The Magazine

A showcase for student writing and web design

‘Stick Your Neck Out!’ © Kate Ter Haar (Creative Commons)

Faculty instructors Jen Kramer and Martha Nichols began teaching Designing Stories for the Web at Harvard University Extension School in 2019.

Each week of this distance-learning course, forty-plus students from around the US and beyond—of many backgrounds and ages, grads and undergrads—publish pieces on their own WordPress sites.

These class assignments are behind the terrific stories you’ll find here under Mistakes, Food, DIY, Places, Community, Digi-Fun, and Debate.

The Story

So, a giraffe and a hyena walk into a…website?

Jen in her native habitat

In early 2017, a web designer bumped into a magazine editor in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Jen—the giraffe of this story—loves websites that emphasize user experience. Martha—the hyena—hates jargon like “content.”

Martha hunting clichés

But vive la différence.

Over burritos in Harvard Square, they swapped frustrations about their respective professions. And they starting planning how to combine journalism with digital-media instruction.

The Design

Web content that isn’t filler

‘Zoo Negara’ © Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi (Creative Commons)

Good design shapes how a story is presented to a reader online. Yet too many web designers think of text as filler. They don’t consider what words actually mean.

None of the pieces featured in Designing Stories for the Web relies on the equivalent of “Lorem ipsum.” Students design and revise stories they’ve written themselves. Throughout the semester, they experiment with many visual elements, but content and design drive each other.

The Elements of Web Style

Stories that engage readers online

‘Botswana Okavango Delta’ © youngrobv (Creative Commons)

Before launching their course, Jen and Martha did a few test runs. They co-presented “Battling the Blah-Blah-Blahs: 7 Tips for Making Websites Readable” at the UXPA Boston Conference in 2018. They conducted sessions at the Harvard University IT Summit in 2017 and 2018.

Their seven “Elements of Web Style” are now the basis for Designing Stories for the Web.

Giraffes are gorgeous and colorful with flashy spots. Hyenas hunt and scavenge in packs, and they have big teeth.

Don’t read too much into the analogy with web design and journalism. But do consider the mix of great design with great words—and how much better a digital site is when you connect flash with teeth.

7 Elements of Web Style

Giraffe + hyena © siamjack (Creative Commons)

1. Get specific.
2. Make a list.
3. Keep it short.
4. Add snappy headings.
5. Find your focus.
6. Connect content with design.
7. Use your words—wisely.

— Jen Kramer and Martha Nichols