Washington University in St. Louis established the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics in 2010, to foster rigorous scholarship and public engagement on the contemporary and historical intersections of religion and politics in the American context.
Our collaboration with the Center began in 2012, when we designed their digital magazine, Religion & Politics. In 2020, the team approached us with a need for a more effective website for the Center itself, that would better serve its constituent audiences. We provided a full website redesign, from strategy through development and launch.
Launch: August 2020
Project lead: Benjamin Levine
Services: Website Design, Strategy, Web Development, Art Direction
Built to change
An academic center is a complex network of instruction, scholarship, and public programming. We quickly learned that a static, linear website wouldn’t adequately support the range of communications coming from the Center. Instead, we created something that would: a custom marquee homepage with five modular blocks. These blocks are designed to be complementary, but fully rearrangeable, allowing the center to shift between highlighting courses, upcoming events, new scholarship, and institutional announcements, without sacrificing aesthetic clarity or balance on the page.
Design system thinking
As the primary source of information on an active academic center, this website had very particular needs. Above all, the site had to serve as an immediate, clear resource where scholars, faculty, the press, and the public could find answers to their questions—whether about the timing of a fall semester course, or about how to reach an expert scholar for comment on a current event.
With that ultimate goal in mind, we started out by streamlining the site’s architecture, removing extraneous pages that made information less immediate. We then developed a design system based on finding common vocabulary between pages and content types. A tag protocol with intelligent categorization allows content to surface where it belongs, creating seamless interconnectedness throughout the site.
Strategic art direction
Alongside its academic work, the Center’s core mission includes inviting dialogue and engagement from the general public. We wanted to communicate that openness with the site’s visual tone, so we commissioned original illustrations to make each page livelier and warmer. In order to convey a sense of belonging and place, we specifically sought out Maddy Mueller, a Washington University in St. Louis alumnus, for this collaboration. These illustrations, plus a new emphasis on faculty portraits and quotes throughout the site, help to ground the Center’s identity in its foundational strength: its community.
Artwork by Maddy Mueller