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The Chicago Sun-Times Goes Live on Chorus

The Hardest Working Paper in America launches on Vox Media’s Industry-Leading Platform

A laptop and phone side by side, displaying the new Sun-Times website.

We are thrilled to announce the launch of the Chicago Sun-Times on Chorus.

As they shared in their announcement post, this marks a big step in the Sun-Times’s evolution:

“Our goal is to give you a website that has the same look and impact as the iconic covers and layouts we produce each day for our print products, while at the same time aiming to showcase the work we’re doing in multiple mediums: text, photos, video, podcasts and graphics. You’ll see the work of our columnists displayed more prominently. And, in yet another move designed to put readers first, we’ve worked with Vox Media on a more elegant and less intrusive online advertising experience, as well as pages that load more quickly, whether on desktop or mobile.”

From the outset of our relationship with the Sun-Times, it was clear that their work is guided by sharp insights and thoughtful analysis. As the Principal Designer for the Chorus SaaS team, and as a former Chicagoan, I was immediately inspired by the opportunity to partner with such a talented and mission-driven publisher.

The collaboration, however, also brought a number of unique questions:

  • First, how does a legacy publisher better align its print and digital experience?
  • Second, while publishing nearly 100 stories each day, what is the clearest way to surface content users care about?
  • Lastly, when and where can brand expression shine to further enhance the content and engagement for readers?

For the past few months, the Chorus design team collaborated with the Sun-Times to answer these questions. To celebrate the fruits of our collaboration, and to give context to the design thinking that led to the final product, we wanted to share a closer look at the process we undertook with the Sun-Times.

How does a legacy publisher align its print and digital experience?

The Sun-Times loved the look and feel of its print edition – big and bold, but never brash. The newspaper’s leadership, though, felt that their website failed to live up to that same spirit.

A cover of the print edition of the Sun-Times displayed next to a laptop and phone displaying the same story.
The Sun-Times’s strongest photos, features, and investigative reports often received the same treatment on their site as their day-to-day service journalism.

Working within the Sun-Times’s existing brand guidelines, we created some exploratory moodboards that focused on a few primary areas to tie their website more closely with the paper.

We introduced a more robust type hierarchy, and identified some key moments throughout the site for impactful headlines. Photography is featured more prominently through feature layouts and section pages.

We focused on more intentional, accessible use of color, and brought in additional visual elements from the print language — like bolder strokes in the masthead and section headers.

Three print covers shown next to phones with stories displayed from the new Sun-Times website.
The refreshed Sun-Times’s site has the flexibility to better align print and digital experiences across all breakpoints.

What is the clearest way to surface content users care about?

The Sun-Times publishes nearly 100 stories daily.

Connecting the right audiences with the right topics was proving tough, and confusing for readers who felt lost in the web experience.

A group of Vox and Sun-Times employees are standing in a large room around a table discussing post-it notes that are laid out on the table.
The Sun-Times’s editorial leadership works with the Chorus team during a workshop to map out editorial objectives, and identify key content to elevate.

Working closely together, we explored how to more clearly organize content. We started with a discovery process that included using quantitative and qualitative research to identify reader habits. During an onsite workshop we applied these findings to inform a new site taxonomy, and began working towards a homepage optimized for clarity and engagement around news that readers seek.

A screenshot of the new site masthead and navigation.
New site masthead and navigation with refreshed site taxonomy

The new homepage that emerged sends clear content signals about what’s new and what’s important. Editors have control to curate daily stories with a top of page hero layout, and use automated sections that pull content by category (like columnists or politics) or other content types (like videos).

A collage of images from the new website - a sports section with stories, a columnists section with author photos displayed next to stories, and a video section with two videos.
Components created from the homepage as part of the Chorus design system to meet the Sun-Times’s editorial needs.

When and where can brand expression shine?

Though it has won eight Pulitzer prizes, the Sun-Times’s strongest photos, features, and investigative reports often received the same visual treatment as their day-to-day service journalism.

The feature layouts on Chorus allow the Sun-Times to control for a specific tone, leveraging more impactful typography and photography use, through a dynamic set of variations.

A row of 5 phones, each displaying a unique feature story layout from the new Sun-Times website.
A variety of feature layouts mirror the paper and allow for editorial flexibility and control over the tone of a given story.

A laptop and phone displaying a “Sports Saturday” section page from the new Sun-Times website.
We also introduced options for signature branding and secondary navigation for premium sections, like the Sun-Times weekly “Sports Saturday” edition.

What’s next?

The result of our collaboration with the Sun-Times is a refined digital strategy that introduces big and bold print styles into a refreshed, dynamic website on Chorus.

Through our efforts, the Sun-Times, “The Hardest Working Paper in America,” now has to work a little less hard on the blocking and tackling of systems maintenance and manual layout management, and they can return the full force of their energies to what matters most: the news.

We also look forward to seeing how the Sun-Times benefits from future Chorus iterations and developments as we continue to deploy across our growing publisher network, building experiences our audiences and customers love.

While this post focuses on our design work, this project was a joint effort by many teams across Vox Media and Chorus, including the SaaS, Audience, Community, SRE, Research, Analytics, QA, AdOps, Concert, and SEO groups.

And a very special thanks to Matt Watson (Chief Digital Strategist), Chris Fusco (Editor-in-Chief), and the many thoughtful editors, marketing and product managers with whom we worked at the Sun-Times. You graciously hosted us in your hometown, shared insightful perspectives, and inspired us all with your incredible work.