Modern Storytelling for Bustle Digital Group
Bustle Digital Group has been focused on the business of acquiring publications, and Code and Theory has been an integral partner in helping them grow their portfolio and rethink modern digital storytelling over a multi-year engagement.
Our long history of collaboration with Joshua Topolsky began before he became editor-in-chief at BDG. It all began in 2009 when we partnered to relaunch Engadget, and the relationship has extended through launching the Verge with Vox Media in 2011, reimagining Bloomberg News and launching Bloomberg Politics in 2015, and then creating and launching The Outline and its novel card system in 2016, which BDG purchased a few years later.
After these successful partnerships, Joshua tasked us with launching digital property Input Mag, redesigning its science entertainment destination Inverse, and relaunching the iconic Nylon and Bustle publications.
With the looming threat of the publishing industry dying out, Joshua Topolsky, founding editor and publisher of The Outline, saw an opportunity in this chaotic and unpredictable media landscape.
The Outline is the deliberate alternative to the conventions of digital publishing. Whereas most publications get lost in a sea of homogenized content, the Outline offers a striking contrast, knowing how its unique users work — and what they want to see. It answers the question of what Tinder would look like if it replaced profile pictures with premium headline cards.
The core idea driving the vision is simple: Quality matters more than quantity. Quality storytelling, quality design and interface, quality ads, and quality audience.
Every post on the site is given a fully art-directed digital card that offers a variety of formats. Headlines might be bullet-pointed arguments, evocative phrases, interactive visuals, data visualizations, or pull quotes. Some headlines are designed to tell a complete story; some are used to frame a long-form essay.
The Outline understands that the digital era should make it possible to tell more stories in many more ways. It also knows that the details matter. The only way to properly execute this vision is to redesign the entire platform and to start experimenting.
These two sister sites answer some of the most important questions facing the media landscape: How can new storytelling methods cut through the clutter? How can content be more efficient and smarter for readers? What are fresh, new, visual ways to convey the same ideas to readers when everybody's brain moves at Twitter speed?
There is no traditional homepage on Input and Inverse. To make content reach users faster and more efficiently, the site's navigation structure is centered around the feed, or the stream—an infinite scroll of cards that represents a story.
Each story offers a snippet—the headline, maybe a quote, a key stat, or a GIF, along with some information. The reader can then expand that story in the feed to read more, or continue scrolling. When one story finishes, users scroll right back into the infinite stream of stories.
Input and Inverse are built on the same back-end system but with different front-end visual expressions.
Input was inspired by old-school risograph designs with vibrant and colorful paint-like vibes. We then introduced modern CSS image effects and chose big, bold typography for impactfulness. Inverse was meant to be Input’s dark, mysterious, cinematic twin. The color schemes are sharper with higher contrasts, more gradients, and shadows to give a scientific, futuristic counterpoint to Input.
As the card system continued to evolve, we began to scale it to other properties in the portfolio. Nylon and Bustle attract a predominantly female audience, focusing more on music, entertainment, beauty, and lifestyle.
New audiences and topics meant new card types and new design motifs: horoscope cards, Q&A cards, e-commerce cards. Digital Issue Hubs and long-form article pages support Nylon and Bustle’s content calendars: monthly issues, cover shoots, and sit-down interviews.
The new, unique visual identities of Nylon and Bustle reflect its audience and editorial intent.
The primary audience for Bustle is the smart, witty, intelligent woman. The design features bold and clean typography with clear hierarchy and big moments to show off original photography. The color palette is warm, clean, and mature, and circular, graphic elements and postage stamp motifs bring out the visual personality of the site.
Nylon is all about discovering the next big thing in entertainment and music. Our design system brings to life grungy textures, graphical references like a music festival posters, hand-written graphics, and bold, energetic typography. The grid and scale of elements reflects the slower publishing pace with large imagery and expressive type.