Civic Online Reasoning

Improving Digital Literacy 


The Challenge

The Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) came back to us for help in launching a new major initiative with a mission to help students evaluate online information more skillfully. After our initial research, we recommended a new program brand and digital experience to help create awareness and engagement with a focus on empowering teachers through a modern, frictionless user experience.

The Outcome

From naming and visual branding, to planning and building a modern digital curriculum experience with over 60 custom illustrations and 6 live action and animated videos, we helped guide and produce the launch of a comprehensive brand and campaign for Civic Online Reasoning (COR). The initial launch led to thousands of downloads, and engagement continues to grow as our campaign strategies and initiatives roll out.

  • Strategy
  • Branding
  • Messaging
  • Digital
  • Content
  • Campaigns
  • Education & Research
4 min

“We got everything done on time. We have a beautiful, user-friendly website and a series of engaging, professional videos. Moreover, everything is aligned with a brand identity that is distinct from the history-centric focus of our organization.”


— Joel Breakstone

Director, Stanford History Education Group

Analysis of the Digital Literacy Space

To differentiate COR from other digital literacy brands, we evaluated eight different sites in the space in terms of color, branding, brand extension, and messaging.

COR is a research-based curriculum created by the Stanford History Education Group—a research and development group based in Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. This positioning provided a unique basis for the visual brand and messaging.

Taking a look at the digital literacy space aided us in thinking about to help COR stand out with its practical, research-backed, and classroom-ready materials.

Understanding User Needs

We conducted a series of interviews with teachers, administrators, and curriculum developers and found that they faced similar challenges, including finding high-quality digital literacy curriculum and the availability of free curriculum.

Curriculum coming from an established university like Stanford is relatively rare.

Scholastic Yet Playful

We designed the brand as a callback to basic geometry and with a bright primary color palette that evokes a school vibe while being unique in the digital literacy space.

Focused on teachers, the brand still resonates with middle school and high school students.

Unifying Elements

The curriculum is organized on the site based on two factors:

  1. 1.
    The three questions at the heart of the curriculum
  2. 2.
    Curriculum collections

Lessons and assessments are colored coded to associate them with the question they address. Curriculum collections use the blue primary brand color. To deliver lessons and assessments to teachers around the world as easily as possible, the site provides multiple routes to the curriculum.

The circles, squares, and rectangles that make up the logo are used as details across the site and in print collateral.

A full-featured system for the curriculum that allows teachers to view the information in whatever way works best for them.

Designed With Ease in Mind

Knowing that visitors will land on the site in a variety of places, the simple navigation and content flow is designed to either lead visitors to the story behind the curriculum, or to deliver the curriculum to teachers with minimal friction.


Built for Speed

The site uses JAMstack development architecture to provide fast performance (a must for busy teachers), high security, lower costs, as well as scalability. It also requires minimal maintenance and updates, and accommodates the COR team’s need to easily add new pages as the curriculum evolves and grows—functionality critical to a small organization with limited resources.

The site authorization flow requires a custom integration with the existing Drupal backend that the SHEG site uses. We also created unique reports that allow the COR team to track curriculum material downloads.

The seamless site authorization flow allows COR to gain some insight into the type of information the user may wish to access

Consistent Yet Diverse

The icon and illustration styles reflect the geometric shapes in the COR logo. This allows us to achieve consistency across the 64 illustrations that represent the lessons, assessments, and curriculum collections.

Different hues of the four primary brand colors are used to create the illustrations, with attention paid to matching the variants in the hues across the different colors. In addition, the illustrations are intentionally varied to reflect the global diversity of the students the curriculum serves.

Illustrations were made for each lesson, assessment, and curriculum collection

Cross-Media Consistency

We wrote and produced four animated explainer videos that introduce the curriculum and are used in lessons.

The color palette and illustration style for the site and videos was developed collaboratively with The Foreign Correspondents' Club video production company, the COR team, and ourselves to maintain the brand experience.

The homepage features a unique animated illustration that acts as a CTA to watch the introductory video.
Civic Online Reasoning Explainer Video

“We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Cosmic team and were very pleased with the results. Not only were the materials they created top notch, they did a great job of sourcing and directing other firms to complete specialized portions of the project.”


— Joel Breakstone

Director, Stanford History Education Group

The Curriculum In Action

Working with LensFire Films, we wrote the treatments and produced two documentary style live action videos. Consisting of interviews of teachers, administrators, students, and the COR staff combined with live footage shot in working classrooms, the videos show one of the lessons being taught and demonstrate the need, support, and enthusiasm for the curriculum.

Civic Online Reasoning in the Classroom

Establishing A Messaging Hierarchy

One critical aspect of the messaging was differentiating COR from both SHEG's and Stanford University’s messaging without diverging too far. To accomplish this, we shifted the tone slightly away from academic and toward conversational.


A Collaborative Process

We took the lead on writing the copy for the 10-page site, collaborating with the COR team to hone, simplify, and clarify a complex and nuanced message.

One exception was the What’s at Stake? page, which was written by founder and faculty director of the Stanford History Education Group, Sam Wineburg. Our strategy was to have Sam speak directly to the audience. He wrote a statement which we formatted to look like a mini-article.


Brand Rollout

The most effective method for curriculum marketing varies throughout the year due to teacher capacity.

Our year-long marketing strategy includes an email drip campaign at site launch with links to videos, lessons, assessments, and curriculum collections throughout the site. A corresponding Twitter campaign accompanies the email marketing efforts. The campaign drives traffic to the site focused on desired actions, including:

  • Attracting journalists;
  • Encouraging teachers to download the curriculum;
  • Promoting social sharing;
  • And enticing curriculum developers.

Planning Ahead

The COR team is small and highly competent. With a site built to empower them to make their own changes, they are able to create their own pages and write and publish their own content. We provided them with a Brand Style Guide that promotes long-term brand cohesion.

The Guide includes details about both the print and digital elements of the site and curriculum, how to use the shapes derived from the logo to extend the brand immediately or in the future, and messaging parameters to guide content creators.


“Cosmic shepherded the project from start to finish. They articulated the priorities of each phase, which allowed everyone involved to maintain a high level of care and attention throughout the multi-month project. Their team was both disciplined and adaptable, always seeking to create the best product possible while still meeting our deadlines. The result was spot-on branding for our new curriculum, housed on a handsome, zippy website that features top-line videos.”


— Teresa Ortega

Assistant Director of Curriculum and Operations, Stanford History Education Group


Scope of Work

  • Research
  • Landscape Review
  • Interviews & Focus Groups
  • Visual Identity
  • Design Systems
  • Brand Style Guide
  • Naming
  • Voice & Tone
  • Mission/Vision/Values
  • Target Audience
  • Topline Messaging
  • Copywriting
  • Integrated Digital Experience
  • Full Service Web Development
  • Vision & Roadmapping
  • Information Architecture
  • Content Strategy
  • Photography Production
  • Live Action Video Production
  • Animated Video Production
  • Branded Copywriting
  • Holistic Communications Strategy
  • Awareness & Growth
  • Email
  • Social
  • Paid Media

Let's Connect 

Are you ready to take your social impact organization to the next level? Let’s explore our fit for working together.


We use cookies to improve your browsing experience. Learn more about your privacy.