Allegheny County

Web design / GRAPHIC DESIGN / MARKETING & Branding


1st Place Winner - County Commissioners of Pennsylvania Excellence in Websites Award 1st-3rd Class Counties (2016)
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PROJECT OVERVIEW

Launched: November 2015
Industry: Government
Recognizing the limitations of its outdated website, Allegheny County began a complete redesign in 2014. The project had two main goals. One, to better serve constituents and site visitors by offering an improved user experience. And, two, to better market the thriving region.
Within that, the specific project goals included: having a responsive website; streamlined content written in plain language (versus “government speak”); a more visual layout; and the ability for visitors to easily save content (via a personalized dashboard) or share it (via social media).
The county also sought a new brand identity. It had been using the state seal in lieu of a logo and didn't have a tagline/slogan. It understood the marketing power of both, so updating the brand was part of the project scope.
The old website. Beauty, ain't she? Clearly too much going on; difficult to navigate; and not responsive or mobile-friendly. It was clearly time for a do-over! 

PROJECT BREAKDOWN

Initial Stages
While a vendor was eventually brought on board - due to the massive scale and limited internal resources - the project began as an internal one. Joining forces across departments, we had the proper talent and expertise to define what we wanted. Still, we faced two major challenges.
The first challenge centered around Ektron - the county's content management system. (Now owned by EpiServer.) The plan was to update to the latest version as it featured Bootstrap as an integrated responsive framework. Yet we had to figure out how to meld the functionality of Ektron with a responsive website. This led to some interesting tinkering!
In addition, we needed to nail down the design. The administration's standard was "award-winning" so we looked at various award-winning, government websites. We asked questions such as: What had they done successfully? Was the site sleek and modern? Was it content heavy or more visual? Did it truly work on mobile? Was it user-friendly? (Because what’s an award-winning design if it’s horrible to use?)
The team did a lot research, discussion, and testing. In the end, we had a solid sense of what we wanted. At that point, a vendor was brought in to do the heavy lifting.
Our team developed several mock-ups during this phase so we could (a) glean a better idea of what we wanted, and (b) have a design to tinker with in Ektron. Several of the items shown here were executed in the final design. For example, the organization of the main navigation bar; the Quick Find (which ultimately became the How Do I?); and the featuring of news and events on the homepage. This particular mock-up by Meredith Joos, Graphic Designer for the Department of Human Services.
Development Stage
Based on our criteria and work thus far, the vendor proposed two design concepts. We made our selection and the vendor launched into development. Meanwhile, the Allegheny team entered into the tedious process of meeting with departments and working on streamlining their content. This was quite a feat considering the amount of content. Everything was sifted through, updated, and rewritten in plain language wherever possible.
While the majority of development work lay in the vendor’s hands, the Allegheny team continued to be heavily involved in the project. We attended meetings, kept appraised of the vendor’s progress, and jumped in to assist with any issues. This included things like responsive challenges, Bootstrap and CSS issues, and Ektron development expertise.
Desktop screenshot of the completed homepage. The carousel is used to market specific events, services, and facts about our reviving region. Notice the larger yellow How Do I? bar below that offers quick links to our most viewed pages. (We can manually change these at any time.) At the bottom of the page is a Featured Item widget, allowing us to highlight a variety of things from pool passes to important announcements.
New Branding
In addition to the website, the vendor also tackled the assignment of a new logo and tagline. After completing some focus groups, the tagline of “Always Inspiring” - a phrase that could be completed any number of ways for marketing purposes - was chosen from three possibilities.
The logo, however, required a bit more nuancing - specifically the color palette. We were having difficulty communicating what we wanted, so in the end I played with the colors until I found something that matched what our group was asking for.
Testing - against different backgrounds - what ultimately became the final logo color palette. The "A" shaped logo represents the "A" in Allegheny. The lines inside mirror the three rivers that join together in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh - which is the seat of the county. The gold color is used throughout our region - such as for our professional sports teams as well as on our bridges. The green and blue represent the county's nine parks, the city's miles of river trails, and all the other outside activities we offer.
Successful Results
The new site launched in November of 2015 and has proven to be a great success. We even met our goal of being an award-winning website. But, more importantly, we built a site that better meets the needs of county residents and general site visitors. This something exceedingly crucial for a site that, in 2014, received over 16 million page views and had 36% of traffic coming from mobile.
In the month following the site's launch, we had over 215 sign-ups for the My Allegheny dashboard (where visitors can save events and content to a personalized page). Mobile traffic has also increased while, at the same time, the bounce rate has decreased. 
Just like we want it!
Desktop: Biography and contact information. Mobile: Concert series event schedule.
My Involvement 
This project has always been at the center of my career at Allegheny County. I started at the county in April 2014 as the Web Designer for the Department of Human Services (DHS). Two weeks later, the Division of Computer Services (DCS) - where I currently reside - assembled the internal county team to kick-off the project.
My initial involvement included: providing responsive and mobile-friendly expertise; applying CSS skills within Ektron as we explored solutions; building HTML/Bootstrap design mockups; and of course contributing to project discussions as the administration determined what they wanted. 
Once the vendor was secured, my involvement included giving advice to the internal team about content; working with our project manager to provide expertise about site structure (such as how to properly craft page titles, make a site map, etc.); checking and fixing the vendor's CSS; ensuring they followed mobile-friendly and responsive practices; helping to nail down the logo; and selecting each of the 650+ stock images used on the site.
By the time the vendor was brought in, I had taken my current position at DCS as Web Manager & Creative Director. Having recognized my talent and expertise - and not having a web or graphic designer of their own - management understood the value of securing my skillset. 
Today, I oversee the website to ensure it remains modern, aligned with our branding, and in line with the project's original goals. This includes keeping style guides and managing any images used on the site. I also oversee the DCS Web Team to keep a general pulse on the website as a whole.
Lastly, I work closely with the county's Chief Marketing Officer. The county's nine parks offer numerous activities and events; its historical buildings are now be rented out as wedding and event venues; and more and more TV and movie productions are filming in our area. Thus, it's important that the website remain updated, relevant, and aligned with the county's marketing initiatives. 
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