Learn from Great Design: Rally Interactive

by Tom Kenny (@tkenny)


I first came across Rally Interactive’s work when I saw the amazing National Geographic’s National Parks app. It was so beautifully presented, with strong visual design and nice interactions that it made you want to delve deeper into the app.

Rally’s new design
Rally’s new design

The app was designed by Rally Interactive, who are an award winning design agency (including an Apple design award for the app itself) who have worked with huge brands such as National Geographic, Google, ESPN and more.

Their New Site

The current version of Rally Interactive’s site can be viewed here, but they have a new version in beta at the time of writing. Chances are they’re still working on it but I will be referring to it as their new site for the purposes of this Learn from Great Design study.

At some point you won’t be able to see the old version, but I wanted to showcase the new site on Learn from Great Design because even though it’s in beta it is still wonderful. Later on in this study, I will show you their old site and why the redesign is a huge step forward but for now, let’s see the new design.

Case Studies

The National Parks App case study
The National Parks App case study

Writing more will help your design career, including writing better case studies, but if you’re stuck on where to begin, a good start is to read Rally’s case studies because they’re some of the best. Even if you only read one, read this one for the National Parks app. Let’s look at this one specifically in more depth to see why it’s so good.

Before the Work

Rather than just being an article describing what they did for this project, they’ve told a story. It does of course include what they did but it also contains information about how they landed the project which is interesting in itself.

Presenting a case study as a story makes it more readable.

Showing the Process

We like to see behind the scenes of things we love. That’s why DVDs come with those behind the scenes documentaries or commentary extras. This is especially true for clients looking to hire a designer or design agency. If they like the work you’ve produced they would love to see more about it.

Here we can see the process for designing the “stamps”, which are individual logos of sorts for each national park. Quite an undertaking considering there are 27 parks in the app.

Showing the process
Showing the process
The final designs
The final designs

The final work is magnificent. They capture the unique identity of each park in a beautiful way while also keeping a consistent look and feel for each one.

This clearly results from a technique I’m a huge fan of, and that is experimenting. If they hadn’t experimented with the design of the stamps and hadn’t pushed themselves, they may have just settled for the circular designs. While they still look good, they don’t look quite as interesting or have the unique identity of the final version. Experimenting is the difference between good design and great design.

It’s also interesting to hear what inspired this great idea:

The last few years have seen the rise of terms like gamification and check-ins, but those underlying concepts are hardly new. Mid–1986 saw the introduction of the Passport to Your National Parks program from the non-profit Eastern National, where visitors to the parks could get a cancellation stamp commemorating their visit, much like in a national passport. For some, this has become an obsession, collecting stamps in their passports in a quest to visit them all.

They really took the time to understand the brand they were designing for, exploring their history to find something they could use today.

If you struggle with creative block at the beginning of a project, staring at the intimidating blank screen, take this approach as a starting point. Rally Interactive researched the company they’re working for to see if they could generate any ideas and it worked wonderfully.

If you don’t have access to years of history like they did, get to know the business you’re working for as much as possible. Ask as many questions as you can to really get an in-depth understanding of what they need and who they are. This will reduce the chance of that initial struggle with creative block as you’ll have a foundation to work from and generate ideas with.

Attention to Detail

I love this quote used in this case study:

To Build the Best Forest, Focus on the Trees

It’s appropriate wording for the case study and it also describes their approach to attention to detail, such as their dedication to improving the photo viewing experience as National Geographic are well know for their incredible photography.

They’re keen to showcase their attention to detail because they know it makes a difference, and if they don’t do that in a case study, potential clients may not even realise this level of detail exists. Behind the scenes, there’s unseen hard work that needs to be explained, such as the amount of work it takes to do something that looks simple, like the maps. They’re prepared to work hard and they want others to know. Why wouldn’t you want your new customers to know this?



Rally are fully open about mistakes they made during the process which makes them more genuine, more human. Trust is increased if you can admit to making mistakes or being wrong about something.

Client Testimonial

To top it all off, at the end of the case study there’s a testimonial from a senior member of the National Geographic team with glowing words about Rally Interactive. “Rally Interactive has become a trusted partner of National Geographic”. It doesn’t get much better than that and is the icing on the cake for increasing trust in you for future potential clients.

The Design

The design is what enticed me into looking at Rally Interactive’s work. I’ve always thought you should approach your portfolio design as though it was a portfolio piece in itself. Basically, if it was a separate design, you would happily include it in your own portfolio.

The Ribbon

Flow ribbon, flow!
Flow ribbon, flow!

The floating ribbon on the homepage is an interesting visual addition but it also provides a link between all their work. As you scroll left and right between their work, the viewport flows along the ribbon, changing colour to represent different sections of the site.

Unleash the navigation!
Unleash the navigation!

The ribbon also serves as the navigation element. It folds down to reveal the options in an elegant and unique way. I could watch it animate for hours!


If you think about it, you’ll notice the entire website is a full-screen carousel, and while you may see valid studies into why you shouldn’t use carousels anymore, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good use cases for them as Rally show. The carousel is what allows the ribbon to visually flow between pages.

This approach keeps things simple. There are only 4 “pages” to this design and they don’t need any more than that. With the carousel design, pages appear immediately as soon as you navigate to them

Case Study Design

The project titles are big and bold, capturing your attention but also tell a little of the story too. “National Parks Are the Best Idea We Ever Had”, “No Such Thing as Friends on Powder Days” and “It’s Better to Travel Well Than to Arrive” are the project headlines used. A couple of them are quotes but they are much more impactful than only placing the app, website or company name at the top.

In the screenshot above, you can see an example of how they deal with visual hierarchy in the case studies. Each one is separated into numbered sections with big bold titles and a subtitle. Icons are used sparingly to separate sections within sections.

All of these enhancements to the visual hierarchy help readers scan through the article with ease. They also make the reading experience more interesting. Each separating icon is specifically designed to fit in context of the text it appears with, such as a map icon when talking about map design and even a trophy icon included after the client testimonial which mentions the awards they’ve collected.

Their Old Site

Rally’s old site design
Rally’s old site design

Rally have chosen to showcase only a few pieces of work on the new version of their site. Their old site is just a collection of the work they share on Dribbble which isn’t very compelling, although it is interesting to see work in progress, as they demonstrate in their new case studies, it doesn’t represent who they are and how they really help their clients like the new version does.

Interaction detail (low quality gif)
Interaction detail (low quality gif)

The very cool transition from a rounded triangle to a circle interaction has made it into the new design as their dribbble work is displayed at the end of the case studies.

Let’s Go Rally

Case studies are powerful when done well. Rally Interactive are one of the best companies in the business at presenting their work. You’d be foolish not to study the best and create great case studies of your work too.

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by Tom Kenny

I’m a freelance web designer and front-end developer with 9 years of experience designing for the web. Follow me on Twitter here.