Advanced Content Management for Designers
Managing Ten Years of Content
Help Snook take control of their content and their website so they can quickly and effectively market themselves to their clients.
What we did
Designed and developed a WordPress-based content management system with advanced tagging, a page builder, and smart sorting.
A Rare Opportunity
Snook are frequent collaborators of ours. We usually help them work on projects for their clients and so it was a delight to be able to help them with their own problems on this occasion.
In this project, we had the very great privilege of working with them again. Snook are a dynamic service design consultancy and work with their clients to solve problems around service offerings and delivery in the public, educational, and private sectors.
Snook are amongst the leading service designers in the world and we are privileged to have worked with them on various projects in both companies’ life times.
As a small dynamic and confident team, Snook had recently designed a new website that was based on top of an existing WordPress theme. This theme, while designed as they wanted, was buggy and had an inconsistent sort order. They learnt that they needed something more consistent, with underlying content management systems that allowed them to have better control of the user experience, design, content, and overall effectiveness of the site.
Many organisations have websites that are difficult to manage and end up looking tired very quickly because they don’t have the necessary control. This was not an option for Snook. They have incredibly demanding clients and the consulting work they do goes right to the core of the organisation. If every touch point on their prospect’s journey does not help them trust that Snook can help them make meaningful change to their organisations and services, then the website has failed.
Snook don’t just have commercial interests. Being heavily involved in open communities and social causes, they use their website as a platform to help further their interests.
Having worked with us previously, Snook were confident we could solve this problem for them. They had concerns about the budget and the expense of a completely customised approach, but we reassured them and directed them to an MVP approach to the website. This is something they use extensively for their own work.
Managing Content with WordPress
Snook had used WordPress extensively in their own work but in very few sites as complicated as this. When previously used for complex sites, they found it quickly got difficult to use, and became slow and bloated. We were able to show them sites that offered a pleasant user experience and site speed while still being large and with complex content management needs.
If we had not been able to help Snook with these issues, they may have had to settle for the previous implementation of the website that was slow, buggy, failed to rank in search engines, and did not portray their brand values.
One of the problems organisations like Snook have is the sheer amount of content they have been able to produce over the last ten years. They have extensive design and strategy skills in-house but they do not have a core competency of development skills in-house.
The volume of content required for the site leads to a lot of complexity and different templates needed by the system. They don’t have internal development resources or the time to be constantly working with external developers in order to add new pages, new templates, or trim back the extra content.
Page Builders Rarely Solve Problems
To help Snook overcome these problems we consulted with them extensively in order to define their needs, resources, and the most appropriate resolution to their situation.
Built a responsive frontend for the site
Snook practices user empathy so it makes complete sense for them to have a great user experience for all of their website users. We built their mobile-first responsive website with HiDPI image options that take account of the user’s available screen size and potential bandwidth restrictions
Built an easy to use WordPress-based content management system
Load of content doesn’t have to mean getting rid of the usual WordPress archives and pages. We took an additive approach to the project and added new functionality where it made sense to do so and reused existing WordPress components where possible.
From their archives we created ‘projects’ and posts that are a hybrid of the page builder. They can also fall back to the more traditional content produced by WordPress’s built-in structure.
Imported almost ten years’ worth of content from across various sites
Snook have revamped their website numerous times over the last ten years. We helped them import this treasure trove of history into the new site and to manage what of that content is currently accessible to the public.
Content should be kept alive for the institutional memory of the company but sometimes it shouldn’t be publicly available.
A lot of the content produced over the years was full of inline styles and remnants of old branding styles where the content had not been treated kindly
Produced a flexible, easy to use page builder just for Snook
To save having hundreds of similar page templates that must be selected individually for the site to work, we decided it was preferable to build a component library that members of the Snook team could use to select the presentation they need for their content.
The page builder is easy to use and allows Snook’s website team to select, reorder, edit, and enhance individual page components. This gives them an unlimited number of possible page layouts with which to craft their message.
Created an organisation tagging system that lets Snook reuse content links in multiple places
Since Snook had a lot of content that needed to be used in multiple locations, we enabled an arbitrary tagging system that lets them add content to archives, and where needed, simply by tagging it correctly. This tagging and searching mechanism is key to their website strategy.
Optimised the speed of pages
Loading pages from potentially hundreds of different components adds a lot of complexity, can put a lot of stress on the database, and make page loads feel sluggish. We’ve cached the site heavily at the web server level. We’re not using any complicated WordPress plugins that add a fake caching layer. With our web server based cache, most pages never load WordPress, they just get fast delivery of content.
Ground Breaking Technical Approach
Our solutions are somewhere unique when it comes to the wider world. Firstly, with Snook, we used a highly iterative process when developing the site where we made changes, tested them and showed them a few different version of the site. In our process we had a production copy that was live to the public, a private staging and test environment for Snook to trial content, and then more private development test version for our own internal use.
The search and filter functionality is among the first, in the world, to be powered by the new WordPress REST API.
Since the templates are so complex, they would’ve taken a long time to write and manage in the standard WordPress ‘Loop’ templates. So we decided to use Timber and Twig to improve upon what WordPress comes with, out of the box.
One nice advantage, when it comes to using an extra template layer, is the abstraction you get. This let us solve a problem, which often comes up in modern website development projects, where templates might need to be reused in the frontend for dynamic updates and on the backend for when the server generates the page.
By using Timber, we were able to reuse the Twig template file inside of our frontend code. This was made possible by using TwigJS as the template supplier for our Backbone JS views. This doesn’t seem like a big deal on a small scale project but on large projects this can, and will, be a huge time saver.
Valuable Experience All-round
Over the course of this project, we were able to consult heavily with Snook, and coach them on digital design, and designing for the web, and other UI-based systems. These are distinct skills that draw on design-thinking but start to incorporate systems-thinking as well. How are things going to interact and work together? How will the overall design work and what are the pieces that need to be designed, for the system to work at all. As service designers at their core, it was valuable for Snook to work with a developer to guide and coach them on collaborating, and on how to communicate designs so that they are understandable by developers.
By improving the website and providing systems for Snook to use, we have helped to set them up for a consistent brand message in the years to come with a content management system that is extendable, easy to use, and gives them enough control of the site to make it how they want but not so much that they could go off brand.
For a consultancy organisation like Snook, consistency, reliability, and professionalism are key to attracting and retaining new clients. He hope we’ve helped them achieve that.
The project was a great learning process for Snook. Powered By Coffee supported us to learn more on how to design for and with developers. I believe that we have gained a great understanding of how to work together well and future collaboration would benefit from this experience.Robin & The Web Team, Snook