The Telling Room Web Design


When The Telling Room, a revered Portland non-profit dedicated to the development of young story-tellers, decided they needed a new website, we were excited to bring their online presence in-line with their incredible programs. Within minutes, our studio was alight with ideas for what the new site could do.

Talk of camp scenes, superheroes and pirates flew around the room. It’s hard not to think of these things when other writing organizations like 826 National, a network of eight writing centers in cities like San Francisco and Chicago, boast their own fun, uniquely-themed personalities. Sparks were flying; excitement was building. Passion like this is what fuels successful projects and drives us to be better designers, better communicators and better developers.

The passion continued through our normal planning processes – building sitemaps, deciding what the site would actually do, and building functional wireframes. The nitty gritty steps led us to the big show and tell that is sharing our proposed site designs. After a few rounds of growing the concepts, we arrived at what you see today. A fun, lively site that encourages you to explore every nook and cranny as you browse.

The site’s design is as vibrant as the stories told at The Telling Room which was one of the key points of inspiration for lead designer Morgan DiPietro:

During one of our initial meetings with the Telling Room folks, we learned how the staff would often take their students out for walks around the city to find inspiration for their stories. This idea of exploring their sense of place got us thinking about how we could translate that feeling of adventure and excitement into a fantastical new world on the web. The site needed to be unique and memorable for students, where with every click of the mouse they discover something new and fun to interact with. Whimsical Portland cityscapes, vintage inspired signage, flying planes, graphic roll-overs, and a bold color palette all bring this world to life—fun and vibrant, just like the stories that Telling Room students share with each other everyday.

As the concept grew and we got to know The Telling Room staff even more, their sense of passion for Portland became obvious. Day in and day out, they work with area students to help them grow in all the ways a creative community needs. As we worked to highlight the stories, programs and events of The Telling Room, it became clear that these all exist because of a symbiotic relationship with Portland. As The Telling Room builds the community, the community inspires The Telling Room.

Portland-centric elements give the site an even deeper sense of place, strengthens the Telling Room's roots in Maine and hopefully provides a sense of pride for the place we live and work in. Some elements represent Maine in general: the ocean, lobster boats, lighthouses, mountains and camping; while others represent specific Portland landmarks that students may see on a daily basis: Monument Square, the Farmer's Market, Casco Bay Lines, the Eastern Promenade, Fort Gorges, and the Casco Bay Bridge.
–Morgan DiPietro

As the visual elements came into focus, the foundation of the site–its content– was also maturing. The previous site focused intensely on the events and programs at The Telling Room, but the rich stories being told were left to wither on their own, difficult to find blog. As we worked to elevate the mission-critical parts of the site, it was obvious that the stories themselves needed to be brought in from the cold and given a warm place that their writers could be proud to share.

The array of custom pages on this site speaks to our desire to draw viewers in and compel them to dig deeper into the site. We always aim to present content in a clear and informative manner, however with this project, we also wanted to share content in a more intimate way. For example, we wanted students to feel proud of their work on the Stories page. Therefore we designed that section to look different from the rest of the site, making it feel special and become a place to celebrate all the amazing work that happens. We hope students are excited to see their work online and even more psyched to share with others.
–Morgan DiPietro

Discovering and sharing are big parts of the new site and there is a lot to discover! Behind the scenes, we worked hard to make sure the site would be easy for The Telling Room staff to manage. The old site could only be updated by using difficult Dreamweaver templates. We cringed at the idea of letting the beautiful site we were creating languish at the hands of a diffificult to use management tool.

The system we built allows The Telling Room’s staff to login and easily edit each bit of content. They can happily add stories, events, Kickstarter campaigns, homepage slides and more without needing anyone’s help. In the coming days, you’ll see mobile and tablet versions of The Telling Room launched–all powered by the same content management system. The staff manages and edits content once, in one place, and the system adapts it automatically to whatever device the user is working. It’s responsive design managed easily.

The result of this passion is a beautiful, fun, engaging site that is already exposing The Telling Room to new audiences and reinvigorating those who already knew about the fantastic work they do for the Portland community. We’re extremely excited to share the new site with you and extremely lucky to have worked with such a talented team at The Telling Room.

What do you think of the new site? We’d love to hear your feedback.