Advancing research in mathematics and the sciences
The Simons Foundation is one of the premier sources of philanthropic funding for basic sciences. Each year, the Manhattan-based organization makes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of direct grants to scientists to pursue discovery-driven research in mathematics and physical sciences, life sciences and autism-related neurology. In 2017, the Foundation also launched Flatiron, a new institute devoted to the study of astrophysics, quantum physics and biology using data analysis, modeling and simulation.
A collection of more than five distinct programs and autonomous teams, the Foundation’s site had become overwhelmingly dense and difficult to navigate, with the lack of clear visual hierarchy impeding visitors’ ability to find information and take action. To tackle these challenges, Simons Foundation and AREA 17 formed a year long partnership, studying their distinct organizational needs and responding with an extensible, standardized architecture, clarified user experience and elevated brand expression.
During our product strategy phase we discovered that users were looking for grants “right out of the gate” and for information about the organization and scope of its activities. To address these needs, we focused on retooling the site navigation and overall architecture to make it easy for users to find relevant grants and to create opportunities across the site for the Foundation to clearly communicate its purpose and programs.
Our strategy also identified a need for a scalable publishing platform to showcase both news about the cutting edge research it was funding, and the Foundation’s regular schedule of lectures, symposia, and conferences. We then created a modular system that shares content and functionality across all the Foundation’s disparate organizations, each with the same underlying architecture and editing tools at their disposal.
With surfacing funding opportunities such a critical strategic priority, we consolidated funding-related content from across the site into one streamlined user journey and created several pathways to each grant. On the global level, we created a central page of funding opportunities accessible from the main navigation that aggregates grants from across the Foundation, as well as creating funding opportunities pages specific to each program area.
We organized the grant page itself to reflect the timeline-driven process that potential grantees actually experience when evaluating and applying for funding. Each grant page is a hub that connects all the information related to a grant, both past and present, through a dashboard style user interface. Strong typographic hierarchies reinforce the purposeful architecture, making information easily scannable while clear calls to action help users know where to go in order to take the next step.
To complement our strategy of creating more opportunities for Simons Foundation to effectively communicate its core mission and activities, we had to go beyond architectural changes and expand the brand’s graphic vocabulary with stronger visuals. To create this more visual experience, we researched and created a series of monochromatic hero images for the home page and department landing pages that had to meet the Foundation’s exacting requirements for scientific accuracy. We supported these landing experiences by introducing more visually rich photography across the website that also had to be vetted according to the same rigorous criteria.
Building a unified user experience with similar but not identical features for five different organizations within the Simons Foundation posed many technical challenges. To address these, we created a unified CMS in a single, multi-site Wordpress Installation, with a custom theme that combines all the sites’ core functionality in one place. We enhanced the CMS with special features that allowed us to build complex post types matching the multiplicity of content and functional needs from the different departments but at the same time keeping it as user friendly as possible. Prior to launch, we migrated over 20,000 pieces of content from the old Website’s generic Wordpress content into our new, highly customized content types.