The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton


– August 2nd, 2011 –

As of a couple of weeks ago, Mark Boulton Design — together with Content Strategist, Relly Annett-Baker of Supernice Studios — have been tasked with redesigning CERN’s public-facing website, and the organisation’s intranet. Most importantly, we’re helping CERN tell the right story. We’re helping the scientists and researchers at CERN (all thirty thousand of them) do their job better by providing better organisation of their internal online tools. We’re also helping with a branding project to make sure the brand is represented cohesively across the many thousands of user websites.

It’s a dream project. Seriously.

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research is based in a hap-hazard collection of buildings just outside of Geneva, Switzerland. In French, The European Organisation for Nuclear Research is known as Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or just simply CERN. Yes. That CERN.

Just after the second world war, several scientists from a bunch of countries (the so-called Founding Member States) got together to form an organisation to progress nuclear research. Over the years, many other countries joined the founding member states with a view to moving beyond study of the nucleus of an atom to that of high-energy particle physics.

The birth of the web

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN and needed a simple way for sharing information between researchers. The very first website created using this system is still online. Incidently, have a look at the markup (semantically, it’s as clean as a whistle). CERN is where the web was born. And I’m a web designer. And CERN is where it was born. Talk about geek-dream come true.

CERN’s culture

CERN is a collaboration. A culture of sharing, debate, discussion. We need to work in and amongst that community. We need to get to know them, how they work, how they think, who has a loud voice, who is influential, who are the key drivers of change. And so the list goes on. As such, we’ll be approaching this project openly. We’ll be working with the community in CERN rather than providing them with something.

I’ll be speaking at CERN in September about Designing for Community, and sharing some of my thoughts about designing for two very different open source communities. There will be tales of woe, intrigue, victory – but above all – a story of how, together, people make amazing things.

Our Job

It may just be likely that in the near future an announcement will come out of CERN that will fundamentally change our understanding of the universe. That’s an important story to tell. Not only that, but it’s an important story for CERN to tell to the right people, in the right way.

We’re so excited to have the opportunity to work with some of the smartest people on the planet. To be working on a website that will communicate such rich and valuable stories from recent human scientific endeavours is both exhilarating and terrifying. And, to boot, we’ll be working on the project openly within the CERN community of scientists and staff. As I mentioned, the culture of CERN is one that we simply couldn’t do the ‘designer locks themselves in a room for three months’ type of project. We need their help every step of the way, and we’ll be sharing our work as we go.

Like I said; terrifying. But, I keep telling myself, if you don’t wake up and feel slightly scared about your life, it means you’re in a rut. Feeling scared is about risk. And risk is what keeps us moving forward.

Out of the comfort-zone and around a 17 mile collider at nearly the speed of light.

Filed in: design, markboulton-co-uk.

Further reading