Rule29 Repositions Neenah Paper’s Against the Grain for Success

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Justin Ahrens is the founder and principal of Rule29 Creative. You’re already familiar with his work; Rule29 did the identity redesign of this very blog, from the wood-grain visual accents to the refreshed functionality and navigation. We emailed Justin this week to ask his blessing on Against the Grain redux. He reflected on the thinking that went into the project.


It began as a case of mutual admiration. “We are huge Neenah fans,” he said. “Not only do we believe in the product, but the way—and extent—they support our community with great work and sponsorship is fantastic.” Ahrens and the Rule29 team followed Neenah on Twitter. When the tweet trail led them to the old-look version of Against the Grain, they were—we’re sorry to say—nonplussed. “I immediately called Tom [Wright],” Ahrens said, “and told him the truth.”

In fairness, the original site had come out in a rush, to meet Neenah’s first blogging opportunity at AIGA’s National Design Conference this past fall. But let’s be honest: in the transition from the page to the computer screen, something of Neenah’s vitality was getting lost. “When we checked it out, we thought we had landed on the wrong URL,” Ahrens recalled. “It didn’t look like Neenah, yet it read like Neenah. We saw Tom a few days later at the AIGA conference and just said, ‘You really need to do something about the blog.’ He gave us the job!”

Making a visual motif of wood was an easy call, given the blog’s name and the connection between wood and paper. The bigger creative and technical question was how to improve Against the Grain’s functionality and feel. The right design, Ahrens believed, would do more than transmit information; it would promote fellowship between writer and reader, customer and company.

“We wanted the blog to be friendly, approachable and easy to navigate, considering that it is focused around building (and fostering) community,” Ahrens told us. “It’s also a destination that brings all of the various sites and social networks Neenah is a part of together in one location.” The rest, as Ahrens was happy to point out, is up to us. “No matter what, content is still king,” Ahrens said. (Justin, you’re a prince.)

We’re looking forward to Ahrens’ upcoming talk at the 2010 HOW Design Conference, this June 6-9 in Denver. His presentation, “Life Kerning: where life and creativity meet,” will offer some “advice, perspectives and processes” to help you strike that elusive balance between “a rewarding creative career and a joyful personal existence.” Ahrens says “it’s more easily achieved than you might think.” Why not? He’s made believers out of us before.

The Nitty-Gritty

The look and feel of the revamped Against the Grain, as told by the revamper: Justin Ahrens of Rule29 Creative.

Down the left side of the blog, readers will first encounter the  @NeenahPaper Twitter feed. There is always great stuff  happening there, so we wanted it to be prominent – with links to  follow. Continuing down the left side, readers can subscribe to  email updates when there is a new post, read a couple of the most recent comments, and see which articles are creating the most buzz.

Structuring the site like many editorial sites, the main article is king. Readers can quickly get a glimpse of the article, read the  full text, ‘tweet’ the article through their own Twitter account, share the article on Facebook, and check out the comments. Below that, there is a visual, chronological account of the past posts. Readers can cycle through past posts without ever having to leave the homepage.

Below that, there are two ‘Must-Read’ articles. These can be a wide variety of articles that the editors may want to bring back up to the homepage, possibly revisit, or even encourage readers to check out.

The footer of the site is meant to operate as a kind of cheat-sheet for the Neenah sites, pages, and apps – with everything linked in one place.

  1. 01
    Stu Gonsuron said:

    Wow! I’m not sure how the blog appeared before it’s reno, but the mellow colors, unfussed fonts, and overall layout seem pleasurably minimalistic to me. There’s a lot of information on the blog, but I don’t feel inundated by it. Very nice work indeed!

  2. 01

    Thanks Stu, we had fun and I hope you continue to enjoy!