Thriving Cities, an initiative that began at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, aims to increase the civic capacity of all members of the communities it serves, equipping them to work for the thriving of their place.

Journey Group’s digital studio was invited into the project to determine how to amplify the work of Thriving Cities online and communicate its findings on human thriving to a broader audience.

The challenge

As Thriving Cities tracked how cities were growing, their team developed a framework of “leading indicators” — factors that were backed by the strongest academic research and most often cited in conversations about urbanism. Indicators could include such wide-ranging factors as high school graduation rate, voter turnout, adult obesity and drinking water quality.

The team was rapidly compiling data on more than 3,000 indicators from more than 100 community indicator projects around the United States.

Data analyst Dr. Megan Juelfs-Swanson led the effort to corral this data and created many internally linked spreadsheets for her researchers’ use. But, she says, “the goal was always to make this data accessible and public.”

Journey Group was eager to tackle this considerable challenge.

Delivering clarity and canonizing language

Before the process of visual design begins, Journey Group’s team of site architects, content strategists, designers and developers steps in to help clients make sense of their work and convey meaning to the wider world.

With Indicator Explorer, before sketching a single icon or writing a line of code, the digital studio’s work focused on delivering clarity and canonizing language.

Journey Group’s digital team spent hours wrestling over research and theory and their implications for design. A central question was: How do we help make academic research accessible to a diverse group of people, and how do we help a diverse group of people apply academic research to their work?

“Journey Group was almost like an informal consultant for how to think about audiences and customers and clients. We were moving from a bunch of academics to being an organization that was trying to provide helpful tools to other people. Journey was well-versed in that. Their team walked alongside our team.”

Nicole Fleming, Thriving Cities

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Behind the scenes

A large part of the work with the Thriving Cities project was translation: Translating the power of vast amounts of data into a practical and usable tool for communities. Journey Group’s digital team delights in exactly that kind of challenge.

The digital studio first had to figure out how to house the data and then how to normalize the relationships between the data points and allow researchers to add data. Journey Group built an extremely detailed hierarchy to organize the research, nesting indicators and then mapping them within his newly created system, so that the strength of relationships between indicators could be measured.

Bringing data to life

Journey Group conducted research to determine how to best represent the circles of separate indicators in a systematic and understandable way, and our senior digital designer refined many of the design elements on the site, including the menu and connections between indicators.

Throughout the development and design phases, preserving the integrity of the underlying data was paramount to the Journey Group team.