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Reimagining a news pioneer

USA TODAY was built on the founder’s vision to be a “forum for better understanding”. As pioneers in using visual story telling and concise copy, they were dedicated to telling the news in a way that made it relevant to the lives of everyday Americans.

30 years on this pioneering vision had become lost in a sea of imitators, parody-makers, and digital competitors.

USA TODAY was designed to be different.” USA Today founder, Al Neuharth

The brand looked dated and was struggling – along with many other newspapers — to navigate the changing media landscape. This pressure had led to the development of a number of ‘branded’ initiatives, designed to drive business but resulting in a disparate collection of branded products and a lack of consistent vision for the future.

With its 30th anniversary approaching, USA TODAY recognised a need to reclaim its place as a game-changing organisation. They asked us to help them in their repositioning of USA TODAY, as a news organisation fit for the future.

An identity as dynamic as the news

We started work on two streams: brand architecture and a visual identity system.

With hundreds of sub-brands and branded initiatives — ranging from retail outlets to editorial sigs — the offer from USA TODAY wasn’t easy for consumers to understand. We proposed a simple brand architecture that clearly organised the majority of USA TODAY’s offers behind their six main sections of News, Sports, Travel, Life, Tech and Money.

In our work with each of the sections, we saw how much the brand architecture demanded of the visual identity system. For greatest efficiency, we focused on the Sports section to develop a visual system that would support their many offers such as Coaches Poll or Super 25. The other sections then applied this system to their range of offers.

As we started to redesign the logo, we explored options from ‘evolution’ to ‘revolution’. The client team was unanimous in choosing a direction from the ‘revolution’ spectrum of options because they believed it was the best representation of the pure, straight-to-the-point audaciousness that USA TODAY was built on. At the same time, the design offered a platform for playfulness and a way to bring the editorial spirit front and center in the identity. The logo could now be as dynamic as the news itself.

Putting people at the center of the news

It quickly became apparent that bringing this new visual identity to life would require a wholesale redesign of their flagship product — the newspaper. While USA TODAY had a highly successful suite of digital products, the printed paper was still the most prominent product.

It was also apparent that there were several different visual styles across the print and digital publications. So we partnered with the print and digital design teams to help them explore their design values, and agree on one visual style for all USA TODAY properties.

In close collaboration with the newspaper team, we started work on a full redesign of the newspaper. We began by spending several days on the newsroom floor, shadowing the entire process — from the early morning news meeting through to press at 10pm. Flagship features such as The Weather Page and State-by-State were re-imagined. We developed new content ideas such as a Fantasy Football page to run weekly during NFL season, and the USA Markets page, to replace 2.5 pages of stock tables with one page of easy-to-use visualisations of how every day Americans are investing.

As USA TODAY’s 30th Anniversary approached, they asked us to develop an advertising campaign for their relaunch and beyond. Working again in close collaboration with the USA TODAY team and their external partners, we created a national campaign covering digital, TV, print, and out-of-home advertisements. The concept centred on visual storytelling and putting people at the heart of the news — literally — by creating human infographics.

The campaign kicked off in NYC with a Grand Central subway station take-over, and overall created a dramatic unveiling of the newspaper and logo redesign.

An American icon making numbers

This makeover quickly became one of the largest media business stories of 2012, resulting in total media impressions exceeding 325 million.

In the month after launch, the number of unique visitors to USA TODAY’s mobile sites increased by 79%, and the brand's digital revenue increased by over 69%. Further market research showed they had 6,000+ new Twitter followers, their Facebook fans were up over 100%, and almost two-thirds of readers thought the redesign of the newspaper made the news easier to read. While Gannett — the media company that owns USA TODAY — reported a first-quarter profit increase of 53%.

6,000+ new Twitter followers. 100% increase in Facebook fans. 69% increase in digital revenue.” Gannett Market Research