I want every student 
to know the power of their voice.

826 National

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    We began research by embedding ourselves within the organization. We visited writing centers, interviewed stakeholders, tutored students, volunteered in classrooms, went on field trips and attended staff meetings in order to identify the “must-haves”—the unique principles that any 826 experience should embody. These include inspiring curiosity, elevating student voice, and being exciting to adults.

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    Of all the potential end users, our team identified educators as the most strategic gateway to students. In order to best match 826 assets with teacher needs, we studied what writing education looks like today in classrooms around the country. Our team specifically chose to visit smaller cities and rural areas—places where an 826 writing center will likely never be. We observed writing instruction and talked with teachers about what gets their kids excited to put pencil to paper.

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    We also shared “sacrificial concepts,” rough sketches and prototypes of a wide variety of ideas, in order to gauge teachers’ responses. This enabled us to dive more deeply into concepts that showed promise, while letting go of the ideas that just didn’t resonate.

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    One early concept was to provide teachers with writing resources, such as lesson plans, but we soon realized that while lesson plans would be helpful, teachers really needed high-quality examples of student writing. Books and writing samples by adult professionals just weren’t good enough. Students couldn’t "see" themselves on the page, and they couldn't relate to most authors.

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    Based on our field research, we returned to 826 with this revelation. For a student, reading something written by another student—someone their own age, who looked more like them—could be world-changing. The 826 team saw a perfect connection between this need and their current programming. In fact, 826 writing centers had been publishing student work for the past ten years.

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    We envisioned a website where teachers could access linked resources. Teachers can find a lesson and see the final student writing it yielded; at the same time, they can find a writing sample and see the lesson that produced it. It's a giant library of ideas and resources, all geared toward educators who want help teaching writing.

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    Over the next few months, we brought teachers into our office for rounds of feedback. Asking questions like: Was it intuitive? Compelling? Easy to use? Did it offer the right resources?

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    Once the wireframes were set, we brought the website all the way to life, providing content strategy, copywriting, UX design, a logo and set of brand standards. These were applied across each type of content, including Sparks, Lessons, Projects and Student Writing.

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    The final site reflects the overarching principles of 826, while giving a distinct identity to the newest member of the 826 family—826digital.

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This process was one of the best professional experiences I have had in my career. In essence, GGS became embedded in our organization to learn about us, our culture and our pedagogy… Their work was at a depth I have received from very few consultants. It will be a game-changer for us.”

Gerald Richards, 826 National

Outcomes

A critical success factor in this project was how closely we worked with our client team at 826 National. Actively engaging them in the teacher feedback sessions was an excellent way to align our visions, and designing visual components in real time allowed them to be co-creators who could easily assume ownership once the project shifted into implementation.

Based on our initial research, the organization committed to building 826digital, a web platform for educators that will accomplish the goals identified throughout our process. We created an interactive proposal that 826 National could share with funders and stakeholders, in order to build momentum for this new initiative. The pitch was successful—web development is now underway.

And hey, Dave Eggers gave us a big thumbs-up!

The new 826digital website will share student writing and connect teachers to 826 National no matter where they are. Ultimately, the goal is that more students across the country will get excited about writing, will understand the writing process, and will feel engaged in writing during parts of their school day. And maybe some of them will even go a step further—to amplify their voices and become writers, adding their own stories to the world.