Case Study: NTEN’s Website Relaunch

After thinking and talking about it for a long time, this year we at NTEN are finally beginning a website overhaul and re-launch in earnest. After all, the nonprofit association for people working at the intersections of tech and social change should have a website to match that mission and vision. Follow along as we chronicle the joys and occasional headaches.

In our first installment, NTEN’s IT Director, Karl Hedstrom, and Operations Director, Jessica Holliday, answer a few questions about what we’re setting out to do, and how, and why…

Julia: Why a new NTEN website? Why now?

Karl: This project actually goes beyond just a new website and is really more of a web presence redesign. One of the biggest issues we’ve faced for a long time is a complete lack of integration between our CRM and CMS, meaning it’s very difficult to direct our community towards the content they’re most interested in. Furthermore, across our multiple online platforms and websites, there’s little to no design consistency, and the transitions between the sites are clunky at best. Finally, and perhaps most glaringly, none of our sites have a real responsive design, making them difficult or impossible to access on a mobile device.

As far as timing, while we probably should have tackled some of these issues years ago (e.g. responsive design, consistent theme), for other issues like building an integration between our CRM and CMS, until now there weren’t really great solutions available that met both our needs and our budget. However, as technology and the available tools have progressed, we’re now finally able to tackle all these issues in a comprehensive way and within a budget that our board will actually approve.

What are the specific pain points and challenges you hope to overcome through this re-launch? I’m curious both about the big picture but also about the little things that YOU are personally most excited about/invested in.

Jessica: Mostly it’s really fun, and a bit intimidating, to get this chance to work on a great new web presence and finally address some longstanding technical and design issues. I am excited about being really open about our approach and our processes, both as a way to get a great product out there and as a learning tool. We have a fantastic opportunity to leverage all the knowledge in our community and get lots of expert feedback along the way.

Karl: I already mentioned some of the pain points above, but in general the main issues we’re hoping to address with this website redesign are:

  • Making our sites mobile-friendly with a responsive design

  • Giving our overall web presence a consistent and purposeful design and feel

  • Integrating our various systems to make for a smooth and seamless experience on the front end

  • Overhauling our content strategy to make sure it’s as easy as possible for our users to find the information they’re looking for or to accomplish whatever task they set out to do (e.g., register for an event, become a member, connect with their peers)

What data helped name the problems that we’ll try to solve, and what data will guide our decisions throughout this process?

We have loads of anecdotal data from the last few years based on emails and phone calls from our community members who weren’t able to do “X” on our website. Then we’re also in the process of diving into the actual hard data available to us through Google Analytics and a full content audit; we will supplement this further with targeted interviews and surveys for the community to help weigh in on various parts of the project.

How long has this been brewing? What did you do to prepare for the first all-staff meeting about this?

Karl: A “website redesign” has been brewing for at least the last 2 years, but it finally got the kick it needed when Jessica and I attended the AUDC (Avectra Users and Developers Conference) in March and saw some demos of how our CRM (Avectra’s netFORUM) could smoothly integrate with a CMS like WordPress.

Then, at the 14NTC, I attended a session titled Progressive Enchantment: Crafting a Responsive Design presented by Daniel Ferro, Sean Powell, and Karin Tracy, where they actually had redesigned NTEN’s website as a case study for how responsive design could be used to modernize a very outdated website. This was my first introduction into the details behind responsive design, and it was a real eye-opener for how badly our website really did need an update.

Jessica: We field a lot of calls in the office that could be unnecessary if we had a more straight forward user experience. And I worry a lot about the folks who don’t call—who just get frustrated and give up. A better website is going to really help us serve our members and encourage new ones.

Our team is small, just a dozen people. How will we divide responsibilities among the team? What are the next steps?

Jessica: We wanted to make sure that all staff are engaged with this project, bringing their perspectives and growing their skills. At our first meeting about the site relaunch, we divided into four “committees” that are doing user research as part of a discovery process and will report back at our annual all-staff retreat. They are:

1) Analytics—analyze our Google Analytics data to better understand how people are using our current site, who they are, and what they are trying to do/find. This is a quantitative approach to defining our target audiences…

2) Interviews—use in-person and online surveys to understand how people are using our current site and what they would like to see in a new site.

3) Content—this committee is both backwards-looking (performing an audit of our current content) and forward-looking (sculpting a new content strategy). The content committee will facilitate a card-sorting exercise at our upcoming all-staff retreat.

4) Reporting—this committee is ensuring our processes are documented and shared with the NTEN community.

How do you see us addressing all of this, and by when?

Jessica: The plan is to have each committee present their report at the all-staff retreat this week. We hope to have the bulk of user research finished at the end of June and move on to building an information architecture and initial prototyping. We will refine the design throughout the summer and move to implementation in late September. Fingers crossed!

Who else will be involved other than staff?

We really do want to hear from our community! We want to present opportunities to not only suggest features but also be involved on a really hands-on level. You can help us by answering a few questions about how we could improve If you’re interested in providing more feedback in a phone interview, email us your contact information, and we’ll get in touch with you.

We’ve also dug up some good-looking online tools to open up usability testing. And we’ll certainly be turning to our knowledgeable community as we contemplate some of our trickier questions, whether through the NTEN Discuss list, surveys, or other nifty tools we discover. And please, please share your favorite go-to resources with us.

We at NTEN would all love to hear from community members who have recently undergone site design projects. Have a taxonomy horror story? Design triumph? Or a question for Jessica and Karl? Share in the comments section below!

Julia Smith
Community Project Manager, Communities of Impact Project
Julia is an independent consultant currently based in Chicago. Previously, she worked at Interfaith Youth Core (directing online programs and communities, and before that, managing marketing and communications projects); at NTEN (managing educational programming and, before that, community initiatives and special projects such as the 2013 Communities of Impact cohort); and at, among others. She also co-founded the literacy nonprofit 826DC and volunteers with grassroots racial justice and political campaigns. Find her on Twitter at @juliacsmith or subscribe to her newsletter: