks, but nothing with such a
progressive framework or ways for user-generated content to be
created and displayed on an official site.
We feel that the site's design truly reflects the spirit of the
parks themselves: pride of ownership, involvement and community.
The ease of use and immediate gratification are additional benefits
of this particular design, and have kept users logged on and coming
back, which obviously makes us—and our client—very happy.
The most encouraging conclusion that we reached was one that
didn't surprise us: web experiences finish most gracefully when
crafted in tight spaces. The construction need not be complex.
The result was a lightweight, though content-rich, exploration
of our National Parks. With more time and resources, we could have
built a vibrant engagement platform for the National Park
Foundation. But Americans don't need another user name and password
to misplace—they just need more graceful web experiences.
Editor's note: The case study above was co-written by
representatives of agency Modernista! and interactive studio FL2.
In 2010, VML provided art direction, copy and logo design for Kansas City-based charity Happy Bottoms.
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