Webby for Good is a collaborative program formed by The Webby Awards and WP Engine to showcase Webby-recognized projects built to change the world.

Describe your Webby-nominated project. What’s the elevator pitch?

The devastation in Syria is hard to comprehend and many myths and biases still exist. We wanted to create a fresh way for people to re-engage with the crisis.

The UNHCR has an incredible amount of data, content, stories, and access to journalists. Through Search Trends at Google, we saw over 160M queries about Syria in 2016. A partnership through data felt like a good fit.

We decided to create a compelling, editorial-style, long scroll experience. We answered the top five questions the world was searching for and with R/GA, organized the questions and answers into snackable, bite-sized content using a mixture of rich imagery, film, 360º photospheres with SFX, data, before/after photos, and more.

Why this particular cause as the subject of your project/campaign? Was there a moment that inspired it?

The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) was seeing compassion fatigue and disengagement, plus ongoing bias and fear around the Syrian crisis. They needed to create a new way to help people around the world re-engage with the issue and address urgent humanitarian needs as donations were declining.

Google’s goal has always been to create access to information, understanding, and tools that improve the lives of as many people as possible. After seven years of conflict, there are now more people displaced by this conflict than any time since World War II. Assisting our partners at the UNHCR in service of Syria was an opportunity where we felt we could help in some way.

What concerns were there about pursuing this idea? How did you get past them?

Our main concern was to ensure that we remained objective and authentic in every aspect. We had to do our best to "answer" questions that have many points of view while staying apolitical. Our information came from our trusted partner the UNHCR and was based on unbiased truth and fact supported by data and their trusted journalists on the ground in Syria. We needed to keep the content pithy and concise without going too deep into granularity or nuances of an already volatile political situation.

What was the most rewarding aspect of working on your project? What did you learn in the process that you didn't know/expect going into it?

It’s not very often you get an opportunity to work with such an incredible partner like the UNHCR on such a meaningful, significant project. The main goal was to increase awareness and drive donations by breaking down biases and shattering myths held by the public. In doing so, we found that it affected every single one of us, breaking down our own stereotypes and misperceptions. The project gave us all a much wider vision of the war and the millions of people deeply affected by it. The project further reinforced the knowledge that every piece of data is so much more than a number—it’s a real person with a real story to tell.

What real-world impact were you hoping to make with this project? Did the real-world impact meet your expectations?

This project was an important chance to recapture the world’s attention. Searching for Syria helped to achieve this aim. In its first few days, visitors spent a collective 10 years interacting with its content:
-More than +8K press articles globally
-Nearly 10% of the 2 million+ people who visited the site took action by either donating, joining, or sharing.
-There were 3,200 donations: generating $162,210 and growing
-May 2017, when Searching for Syria launched, was the second-highest viewing month ever for UNHCR YouTube content
-Searching for Syria engaged with audiences in crucial markets, including the US, the UK, Germany, France, Spain, and nations across the Middle East and North Africa

Did your team have a specific “breakthrough” or “a-ha” moment while formulating or executing this project?

We always have been enticed by the interactivity that the NY Times created in their digital storytelling like Snowfall, etc. We wondered what that style of storytelling would look like if it was done in a way that was a little less editorial, a lot shorter, and more based on interactive cards as a long scroll experience. The "aha" moment came in finding a balance so that the copy was minimal but had huge impact, and every single tap, touch, and interaction felt additive to the storyline and experience. The photospheres, imagery, data visualizations, before and after sliders, and deep dive storytelling moments all had to blend together as seamlessly as possible.

Was the tech/medium you chose crucial to conveying your message? If so, why?

Many factors make it hard for people to understand and connect with what’s going on in Syria so creating a mobile interactive experience that takes people beyond reading so they engage and feel something was important. The site’s interactive, storytelling approach plays between acting like short snippets of film, imagery, and copy to go from a passive to an active experience helping people digest the information in a richer more meaningful way.

We also needed to play off of cultural norms so creating a bite-sized experience everyone could digest in five minutes or less was crucial.

This interactive, snackable, and emotional experience would ideally result in increased action and engagement.

What was the most significant challenge that arose during your work on this?

Since the site was intended to be one long narrative, each of the chapters needed to be rendered into a single page. This made the complete page very long. But it also had to be pithy with every word and kilobyte accounted for. To avoid performance issues, we first populated each section with its copy content. Then, we would dynamically load the images and code for each section just ahead of when it was needed. We had to ensure that progressively loading more content into the browser would not exceed its memory allocation causing a crash, so we unloaded assets after the user had scrolled past them, using browser caching to reload if the user returned.

How will you use technology in future work to create inspiring, cutting-edge projects that also make a difference in people’s lives?

Virtually everything Google Brand Studio does centers around fiding interesting ways to harness cutting-edge technology. So yes, it’s in our DNA. ;)


  • R/GA London
  • Beyond Words

About the Best Use of Photography category

Only photography as it's used throughout the site is judged. Geared toward sites that rely heavily on photographic imagery as a critical part of the user experience.