As a national nonprofit media arts organization, American Documentary strives to make essential documentaries accessible. American Documentary has presented more than 500 nonfiction and interactive projects over broadcast during the last 30+ years, through collaborations with passionate filmmakers to amplify their voices and grow the nonfiction community.
With the advent of digital streaming services fundamentally changing the way content is consumed by users, last year American Documentary set out to elevate its online presence — keeping up with its industry reputation and making their content more accessible than ever to existing audiences and new viewers alike.
As the producer of a number of well-known series — including the world’s longest running showcase of documentaries on television, POV — the brand of American Documentary itself had historically taken a back seat to its series. In order to elevate American Documentary as a consumer identifiable organization in its own right, we created a logotype that stood in stark visual contrast to American Documentary’s series’ branding.
That new wordmark lives in an updated brand environment that balances useful-but-not-dry typography with a universally flattering color palette. The effect is a recognizable ecosystem that plays nicely with a wide array of original media and artwork, while giving American Documentary an authentic voice.
As of early 2018, American Documentary hosted an enormous corpus of content, distributed piecemeal across American Documentary’s own website, its subsidiary Community Network, and PBS’ streaming platform. These properties, built on content management systems not designed for creating editorial experiences, did a poor job of making films and their tangent resources available to both the wider public and to employees.
The new web platform strives to aggregate all of this content, and nests it under clear and actionable navigation items. The navigation prioritizes categories like “Watch” and “Engage” — allowing users to explore American Documentary’s full array of media, agnostic to its broadcast origin. The other half of the navigation scheme leverages American Documentary’s most recognizable series — POV and America Reframed — to give users direct access to media they may have seen over broadcast. Elevating series also allowed American Documentary to more overtly identify itself as the parent of POV — a series long thought to be its own, independent entity — and to introduce its Interactives division as a new series of content on par with POV and America Reframed.
Since American Documentary is committed to premiering its documentaries first on live television, it was important that the web platform acknowledged broadcast schedules. For each film, location services allow the platform to redirect users to their local public television schedules. In this way, users seeking films whose feature length versions were not online would have an opportunity to see them on television. When these films are available for streaming, the platform allows American Documentary to publish custom-themed roundups on top-level pages featuring the films and their surrounding media, while search results and index pages automatically prioritize them, making the hunt for feature-length streaming content effortless.
To surface the wide range of media that American Documentary produces, a topic tag system was created to relate films to each other as well as to supporting resources. The topic system fuels related content tiers on project pages and in video viewers, and also allows for effective filtering across all media and resource index pages.
The core of American Documentary’s mission is to catalyze social change through film. Prior to the launch of the new platform, almost all of the literature around how to screen, use, and discuss films with the community was locked in cumbersome PDFs, and was often ignored. The new film pages are designed to surface to the user an array of content that exists around any given film, making engaging with American Documentary’s films simple and straightforward.
The video player opens from any location a film appears on the platform, allowing users to stay anchored in the content they were just reading while watching high resolution video. The player also queues up relevant content by common series, tags, and seasons.
Since the launch of the new platform, online engagement with American Documentary’s films has improved dramatically. Aggregating content into a single, searchable platform has increased user ability to successfully reach films from search engines. A fully-responsive front end has contributed to a steady rise in traffic by mobile users, meeting a long-held goal of American Documentary to meet viewers where they watch video most.
As time goes on, the new platform will continue to ensure that American Documentary fulfills its mission to make catalyzing films fully accessible, and give communities the tools they need to mobilize around them.