Modern Elder Academy
Revitalizing a school’s design and story for the modern midlifer.

The Modern Elder Academy is a midlife wisdom school designed to help people navigate life transitions. Through online courses and in-person workshops at two beautiful campuses in Baja, Mexico, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, MEA students collect life-changing insights from the minds of world-renowned experts. Alumni describe the curriculum and the workshops as transformative.

Alumni describe the curriculum and the workshops as transformative, but because there’s nothing else like MEA, few people know about or understand it. With the opening of a new campus in Santa Fe, MEA needed to develop a thoughtful web presence and brand story to communicate what they do and why people need it.

MEA approached GDP’s colleagues at design house Upstatement to oversee a complete overhaul of its website, while GDP would handle crafting a new strategy and write all of the language on the site. Upstatement project manager Melissa Depuydt steered the collaboration, enabling the two teams to work closely “while still bringing [their] own unique skills to the process.”

Using warm tones and a friendly voice, MEA's new website invites people into a bright, prolific community.

The interview and strategy phase involved learning MEA’s origin story from the founders themselves: Hospitality legend and New York Times-bestselling author Chip Conley, former pro snowboarder Christine Sperber, and entrepreneur Jeff Hamaoui. In order to write and design around MEA’s curriculum, the team needed to experience it for themselves. Team members enrolled in one of MEA’s six-week online courses; Depuydt, along with Upstatement Partner and Chief Product Officer Tito Bottitta and the project's editorial lead, GDP’s Mary Melton, traveled to the new Santa Fe campus; Depuydt and GDP lead strategist Lauren McGehee GDP flew to MEA's beachfront property in Baja, Mexico for an immersive 5-day course. McGehee said that within hours of arriving, she “had 19 new best friends” and noted that the curriculum “helps people quickly peel back their own layers, bypass small talk, and get to what really matters.”

Every aspect of the research phase informed the proposed brand strategy and was reflected in one way or another across MEA’s new look, feel, and UX design. Strategic principles like mission, vision, and voice—as well as midlife triggers to remember and verbiage to avoid—were consolidated into one set of guidelines to drive meaningful, consistent communications across MEA both internally and out in the world.

The design system wasn't crafted solely for web—it extends into various mediums that appeal to MEA's audience.

Inspired by the vibrant, community-driven experiences on campus, the fully revamped website brings newcomers and alumni on a seamless journey through MEA’s values and offerings. Midlife is often associated with a crisis—and MEA’s new online presence is anything but. The colors are warm and inviting, photography is human and lush, and the voice is relatable and a touch cheeky.

Chip Conley’s presence in the media (most notably on the mainstage at TED) cemented him as the face of MEA since its founding, but initial interviews showed that his co-founders, Sperber and Hamaoui, played an integral role in getting the curriculum and campuses off the ground. Our strategy was to craft the school’s About page around the power of three—highlighting each founder’s contributions through storytelling. The result, as told by Upstatement project manager Melissa DePuydt, is a perfect example of “GDP's storytelling alongside smart design and UX elements to help users understand the MEA story.”

MEA’s new site launched in September of 2023. Visit to see the work and learn more about the world’s first wisdom school.