Creating a new digital experience, Penguin Random House

Role and Responsibilities: Senior UX Designer

Creating the primary destination for the newly formed Penguin Random House UK operations.

As project Lead, I was sole point person between the head of communication, the design agency and development partners. I also undertook full training for Adobe Certification in Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) for publishers and developers.

The Brief

When two of the worlds largest publishing houses merged, it was crucial to both the industry partners and clients and the book reading public that what this meant was communicated effectively.

Clearleft were hired to develop a UK home for corporate comms, a first for both organisations. This site would be the debut UK launch for the new face of Penguin Random House.

As part of the new communication strategy, the site would be responsible for all corporate communications, and provide Random House with an opportunity to make savings by shutting down over 50 micro-sites developed for its various publishers and business functions.

Please note that there are no visual assets, or references in this case study. Please see links at the end for where to find them.

The Process

1-2-1 interviews were conducted with key representatives across departments and business functions. These were to understand how the various areas of the business used their web presence, and who they were targeting with digital services. These interviews included meetings with the UK CEO, Vice President and Head of Communications to define the UK & European strategy and the vision for this site.

This process highlighted a number of key themes that would help us define the purpose and function of the site outside of a generic news feed.

Content strategy

Being a new concept, no content existed for this type of service. Whilst the USA had launched in the previous year, it’s focus was on e-commerce and not business functions leaving us with little to go by.

Working with the Head of Communications to firstly define governance, we established responsibilities for site content, distributing ownership to the authority within that area. This meant that content changes would not need to go through a centralised workflow where the comms team could cause a bottleneck. It would also prove an added bonus of allowing departments and teams to have the freedom to present their business how they felt best.

With Content Strategist Ellen De Vries, we ran a series of workshops with each department developing content ideas, priorities and an overarching message. We logged these into a simple spreadsheet which was later used with Gather Content to define page templates that allowed us to set content rules and guidance on how the pages should be written.

A content planner that provided data on ownership of the pages, where the content could be located and when it was last reviewed was created to support the temporary data entry team populating the CMS prior to launch.

Later in the project when we had defined the design system for the site, a list of the modules in use to create the page were also added to this planner.

The emphasis was on reduction. We wanted to steer towards a deep series of top level items instead of having a massive sprawl of primary navigation. In order to do this our challenge was going to be around how to communication the child, parent relationships between the publishing houses so that the merger was clearly communicated.

A business objective was to shut down as many sites as possible most of which were for the many publishers under the Random House umbrella and the fact that for each of these are other sub-brands each with their own sites. However, traffic to these sites & the revenue they generated didn’t warrant their existence. With being developed in tandem; also by Clearleft as the primary e-commerce platform for the entire group.

Along with visual designer Jon Aizlewood we developed a modular design system for pages that would mean we could retain a repeatable structure for pages that allowed each brand to choose how it wanted to communicate with the business world. Journeys for audience types, taking slices through the system with each sprint and slowly building up a collection of components that could be combined to create any page.

This was critical for us because without any content to guide visual design we essentially needed to create a theme, some buckets to drop content into and dictate how the site would operate from that. We chose to develop a system based on card formats, with each new pattern being an extension of a base card. Looking at the site today you’ll see this clearly from how people, releases and buildings are displayed throughout the site.

Design principles and documentation

There were over 30 stakeholders for this project, with more individuals who would potentially be responsible for creating, editing or managing content on the site. With the nature of large organisations we wanted to ensure there was a way to onboard new staff to how the site works and help them in becoming familiar with its functions in order to create or maintain content.

I created a design manual, that explained how the site was structured, what the modules and components were and how to use them. This was worked into private pages through Adobe Experience Manager, which could be accessed by anyone who worked on the site.

See how the visual language was developed

Jon Aizlewood has written in detail about the work relating to visual language and design relating to this project and our work together on his own site: (…)[]


I worked with a temporary content team, brought in by Penguin Random House to populate the content management system that had been developed on Adobe Experience Manager by Mag-labs.

Due to the limitations of pre-configured components provided by the development partner I worked with the content creators to create best-match components out of various cms parts in order to get as close to the intended design system we had envisaged. This process lasted 3 months, with my need to be embedded in the team reducing throughout to a reference point only.

The site launched at the start of 2016, 9 months off schedule due to significant management changes and delays with the development partner. Shortly after the core team that had sponsored the project left Penguin Random House, the site has now been maintained by the new comms team and remains unchanged in terms of its structure and design.