A decade of difference

Launched as “Far Above” in 2006 and later re-envisioned as “Cornell Now,” the campaign ended Dec. 31, 2015, with $6.36 billion raised for vital universitywide priorities, breaking the $5.75 billion goal.

The problem

As the UX designer and web lead, I was asked to build a web platform to:

  • tell the story of Cornell’s latest capital campaign
  • provide stewardship for a variety of audiences
  • serve as a hub for news published online

The main design challenges were:

  • a short timeline (10 weeks overlapping the end of year break; hard launch date coinciding with an NYC event)
  • a strong visual identity coming from the print invite
  • no central repository of campaign news
Cornell University, Clock Tower by Clarice Oliveira (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Cornell University, Clock Tower by Clarice Oliveira (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Brand and Communications colleagues helped managed the project (including assets and news collection, writing, and editing). The development partner was Bravery Media.

Static or CMS?

Considering the amount of news that had to be gathered on this site, a CMS was a possible solution. A taxonomy layer would have made stronger interconnections possible. The development would also have been more expensive and would have requested some maintenance after launch.

A static site offered a better performance but with a loss in dynamic cross linking. That loss was mitigated by a compact design for our story collection.

Leading with the story

The platform would somehow serve as a report and a lot of data was expected to be shared.

I had to think about ways to avoid having numbers get in the way of the story. A variety in types of data visualization, as well as a balance of faces, stories, and data would be key.

Process and approach

Showing milestones

It was important to show the arc of the campaign over almost ten years. We had a variety of assets to illustrate it (photos, videos, or quotes) and I decided to place them on a timeline. I remembered seeing Knight Lab’s Timeline.js used in similar contexts and this is what we ended up using.

Showing stories

We ended up collecting 210 pieces of news that we had to fit on the page without compromising the overall balance of the layout. I opted for an accordion pattern side-by-side with a compact slider to feature the latest stories.

Data at a glance

Our audience was comprised largely of Cornellians and we knew that data would echo with them. But it had to blend with the rest of the content and not throw the balance off. I opted for a slider of responsive data visualizations.


The color palette suggested a taxonomy that I reflected in this section. The goal was to tie numbers with areas of impact/actors (and showing more faces). We featured: students (scholarships and fellowships), individual donors, endowed professorships and faculty fellowships, and facilities.

Final design

The final design is a vibrant, rich, mobile-friendly experience that encapsulates the spirit of Cornell Now.