The first problem we tackled at Marquee dealt with the friction behind creating great-looking, engrossing web content. Inspired by the art-directed blogs of Jason Santa Maria and Dustin Curtis, we began thinking about the tools that must have been used to create them.
What we found is that creating story-specific layouts for the web was largely a dark art of CMS hacking, custom stylesheets, and lots and lots of code. The intersection of people that had the skill to craft in-depth pieces, the design expertise to understand how to best represent them, and the development chops to pull it all off was, expectedly, almost nonexistent. Yet, that’s what the editorial tooling assumed. With this knowledge we had a clear starting point — the initial authoring experience.
The first iteration of the tool gave far too many options for changing details like colors, fonts, and object placement. We had removed the friction of working with these elements, to be sure, but the end result was unstructured and messy, difficult to code against, and even harder to make look great (we double dare you not to use Lobster if it’s an option). Even members of our own team found it difficult to create stories that looked less like they were produced in MS Paint and more like the next evolution of publishing.
Taking the lessons learned from our first stab at an authoring tool, we began to iterate towards a content editor that would enable us not only to provide a substantially easier authoring experience for writers, but give designers and developers a solid platform from which to work with content as structured data rather than a heap of markup and styles.
We began stripping away features we had been sure we couldn’t live without, doubling down on good ideas, beating ourselves up over mistakes, and understanding the things we’d need to invent in order to build the necessary experience. Once we were done, we ended up with a beautifully minimalist story editor that gives authors and editors just enough control to tell amazing stories, while also giving designers and developers the hooks they need to make content look and work great.
Instead of focusing on individually art directed stories, the Author concerns itself with turning content into structured data, the benefit being that this data can then be reformatted and repurposed in the service of any number of layouts, situations, or devices. We made hard decisions about what editors would see and the options they'd have. You could no longer change the font or background color, but layout options and semantic annotation tools were accessible, intuitive, and produced amazing, usable results.
Because web content is far more than just words, we made photography and illustration first-class citizens by providing tools that helped them give structure and impact to a story. We realized web content is not created in a silo, so we made it dead-simple to embed and arrange rich content from all manner of services across the web.
To achieve this, we had to develop a number of new, risky technologies and patterns without any idea of whether they'd actually work. Our next step was to test our assumptions in the real world.