Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) are a strategic area of scientific research: radical thinking, visionary projects and ground-breaking ideas which go beyond what we know to shape the future of our society. The European Union is investing in FET research projects to turn these cutting-edge visions of tomorrow into reality, fueling fresh collaborations between advanced multidisciplinary science and cutting-edge engineering in a wide range of fields, from biotechnologies to quantum technologies, from artificial intelligence to nanotech.
Many European citizens are unaware of the impact that this research is having – and is going to have in the future – on their individual lives. And even talented researchers don’t know they can access a vast network of knowledge and gain support and funding for their research.
The purpose of FETFX project (funded by the EU under H2020 programme) is to build an editorial platform and inform citizens about the positive impact of FET research on society, while boosting awareness about funding schemes among researchers, entrepreneurs and policy makers. The desired engagement of the professionals and the citizens has to be achieved by developing clear and stimulating stories (on web, social media and TV) about futuristic and scientific themes.
As Design Director in the project team, my task has been to imagine and develop the web platform to serve as a hub for all the stories and content, starting from its concept, brand and identity. I led the studies on the target audiences, defined the best user experience for them and finally designed the graphic user interface and managed the production phase and the launch of the first stories.
First of all, the team conducted several interviews with prospect users from the main target audiences: european citizens and researchers. From the resulting insights I crafted two main personas, with background stories, needs, aspirations and doubts. These two personas became our guiding reference in the following design phases.
The research on brand identity highlighted the need for a strong contemporary impact and a cutting-edge look & feel: our future-enthusiast users deserve a visionary environment to be informed, inspired and fascinated.
Hence the name FETFX (where “FX” stands for effects, impacts) and the brandmark, which is rendered with an outline sans-serif typeface: strictly geometric but with a surreal and unexpected touch. The visual identity is strengthened by the crisp colour palette — specifically studied for a digital environment — and the bold imagery: the abstract textures and compositions show organic and technological patterns (which can be related to a wide spectrum of fields: cosmos, biotech, energy, AI, communications, …), to express the visual power of imagination and future research.
The next phase revolved around designing the complete user experience for the platform. That is when the concept of “stories” came in. Storytelling is fundamental to engage people, so our news and journalistic articles about scientific discovery and its struggles have to be presented with a unique narrative tone while maintaining scientific accuracy.
The information architecture and taxonomy of the stories follow the same principle: instead on building them just according to dry academic fields, we focus more on the impact on the future of the whole community, giving a clear interpretation key to everybody.
Going on with user stories and use cases, we defined all the functional requirements for the web platform and we could then draw a map of the website, with its flows and journeys. A specific area was highlighted to contain all the events, guides and resources for a professional audience.
After having validated the platform map, I started wireframing each page layout, carefully combining the needs of professional and casual users and putting great efforts to create meaningful cross links between stories, projects and resources.
A responsive and mobile-first approach to layouts was very helpful when crafting a fast barebone prototype to test all hypotehesis regarding flows and architecture before diving into the main graphic part of the job.
When designing the visual user interface I paid special attention to colour schemes, transitions and animations to help the users get the most important elements on the pages and find their way through. The main landing pages were especially refined with video backgrounds and smashing typographic hierarchy.
Production and coding followed shortly after under my supervision. As art director, I was able to suggest the general visual tone of the first stories, also suggesting catching headlines to the editorial team, choosing the most appropriate images to get along with each story and maximising the engagement potential on social media.
The web platform was launched in July 2017 and since then dozens of original stories have been published, gathering a growing community of hundreds of european researchers and attracting thousands of future-enthusiasts from all around the world.
You can join us on fetfx.eu