Wisconsin Restaurant Association Gets a New Web Experience
Here at Graydient, the team is always working to challenge themselves while showcasing their industry expertise and working with other driven companies further inspires them to do that, making the experience that much more enjoyable. Since the 1930’s the Wisconsin Restaurant Association (WRA) has worked hard to make sure its members have the resources they need to succeed in the restaurant industry. This not-for-profit establishment wanted to increase brand recognition in their business, and the team at Graydient used their expertise and insight to make their vision a reality by developing a robust marketing plan that offered vibrant colors and design, on enterprise-level CMS, and a user-friendly online experience so visitors are not just drawn to the site, but can effectively explore it. With a strong plan for web design, the best of the best in front and back-end development, and the most resourceful and talented content-focused individuals, the team built a modern, exceptional web site that embodies what WRA works to convey to its members. Check out what the team thought about the process of creating this site, what new challenges they faced, how their experienced played a role in the process, and how they feel now having finished it.
“In the beginning”
Before the team dove into any development or design aspects of the website, they took the first step of doing a discovery, digging through the various pages on the original WRA website to determine not only what information would stay, but where it needed to fall within the site map for ease of access for visitors, and what information the site might be lacking that visitors would want to see. Content all-star Danielle highlights the full discovery of the site as the most crucial of initial steps in the project: “We were able to do a full discovery that led us to a lot of additional insights before we actually wrote any line of code. Auditing the site, we noticed a lot of information that was buried, and likely didn’t get a lot of action. With a better understanding of their primary users, their needs, and how they’re interacting with the site, we were able to restructure the navigation in a way that made sense”. But breaking down the information on the site and increasing user interest is just a small part of streamlining the website. A thorough restructuring of the site was necessary in order to determine not only the needs of the client, but also the needs of the users. “When it came to the structure of the site, we literally put each page on a post-it note and thought deeply about how they were all connected and where they would make the most sense to those specific users. Additionally, we were able to help influence or share our insights with the design, the team coming up with the concept of the homepage ‘audience selector’ section – so that users can easily navigate to the pages that are most relevant to their specific needs.” By not only identifying the information the site had, but determining specific users, the team could determine the path that made the most sense, creating a user-friendly sitemap and tools for finding the most relevant information quickly and efficiently, regardless of what capacity a user visits the site.
Visualizing the Brand
When it came to the design of the site, Web and Print Design expert Sami had an easier experience: “For me, the design process was pretty easy, and that doesn’t happen very often. It’s kind of hit or miss with clients during the design process, depending on how involved they want to be with the decision-making, but with this project WRA were very trusting. Something we did differently was create two different mood boards [just a collection of design elements to build the vision]. I had to do some general research up-front to figure out which directions I wanted to go in for both of those, and presented them with two completely different design options Having those made it easier for them to pick which one they preferred.”
When it came to determining the things that would severely impact the construction of the website, Sami notes the lack of images that challenged her to think outside the box. “I made sure not to focus on the images and, as an alternative, tried to come up with ideas that revolved around icons and colors to convey that visual interest. There is a lot of content on the site, so I just kept in mind that if I didn’t have a lot of images to balance that, I needed to make that easier to read. That was the main focus, which was why I went in the direction of choosing really bold colors [on the design that they went with], and they liked that because it incorporated the colors of their logo and other partner sites that utilize the same colors, so really tying all those things together.”
Like others, Sami pulled from her knowledge and experience with other sites, of all calibers and sizes, and created unique design elements to accommodate the large, content-oriented site.“It was a challenge because part of what I have to do is come up with widget designs, as well as figuring out what those are going to look like with so much content. Something I did was just create some default intro copy on every page across the site. That area lends itself well to long-form copy, so if you have paragraphs that you can’t necessarily break up, it would fit in that section more easily, as well as making sure that there are the right amount of widgets to accommodate that copy.” Sami admits she’s very happy with the completed site, and that it inspired her to create new strategies for future projects. “I did like that we did two mood boards, I think that is something that we should do going forward if the client isn’t sure about their branding or look.”
Recognizing the vastness of the site early on, the team knew it needed something powerful to run it. Matt, the Development Captain, chose Sitefinity for its enterprise-level CMS and customizability. “We don’t have any conversions or workflow built into our CMS’s, and we’re working on that, but the moment we need that is the moment we have to look elsewhere, which is not a bad thing.” In the end using Sitefinity not only resulted in the best site for WRA and their users, but also allowed the team to experience Sitefinity through a project and learn what they would like to see from this innovative CMS in the future, as well as possibilities for their own.
