Insights

Transforming an arts organization

Written by Victor Ramayrat on Sep 11, 2011


This is a case study of the creative process at Socient in building the Valley Cultural Coalition website.  We are writing this because we would like to share how we do our work as well as to show how a great online presence could transform an organization.

Well, here goes.  This is going to be a long one...

But first, I've got to start this case study with a BIG thank you to the Valley Cultural Coalition board of directors and its website committee, headed by Board Chair Karen Bosch Cobb, for their confidence on our team to build their dream website.

So, who's the Valley Cultural Coalition?

The Valley Cultural Coalition (VCC) is the arts, science, and history-focused association formerly known as Fresno Coalition of Arts, Science and History (FCASH).  VCC is dedicated to ensuring the health of the arts and cultural community through advocacy, communication, cooperation and collaboration in the Central Valley.  VCC serves the four contiguous counties of Fresno, Kings, Madera, and Tulare counties.

From FCASH to VCC

Our engagement to this project started with FCASH last year with possibility of brand change and a larger scope of their services.  Early this year, the VCC brand will be adopted as soon as we release the new website before the annual conference this October.

So we got to work...

First with domain name registration and e-mail provisioning.

We registered the domain name valleyculturalcoalition.org (and its other TLD: valleyculturalcoalition.com and valleyculturalcoalition.net).  We then configured the domain name to use the free e-mail services of Google, called Google Apps.  This will allow VCC to have an e-mail with the valleyculturalcoalition.org domain name and services that are independent of their hosting platform.  We usually recommend this approach so that e-mail services keeps on running even if hosting services are offline for some reason.

Then we architect and perform user stories scenarios

VCC would like to use their website to serve their members, board members, volunteers, donors, sponsors, and the arts industry.  With this in mind, the information architecture has to flow so that the user segments that VCC serves are all happy-campers.  That means we have to have:

  • nicely presented informative data about VCC; 
  • intuitive primary/second-level navigation to find information;
  • exclusive, secure areas for the VCC members and board of directors;
  • logical categorization of documents (PDF, MS Word, HTML);
  • ad-friendly layout to incentivize sponsorships;
  • automated self-service of membership registration and access to benefits;
  • seamless e-commerce capability for donations, membership dues, and conference sign-ups;
  • subscription sign-up form that is evident throughout the website;
  • ability to share contents through social media networks and e-mail;
  • web applications (ie. profile and announcement) to entice potential members to join;
  • announcements and blog system to update website readers; and finally
  • an integrated content management system to control all the features that was just listed above.

Ok, that's a long list . . . which means heavy production hours on making sure that everything works together seamlessly.  (Pause: we had to remind ourselves why we do this sort of thing, and our answer remains "for the benefit of common good"; so that took us about half a second...).

Moving along...

Then we asked our friends at Hundred10 to do some design work.

Hundred10 is awesome at what they do and that is designing for interactive media.  Art Director/Partner John Milly produced a couple of look and feel for the project based on the wireframe and architecture we provided.  After a month or so, boom!, the master design templates are done for the home page and secondary pages.

Then we got to slicing the Photoshop file and develop them into XHTML code.

Now that we have our master codes (XHTML/CSS/JS) on 1 column, 2 column, and 3 column layouts, we went back to our master plan of feature sets we need to build and integrate.  We developed user and internal workflows within the system based on the user stories drafted on the early stages of planning.

Then we get all of our digital assets --- code, images, documents, data sets; and integrate them into Controlcamp, our content manager of choice.

Yes, I did skip on appropriate CMS research for VCC, but we pitch the Adobe Business Catalyst platform, Controlcamp, on all of our projects.  We are very confident on implementing websites on Controlcamp and  Socient has been a proud partner of Adobe for more than a couple of years.  The platform is a great fit for membership organizations such as VCC.

Once all digital assets are integrated, then we worked on the website features via the modules that are pre-existing within Controlcamp.

The Navigation Menu

The menu system could be found everywhere within the site, and from top to bottom, they are as follows:

  • Main Navigation (top nav with drop-down interface for subsections)
  • Call to Action Box (right area boxed in gray)
  • Sub Pages Left Side Navigation, and
  • The Footer Navigation (used to show the big picture)

The menu system implementation is pretty straight-forward.  One trick that we like was changing the membership sub-navigation when one is logged-in so that members could use the web applications we've created for them, such as Profiles and Announcements.

Ad Rotators

A built-in ad rotator is a big convenience to web masters because it allows for easy management of ad sponsorships of the website through banner/text ad display.  A built-in basic click trackers also comes with the ad-rotator so that basic analytics such as click-throughs are available for reporting.  We use the ad rotator for the Member Spotlight area and the Sponsor area on the right side bar.

Announcements and Bookings

We've categorized announcements into two types: one used by VCC as an organization, and another used by its Members.  Announcements module is a way to "announce and publish" press releases, events, personnel changes, and awards --- activities that communicates to the website visitors that things are happening inside the organization.  And when announcements such as events require an RSVP, then we complement that with the Booking module, which allows the webmaster to track RSVPs and create e-mails that are automatically sent on a pre-designated date (pre- or post- event).  This comes in handy if you would like to send out e-mail reminders before the event and a thank you message after the event.

To be continued . . .