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Digital Expert’s Corner: An Appealing Electronic Face for Our City

by Kimberly Samuelson
Post Date:08/15/2017

When Jay Evans, Assistant City Manager for the City of Brentwood embarked on the city’s redesign, he was determined to give the residents a contemporary, visual experience and to provide clear navigation so they could hard-target search for content. Jay joins us to discuss the website’s newly-lifted face.

What were the most unexpected benefits of your website upgrade?

By going through the exercise of rethinking the content, it provided us the opportunity to reorganize. We had links that had accumulated over the years and were placed where they might fit, versus where it made sense. We previously weren’t thinking about the end user experience but rather looking at the site from a utility perspective. Globally, the design of the old site wasn’t really thought through. Hence, the act of the redesign benefitted us greatly.

The redesign also gave us the opportunity to bring in stakeholder groups to ask their opinions about how things should be organized and what they liked about other municipal websites that we could incorporate.

Your stakeholder group process was atypical. Why did you structure it like you did? What did you learn?

Initially, our council stakeholders gave us our box, the 50,000-foot view. We jointly studied a dozen staff-curated municipal sites and put together a framework and parameters for design and navigation. Together we determined color palette, homepage template, banner, etc.

We, then, invited citizens to join us as one of our stakeholder groups. Specifically, we asked our Teen Library Advisory Board, who are very plugged into our library and, of course, tech savvy. It was critical for us. We recognized our own limitations regarding our content. At the city, we were far too familiar with the subject matter. We knew how to find things, but that didn’t mean the person on the street could navigate the site and find where things were. The citizen group also stopped us from having outdated version of department pages, each one having a long narrative about the mission and goals of each. We learned that residents don’t give a hoot about this stuff. Most people are doing a hard-target search.

When we rolled the site out, it was a tremendous hit. I don’t remember getting one negative comment.

How did you use analytics?

We let analytics determine everything you see on the front page now. We looked at Google Analytics from the old site to dig out what the resident is looking for and make that prominent. If you look through our pages, we still aren’t entirely there. There are refinements that still need to be made.

Certain departments always expected to be on the homepage. To help discern placement, we used click maps to see where folks were going.

What is unique about your city and how did this affect your web design?

We don’t have a typical downtown core, so our award-winning library serves as a central point for our community. It drives much of our web traffic; it’s one of our crown jewels.

Also, unlike many cities, we don’t have a lot of special events within our borders, so that means what our site communicates is more utilitarian.

The images in our banner are very Brentwood, Tennessee. We wanted our signature feel. On our homepage banner, you’ll see a lot of open space, scenic vistas and our 5K Run. It’s important to have a mix of the human element within the location. Where Vision shines over the competition is the graphic design. We knew if we went with Vision, we would get a better look.  Ultimately, we went through several iterations to get our design.

Also, prominently featuring our eNotify sign-up on the homepage was in response to a strategic planning process we underwent a few years back. One of the higher scoring items was that residents want to be informed about changes to the community, especially business changes or re-zoning.

What are the most useful features of Vision CMS?

The upgrade brought a lot regarding ease of use. It was monumental. A number of steps/clicks to do complete a task was cut down. We liked the new widgets and the ability to change up pages.

The ability to organize our links with the mega-menus was important to us. The ease of organizing those links within the CMS was a game changer. All of it has given our citizens a much easier way to navigate the site. If I had to pick, I’d say our single biggest improvement was navigation.

In addition, we use the spotlight feature quite a lot to showcase whatever is going on that week.

What advice would you give other municipalities looking to do a site redesign?

Look at dozens of municipal sites. Examine as many clients of your vendor as possible. Once you find something you like, steal shamelessly. THEN, customize the rest to make it your own.

When working with elected officials, being able to show them other city sites helped us a lot. Also, make sure to show images of your city in the wireframe. Showing other locales to the council will just serve as a distraction.

If you, like many municipalities, are looking for inspiration for your own site redesign, take a look at our Project Gallery. Or if you are interested in what it’s like to work with Vision, check out our testimonials.

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