The work behind the new website

As the sun set on 2017, it gave me great pleasure to say that my main project for the year was completed just before Christmas.

Our new corporate website, this one that you’re reading my blog on right now, went live after an eight month project process. I just wanted to share how we shaped and created the site.  

The Need

For anyone who had any need to frequently interact with our old website, it was often a frustrating process of not being able to find what you were looking for and for random pages to spring out at you from nowhere.

This is fairly common for ageing websites that were as old as the previous one. It was launched in 2012 and plenty has happened in terms of digital and technological innovation since the year of the London Olympics. What had also happened in that time was for content to grow and grow so that, when we kicked-off this project in April, the old site had nearly 2,000 pieces of publishable content within its content management system (CMS).

So before we did anything else, we needed to decide what content we needed to keep and which we could remove.

This involved sitting down with the teams that work across the Heritage Foundation; Property, Environment, Charitable Services and the Heritage Advisory Team. We went through the existing web pages and asked what kind of information and interactions we wanted from users. From here we were able to drastically cut some pages that offered little insight or use to our web users.

Speaking of which, while sitting with teams we identified who our web users might be. Unsurprisingly they encompass a great many people within Letchworth and beyond.

We also drew up a small list of desires that we wanted the new website to fulfil:

  1. Make it responsive, dispensing with our old mobile site,
  2. Provide clear calls to action, so where we want people to either download a form, send us an email or give us a call,
  3. Provide a way to tag and group related content together, so users didn’t have to go searching for it,
  4. Try to simplify some of our language and use videos and graphics to highlight what the Heritage Foundation does.

Armed with this information and a brief, we appointed an agency and set about developing a cleaner design and user-interface.

I’d read lots about the work in the Government Digital Service (GDS) and other organisations who commandeer a section of their office to promote what their working on. Shamelessly stealing this idea, I created a Digital Corner in Suite D (renamed Suite Digital) to share our progress. 

Following a few iterations and tweaks, a concept was agreed and a skeleton development site was created. When this was functioning like the real site, we enlisted the help of community members to do some user-testing for us.

These sessions were held at the Community Hub in the Heritage Advisory Centre were exceptionally useful to us. We could identify where users were getting lost, where our terminology needed to change and how people engaged with the navigation and search. Following these sessions, user-testing will form a key part of all of our major digital development going forward. So a huge thanks to those who took part in these sessions!

We were also very fortunate in this project to be able to call upon the expertise from a community member who works for the Government Digital Service to check we were on the right track. Their input combined with the user-testing mean we’ve (hopefully) created a website that users can engage with and find useful information quickly.

Final tweaks made and content prepped, we went live on the 13 December. Now, anybody who has ever dealt with launching websites will know certain bugs crop up. Hence we’re calling a Beta site for now until we’ve ironed out the few little kinks. If you spot anything, do let me know.

But it wasn’t all about the website project during this period. Some of you may have seen some of the graphics and videos that already adorn the site. We want to showcase the work that we do to make Letchworth a great place to live and work.  We’ll be collating more information and generating useful content about our services and about Letchworth in general to help shape our programme of work in the future.

So what’s next on the agenda you might ask? Well for starters, there’s more development that we want to explore with our corporate site. We want to keep making our website and digital services as useful as possible.

Away from the Heritage Foundation website, some of you will be aware that the Greenway app is no longer in service, so we want to find a solution to this. While a couple of our other websites are in need of a freshen-up as well. As we kick these off, we’ll be asking for user-testers as mentioned above, so stay tuned for those opportunities.

I hope to share more with you about our upcoming work for 2018 very soon.

The Digital Corner created to share updates and progress about the Heritage Foundation website project.