While this was the team’s first experience using Sitefinity, Matt knew the team would require features that Sitefinity offered in order to complete the project. Though leading the team through the entire WRA process, and working diligently to determine how features and modules would be built, Matt attributes its success to others on the team. “I had some connections [to Telerik] and I heavily utilized those where I needed to. It really was just a team effort to power through and do some digging. Quangdao from the Front-End team found that implementing Sitefinity into their processes encouraged the team to change the way they approach CMS down the road. In the end he found that this CMS allows the team to explore various options within their in-house CMS. “Sitefinity offers a lot more control, the user has more control over what they can do; for example, the way the grid system works: they can drag in a three column block and split that up even further, or have multiple items in each of the columns, whereas we don’t have that kind of customizability.” Seeing the speed of the site impressed him as well: “I was surprised how fast it went because the engine of the site was so massive. I’m kind of the ‘performance’ guy so that was my biggest concern.”
While these steps led the team to an approach to working on WRA, there were other opportunities that came with managing the content of the site, which is quite large due to its relevance to various users. “A lot of the process was figuring out how to organize the content, because the original site had a lot of information everywhere; it just wasn’t user-friendly.”
Meg’s main role fell in the beginning of the project, taking the original content, figuring out what would migrate to the new site, and creating consistent voice and tone throughout the new site while also working to incorporate SEO keywords when applicable. This proved to be an opportunity for the content team to apply all that they knew about WRA’s needs along with their expertize with these sorts of customer needs.
Content kid Danae enjoyed her experience with WRA, which she says allowed her to complete tasks that would normally fall to front-end development. “We have our own CMS’s, (WOMBAT) and Graydient Studios, but working in Sitefinity was really cool for me because it was a ‘brand-new’ CMS.” Looking at the site now, Danae is happy to see it up and running, and really loves the look and navigation within the site.
Danae notes that it can be hard to gauge the appropriate amount of content for a site when you aren’t very familiar with the nature of it, but thanks to the intensive digging done to understand WRA better, as well as the teams extensive knowledge and experience in hospitality industries, the team was able todesign the site with its users in mind, making every effort to determine the most pertinent information and ensure it was accessible to visitors.
Project Manager Chaz appreciated all the teamwork that went into the WRA project, and enjoyed the opportunity to work so closely with the rest of the team and various aspects of the project. As the primary contact between the client and the team, he made sure that the goals WRA established at the beginning of the project came to fruition in the end result. When reflecting on what was learned from this project, Chaz says it has a lot to do with the process itself: “It was one of the bigger websites we’ve done; Marcus Theatres is up there with this one and Grand Geneva. In terms of a couple process things, “learning’s” you could call them, figuring out how we handle things on a project this big, determining how we approach things iteratively instead of trying to get so much of it spelled and outlined early and then trying to build off of that. Instead, taking a more phased, iterative approach, not doing a bunch of stuff at a time, working through steps.” He also credits the team’s ability to change their processes as needed, as an attribute of their success. “Breaking the training mold that we’re used to is a good exercise, using an enterprise-level CMS has definitely opened our eyes to new things we can do with our own CMS as well, so that’s a nice learning opportunity from using Sitefinity.” The team recognizes all the ways that WRA was a success for them and offered new insights into current procedures and methods.
Investing in our Partners
Because Graydient Creative cares about our client’s customers as much as they do, we were lucky enough to be invited to sponsor the Quick Bites area of the 2018 Midwest Food Expo, which is hosted and managed by WRA. This section of the Expo offered quick presentations from the Graydient Creative team and other companies on ways that restaurant owners and operators can better perform in the industry. Our team created topics and materials targeted to those in the restaurant business to engage and inform on best practices in web marketing and design. Chris, our Digital Strategy Consultant, presented “Restaurant Websites, A to Z” a segment on upgrading one’s website and things to consider before, during, and after the process for maximum results. Chris thought the presentation and other Quick Bites segments were a success, both for the team and the restaurateurs that observed them.
While the initial project with WRA is completed, we aren’t saying goodbye just yet. In the near future Graydient Creative will be working on their Midwest Foodservice Expo website, integrating with a number of third-party applications to streamline their content and create a holistic experience for visitors. We look forward to working with their team to implement these changes and further improve their digital presence to one that best represents them as a team and association.
The team as a whole found that they are really proud of the finished product. This project allowed for them to utilize previous experience and processes while working with a new client. Sami – “Overall, I’m really happy with the way the site turned out. I think the whole team did a really great job making it look refined and completed. Looking through this site I feel like it’s some of our best work as a team.” While the team acknowledges that there were a lot of moving pieces on their end, it was a great opportunity for subject matter experts on the teams to be more heavily involved in meetings and client conversations, and the team now has a better idea of what their processes should look like with larger projects in the future. With the preemptive calls team members made, the design transitioned exceptionally into the living site, leaving a happy client, a proud team, and a partnership that we are invested in for the long haul.