Aerospace America

Award-winning print redesign, ongoing print design, and print to digital publication transition and support.
Case Study
Aerospace America

THOR works with AIAA to create the leading resource for astronautic and aeronautic industry coverage in both print and digital formats.

Aerospace America is an award winning print and digital publication serving the fast-paced global aerospace industry. THOR redesigned the print edition of the publication in 2015 and in tandem created a digital edition using a highly customized WordPress instance. The digital edition was designed using the principles established by benchmark high-volume, long-form journalism sites. THOR is responsible for the ongoing design and production of the print edition and in particular, the development of high concept technical illustrations that depict current aerospace technology and phenomenon. Our work with Aerospace America brings out the best of our creative problem-solving team.  

In the association world, editorial teams are often compact and the resources are limited. Our years of experience working in this space have helped us to identify methods for creating efficiencies, helping teams access easy wins, and for giving small groups a big voice. The Aerospace project is a case study showcasing these techniques.

Technical Illustrations

The aerospace industry is a constantly evolving environment filled with inventions and advancements. In order to keep up with the latest developments, illustrations of complex concepts are a high priority for Aerospace America. Visualizations that enable ediors to show rather than tell are worth their weight in gold. With each print production cycle unfolding over the course of just two weeks, it’s critical that we have a method for rapidly executing on our ideas.

The process begins with the editors who identify subjects too complex for coverage in the printed word alone. Once an illustration project is identified, an impromptu meeting is conducted in order to read everyone in on the concept, to provide additional resources for researching the concept, and to agree upon the general direction. This is where THOR really stands out from the crowd. Our designers have the ability to dig in on complex subjects and rapidly gain enough understanding to develop intuitive illustrations with high levels of accuracy.

Following this initial meeting, any existing artwork that is available and in the public domain is obtained to provide a starting point. Using a standardized intake system, designers are provided raw content from the editors to determine the basic building blocks of the illustration. With these parameters set, our designers turn to our established style to create the initial iteration of the design. Thie intake system, paired with our established styles, scales to virtually any concept that is thrown our way. 

Over the years we have developed dozens of technical illustrations for a wide range of fascinating subjects including hypersonic engines, 3D printing, satellite re-entry, airline design efficiency, x-ray technology, and trajectories of high-profile space missions.

Cover Design

THOR has designed hundreds of magazine covers over the years for its clients. The Aerospace project in particular has given us amazing subject matter to work with. While we would love to suggest that there is a method for developing these designs, it truly comes down to creativity. Our monthly design meetings always touch on the cover concept and these discussions immediately spur a creative vision for the cover design.  

Web Development Starting with a Workflow

Many of the case studies featured on the THOR site outline the technical aspects of the project and on this note, the Aerospace site was a triumph. Our original build required the melding of a modern development platform with an antiquated CRM system. Our efforts to bridge the gaps between the systems, particularly the authentication process, were successful and the site has worked flawlessly for over 7 years.

But beyond the technical hurdles, the biggest win of this project was the creation of a rock solid workflow that set the foundation for the print/digital approach. By starting with this functional aspect of the project we were able to make decisions along the way that resulted in an efficient method for publishing to both endpoints. 

The workflow hinges on a central hub for content development, in this case Adobe InCopy. We use InCopy as the document of record for the entire process. Content is deployed from InCopy to InDesign for print, and from InCopy to WordPress for digital. At all times during the process, the editors have the most up-to-date version of the content at their disposal. This allows for the print portion of the project to develop over the course of weeks, while the digital side can be published at a moment's notice. 

Coupled with this we use an intuitive project management system based in Trello and Box. The two systems allow us to track individual stories as they progress through the stages of development, and to share critical files among team members including editors, authors, proofreaders, and designers. The system manages file usage amongst the various players and provides a consistent and predictable pathway for each piece of the content puzzle to travel from raw text to publication-ready article. 

Mobile views of the online publication.

A landing page for a year long campaign celebrating the Apollo 11 anniversary.

WordPress, Built for Publications

THOR specializes in customizing WordPress sites for the world of publications. We choose this platform largely because editors enjoy the familiar administrative UI of the CMS. For the Aerospace America project, we created features with complex functionality using targeted plugins and layered a custom theme on top of the foundation to enhance the brand.

To build the data models for the magazine, we utilized Advanced Custom Fields, a best-in-class method of modeling unique fields for each type of content. Aerospace America generates content around a number of complex aeronautic themes that we used as tags to tie the site together. We also built monthly issue taxonomies and paywall customizations into each type of content, giving administrators granular control over each piece of content.

Constructing a custom UI with WordPress can be challenging so we utilized the most advanced theming system in the WordPress ecosystem, Roots. Their class leading Sage base theme leverages a modern architecture that allowed THOR's development team to build user interface elements that can be maintained over time.

To finish the project, we aligned our client with our favorite WordPress managed hosting partner, WPEngine. Their advanced network hosting option is a combination of excellent Cloudflare network management tools like fast CDNs and reliable 24/7 support. 

Ongoing Support

The Aerospace America site was a significant workflow departure for the editorial team. Change management is part of what THOR helps to navigate. For the team in charge of Aerospace America, that meant training in the WordPress dashboard and ongoing support to answer questions and make minor adjustments as cases arose that didn’t fit within the established templates. 

As an example, we updated the homepage design to match an accelerated publication schedule that included semi-weekly news posts. Our approach surfaced more content to users on the homepage, incorporated advertising, and created rotating content themes that were built on top of aeronautic taxonomy. This gave users new ways to access industry-leading content without the introduction of additional administrative burden.

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