Three Websites, Two Redesigns, and a Pandemic

If you’ve worked long enough as a member of a creative or technical team, you already know that even under normal circumstances, redesigning an organization’s website is arguably one of the most intricate and ambitious projects in the communications world. But what happens when you take three websites, combine them into two, throw in a splash of COVID-19 just for good measure, and try to do it all in the spectacle that is 2020? Hold our rosé and be sure to hit your mute button; you’re about to find out.

The Project
Blue Wagon Group recently worked with our long-term client, the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), to redesign and update its websites to feature refreshed, contemporary designs. SIRC previously hosted three independent-but-complementary websites designed to educate two distinct audiences about the properties, uses and safety of styrene and ethylbenzene, which are chemicals commonly found in everyday consumer products.

SIRC established distinct goals and tasked Blue Wagon Group with the following:

  • Combine two of the websites into a single source of technical information for the scientific community and update the community-facing website for consumers and the general public 
  • Refresh the content and redesign the presentation with the organization’s new identity 
  • Enhance SEO and Google Analytics compatibility to improve search engine performance and results

What We Learned
1. Stock your team with specialists.
Although various areas of expertise often overlap on this type of project, both in opinions and in output, assigning specific roles based on knowledge and experience helps streamline the process and keep everyone focused. Blue Wagon’s communications team, being closely familiar SIRC’s content and history, managed the content and site organization, while a partner firm – Hales Creative – handled the design, build and SEO aspects of the project. 

Though just about any member of the team could have dabbled in each other’s areas, identifying experts allowed us to work more quickly and produce more thorough and effective results. Due to the intricate scientific nature of the subject matter, we often enlisted help from SIRC’s research and legal teams to ensure accuracy and compliance. 

It’s also possible to get too close to the work to remain objective and sharp. After intimately working on a complex project for a long period of time, it’s easy to become blind to simple errors such as missing words, typos, and broken links when multiple team members submit asynchronous content edits. Enlist a final review team to help look at everything with fresh eyes as the project nears completion.

2. Set realistic expectations and communicate them clearly.
This certainly wasn’t the first website redesign for the creative and technical teams, but it’s essential to remember a project of this magnitude is a major milestone (and often first-time experience) for the client. Excellent creative projects appear effortless to the end user, so project managers should clearly convey the interdependence of the team early in the project. Explain that the quality and timeliness of the finished product is commensurate with the effort and responsiveness demonstrated during the planning and active phases.

As the project progresses, create meeting agendas that recap what you’ve done, what you’re currently doing, and what’s next so that goals and expectations remain clear. Inform stakeholders of the reasoning behind certain choices and help them understand the significance to the intended audience. Communicate reasonable outcomes to stated goals and help define metrics to evaluate the project’s success. Encourage the client to identify which parts of the site are likely to become outdated and encourage them to make ongoing edits as appropriate to prevent stale content.

3. Expect the unexpected.
Anticipate that coordinating a project of this size will take longer than you think and build more time into the plan. Hiccups and delays naturally occur over the course of any large project, and we initially thought that we had done a decent job of padding our proposed timeline with extra room for minor snags. The project was going well and staying relatively on schedule until COVID-19 entered the picture about two months before the projected launch.

Fortunately, the virus did not directly affect anyone on the team, but the uncertainty of its impact on business, events, budgets, etc., paired with the sheer emotional roller coaster ride many of us experienced, definitely caused the project to slip off track. Business models changed, new crises emerged, and traditional work environments were upended. In addition to COVID-19, routine disruptions such as planned absences, incongruity among stakeholders, and changes in direction all impacted our timeline. 

Although it’s impossible to control all external circumstances, we always strive to not be the reason progress is stalled. With that mantra always in mind, we did mitigate delays by maintaining prompt communication and doing our best to ensure we completed our own assigned deliverables on time or ahead of schedule.

The Happy Hour
In these challenging times (can we please retire that phrase?), several competing factors all challenged the urgency of the project at hand and ultimately contributed to a three-month delay of the launch. Now that the project is complete, the reward comes in the form of appreciation from various stakeholders who now have a more useful tool representing their industry. 

If you’d like to check out our work, find out more about SIRC, or learn about the benefits and uses of styrene and ethylbenzene, visit styrene.org and youknowstyrene.org.

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