Innovation and excellence in publication design

Chatham House
Digital, Events and exhibitions, Infographics, Publication design

Our relationship with Chatham House began before we even had a name. Since 2009, we have worked hand in glove with their communications team to help ensure they remain at the peak of think tank influence.

A collage of Chatham House publication covers.

Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is regularly ranked as one of the world’s top think tanks. It was the first potential client John Schwartz contacted after he decided to set up a dedicated communications agency for policy organisations, and so he was delighted when his introductory email received a positive response.

A collage of inside pages from a Chatham House publication.

Chatham House owes much of its success to the consistent excellence of its communications activities, whether these are traditional long-form reports or more innovative digital outputs.

Our most long-standing relationship is with its publications team, whose in-house editors set the standard for others in the sector to follow. We first worked with them to redesign their templates (we were using Quark in those days) and instate a highly joined-up and flexible production process, where we can plan together for what we know is coming down the research pipeline, but also adapt to new needs that may suddenly arise.

A snippet from a Chatham House publication's table of contents.
A collage of inside pages from a Chatham House publication.

Over the years, the software has changed (to Adobe) and the templates have been updated a few times (currently on their third iteration). But our relationship – founded on a shared dedication to quality, professionalism and customer service –  has endured, allowing us to produce hundreds of policy and research publications, in Chinese, Arabic, Russian, and Burmese as well as English.

In addition to the organisation’s regular reports, papers and briefings, the Soapbox studio has worked on one-off and periodic publications for Chatham House, including essay collections and its annual review. While these outputs allow for a more creative and bespoke approach, we are always careful to ensure that their design harmonises with that of the templated publications.

A snippet from the front cover of the 2018/19 Annual Review.

The Soapbox team is highly experienced with the ins and outs of typesetting long-form research reports. It is also adept at interpreting and creating visuals from the data we supply for graphics, maps and so on. And it’s very good at handling printing, anticipating potential production problems in advance, and fast-tracking projects when deadlines are tight.

Jake Statham, Publications Editor, Chatham House

Chatham House has also entrusted us to work on a variety of other key communications activity. Not all of the organisation’s meetings take place under its famous behind-closed-doors rule, and we have designed backdrops and collateral for high-profile public events and conferences.

A photo of a speaker from the 2018 Chatham House London conference.

We have also created sophisticated infographics and data visualisations for the institute, including some interactives, as well as films and animations. And we have designed and developed microsites for major Chatham House initiatives on topics as diverse as the energy needs of refugees, and the relationship between democracy and technology.

Chatham House is also one of the clients for whom we implemented our online Reader product and workflow. This allows organisations to convert long-form reports, typeset in the normal way but using a special InDesign template, into highly searchable, shareable and discoverable web pages, outputted at the touch of a button.

The opening page of a publication as seen in Chatham House's online Reader.

As well as uploading all the text, our automated system converts the publication’s chapter, section and sub-section headings into an interactive table of contents. Footnotes are also made to pop up from the bottom of the screen, so users can check references without losing their place, while graphic elements are expandable, so they can be studied in greater detail.

Two mock-ups of Chatham House's online Reader as viewed on tablets and mobile devices.

Chatham House continues to offer all of these publications as PDFs, but the Reader has not had any negative effect on the number of downloads. Instead, the new format has helped to drive up engagement with the content, leading visitors to spend much more time on site.

We have recently upgraded the Reader and converted it into a Drupal 8 module, which can be integrated directly into a suitable website. In keeping with our close relationship, Chatham House has become the first client to receive this upgrade.

A radial inforgraphic on a grey background.

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