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Leveraging Data to Overhaul a Database

2022 Freedom of the Press Foundation | Non–profit Media

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker (PFT) is the only website of its kind: a news source that systematically documents press freedom violations. In 2021, the swelling number of entries in the database necessitated a rebuild. When the organization contacted Accurat to reconstruct the website from the ground–up, we resolved to manage the complex, large–scale project with a methodology anchored by qualitative and quantitative research.


Overhaul a heavy, complex database and editorial platform; create a new brand identity in the process.


A gut–renovated web experience and brand identity, with functionality backed by data.


Product/service strategy; User research; UX, UI, and brand design; Impact monitoring.


Website Design; Brand Identity; Design System and Guidelines.


From the outset, our collaborators at PFT provided clear goals for the redesign:

  • Create a user-friendly interface for journalists and researchers who want to search incidents, perform data analysis, or explore visualizations.

  • Improve reading experience, accessibility, and information architecture across the site.

  • Put incidents into context and tell stories that span multiple incidents along key narrative themes (e.g., racial justice protests).

  • Create a recognizable brand for the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, with multiple brand elements that can be used for promotional purposes, including on social media.

To map out a project plan and assign roles and responsibilities, team leaders considered how these goals squared with Accurat's core services. This way of thinking allowed us to break the project down into manageable activities. For example: to "create a user–friendly interface," we considered how we, as data designers, could establish an evidenced–backed process. We added specialists in data science and UX to our team, who were tasked with determining what a "user friendly interface" meant for PFT.


Research activities in the begnning phases of the partnership included comprehensive site mapping/auditing, interviews with "super"–users (e.g. journalists and attorneys), and web analytics. These steps ensured that every decision made henceforth could be backed by qualitative or quantitative data (or both), and set a firm foundation for subsequent phases of development—not to mention the future website.

Because PFT would handle the majority of development in–house, it was critical that handoff be smooth. We included in our final deliverables comprehensives guidelines for site logic, design, and data visualizations, and pre–made page templates. Additionally, we provided our collaborators with a set of KPIs to measure success at regular intervals in the future, and even a custom "mood logger" for developers to record the ease—or difficulty—of production, post–handoff.


Press Freedom Tracker's new website looks dramatically different from its predecessor, but the scope of the project amounts to much more than a facelift.

The first thing visitors encounter on the relaunched site is a dashboard for searching incidents (previously, database searches were accessible via a drop–down menu). The component's design was based on information gleaned from interviews and traffic data. Noting feedback that search could be improved with fewer parameters—plus hard, supporting evidence data that showed the usage of each field—we came up with a simplified design, tailored to user needs. The dashboard's clear visuals and plain language are the direct result of feedback provided by PFT's most dedicated proponents.

As someone who was involved with our site redesign from RFP to the day of our final group meeting, I can wholeheartedly confirm that the Accurat team was a joy to work with and never wavered in its enthusiasm for our project. Strong communicators and genuine listeners. A real pleasure. 

Kirsten McCudden, VP Editorial Freedom of the Press Foundation

Improvements to advanced search functionality also owe to early data collection. Designers analyzed usage patterns to observe how users drilled down to details. They evaluated data to establish the relative importance of both categories and filters, to determine which could be combined, consolidated, and/or retired.

This process' effects are far–reaching—more than an improvement to database search functionality, the determination of intuitive categories allowed us to move forward with page layout designs and a brand new taxonomy for visualizing important information.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is the only site documenting aggressions against the press and First Amendment rights in the U.S. across time. It’s a tool for the public and relied upon for its accuracy and depth of documentation. Accurat’s redesign brought forward — from the home page throughout the site — the ability for users to not only find the information they need but also be quickly immersed in a visual contextualization. 

Kirsten McCudden, VP Editorial, Freedom of the Press Foundation

Team leaders forecasted from the beginning of the partnership that the goal of "creating a recognizable brand for the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker" could be achieved organically, by tackling all other tasks first and letting data guide decisions. PFT's refreshed brand identity makes copious use of data visualizations and visual signifiers—components that were chosen for their potential to enrich PFT's reporting.

The partnership showcases how we can apply a data–driven methodology to any type of project—even one that's based in content. The success of our collaboration further evinces how this approach streamlines workflows and communication, mitigates risk, and sets clients up for measurable success.