The online home of Washington D.C.’s most respected policy journal.

National Affairs

National Affairs faced a common challenge all periodicals must reckon with: what do we do about the website? National Affairs focuses on producing lengthy academic essays by respected public policy researchers aimed specifically at informing decision makers in government.

How does one design for such a small—yet immensely important niche audience? As a quarterly journal with only four issues published a year and a single online columnist, the common publishing website that is centered around a constant stream of new content would not suffice.

The editors of National Affairs selected Beck & Stone to lead the website redesign based on our team’s proven history designing platforms for niche publications and mission-driven organizations.

The team at Beck & Stone made sure they grasped the spirit of National Affairs before they even started on design work. By their attentiveness to our requirements and communication with our staff, they demonstrated genuine care for our reputation and the integrity of our work. Through a tightly-managed collaborative process, they captured the feel of the magazine and gave us a website that is free of distractions for our readers.

Yuval Levin Yuval Levin, Editor-in-Chief National Affairs

The website as a journal—and an archive.

Beyond the practical advantages of using a development team with the relevant technical expertise, it was our design approach that ultimately convinced National Affairs we were the right choice for their website’s redesign.

Our philosophy of designing for outcomes informed the important question of “what were we building?” A website to beautifully present current writing, yes, but moreover, a tool for managing and curating content from the past. Talking to the editors at length about their editorial and production processes helped us contextualize their pain points with the existing software and design around preventing them from arising again in the new.

Archive Curation on the Homepage

This added some specific requirements not uncommon to enterprise-level publication software:

  1. A CMS that would allow easy access to and formatting of articles in a single set of styles, showing to the editor on the backend exactly as it would be presented to a reader on the live site.

  2. A carefully planned database design and migration exercise to populate the new CMS with the tens of thousands of lengthy records.

  3. A reader-facing interface for the archive that would account for the large archive of both National Affairs and The Public Interest. (National Affairs is the caretaker of the complete decades-old archive of the now out-of-print The Public Interest.) 1

Article Design

Designing a digital experience for the reader, not the advertiser.

Cultivating niche communities is a baseline strategy across our services at Beck & Stone. For a magazine with such a narrow target audience, the priorities are much different. There are few if any advertisements, only ones carefully selected by the editors. The initial design and ongoing optimization of a website that caters to paying readers—not advertisers—is critical to seeing success overall.

The primary trait of such a website is a premium reading experience, one that impresses new readers and retains current subscribers.

For National Affairs, readable type in a clean layout was a given intense scrutiny, considering their print edition is purely text-based.

We want readers to pick-up a magazine, open a webpage, email a PDF, or a print an article, and know they are reading National Affairs. A logo at the top of a page is not enough. The spacing of columns and the hues of the website were tested rigorously across devices and mediums to remind readers of the look-and-feel of the printed magazine. Consideration for the subtleties of impeccable typography like drop caps, block quotes, kerning, leading—intricacies that are typically afterthoughts for others, are an obsession in our work.

To have found an appreciator of those details in National Affairs, both in the performance of their software and the design of their reade’s experience, set a standard for policy journals that is still referred to by many in the Washington circles today. &


1The Public Interest was a public policy journal that National Affairs sees as a predecessor and is the caretaker of their archive.