Building a better site builder: 
Phase 1

A beautiful website
is a commodity.

In 2015 the Visura team went to work building a large, net-new product offering to augment our current networking platform for Visual Storytellers. At this time, I lead a small team to build what is now the Visura Site Builder.

To start, we focused on two converging truths: 1) a beautiful website had become a commodity; 2) a website was only as good as its ability to reach the right audience.

The Challenge

Create a significant net-new product offering with a small team on a tight schedule that created something truly impactful for our users. 

Visura's high level goals:
  1. 1) Do right by our users at every turn
  2. 2) Identify our "big idea”
  3. 3) Keep it simple, fast, and beautiful
  4. 4) Feature set: 
    1. • Have a clear feature set for MVP
    2. • Have clear northstar goals to build towards

My role

I led product design and research. As co-founder, I was also responsible for the delivery and success of the product at large.

My responsibilities included:
  •   • Deliver a product which aligned with business goals
  •   • Deliver an experience which aligned with our users’ needs
  • Create a roadmap for growth

Problems to 

You are a Visual Storyteller, we are a platform. 
How might we... 

  • Enable you to manage your online portfolio easier or faster? 
  • Enable you to make more money? 
  • Enable you to fulfill your dream career?

We started by 
asking our users

We held 6 high-level focus groups over 10 weeks to kickoff research. 

Each group had: 
  • 1 Photo editor from a major publication 
  • 4-6 photographers 

We collected broad feedback and distilled it into common threads. 
We focused on problems to solve.

Using personas

We then summarized our findings we created 3 personas.

While we don't lean on these too heavily — as they are significantly oversimplified — we did use personas to communicate to our findings to stakeholders.

Finding our 
Big Idea

We knew there was a crowded landscape of website builders for photographers — how was Visura going to stand out? In a word: connectivity. 

Build a portfolio website 
interconnected to a global network
and newsfeed.

We're going north.

How did we conclude this was the right idea? We asked, we listened, and most importantly we understood our abilities and shortcomings. 

How might we empower Visual Storytellers with a simple tool to create beautiful websites which are interconnected to our networking platform? 
  • Stories & blog posts created on a Visura Site can be broadcast to and searchable from the community at large.
  • Let’s make simplicity, speed, and ease of use paramount.

We circled back 
to our users.

How might we find the right level of customization? 

With ease-of-use a paramount consideration for us, we sought to minimize decision overhead. 

And, frankly, we could not compete head-to-head with many of the super-developed site-builders. Nor did we aim to. 

We needed to use simplicity to our advantage.

Kick off.

We held an open call. 

We selected 50 photojournalists. 

Each would work with our team individually to build a custom website. 

We distilled their requests into our basic page layouts and site templates.

We built. We tested. 
We rebuilt.

Using their ideas, we distilled core pages features —

• 8 distinct themes. A theme would encompass a menu style and presets from the Design Editor which include spacing, fonts, and colors. All presets are starting points which can be edited in the Design Editors.

Story pages
• 8 easy to use layouts
• Each layout was available on each Theme

Listing pages
• 6 easy to use layouts for grids and large slideshows that would serve as an introduction to a group of Story pages.

Customizable landing pages
• A modular page with sortable sections of pre-defined text and image modules.
• The page you are reading was build using this feature.

File Drop pages
• Easily share files 
• Other Visura members can upload into a file drop

Product pages
• Sell products via PayPal by adding your PayPal email, uploading images and setting prices. 

Instagram feed 
• Stream your IG feed directly on your personal site   

Clone pages      
• Duplicate any page (style and contents) with the click of a button.            

We learned how
to say no.

“Your website is a tool to communicate your work. Don’t let the tool get in the way of the work itself. 

“Overboard UI requests. Complex menus. Odd asymmetrical designs. All of these become friction, distracting the user from your work. 

"Keep it simple. Keep it focused on your content.

Keep it super

Modular and

The outcome

First and foremost, we strengthened our mission of empowering visual storytellers and cause-organizations. We built a new tool to empower these users to manage their online presence without compromising the value of their work, and enabled them to share their stories with media professionals and the public at large from one central place.

Below are a few additional highlights.
We've built over 1,000 websites and signed-up nearly 800 individual subscriptions in the first 24 months. We also created tools for collectives and groups to use Visura, such as Diversify Photo and the School of Visual Arts.

Visura supplies access to institutions such as National Geographic Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and others — who are actively discovering work via our networked websites.
Read the news! Here and here.
We worked with Harvard's Planetary Health Alliance to build a 100+ page enterprise grade website and connected their teams with our Visual Storytellers.

Check out:

Julia Pontes wins PHA award via Visura

Graham Letorney

Designer and tech leader, working to build tech for the creative class.
Website via Visura

Graham Letorney is integrated to:
Visura site builder, a tool to grow your photography business
Visura's network for visual storytellers and journalists
A photography & film archive by Visura
Photography grants, open calls, and contests
A newsfeed for visual storytellers