Community Website

Cass County, Iowa, is a vibrant, active and family-focused community experiencing exciting growth. In a collaborative effort between four county-wide organizations, the residents of Cass County and those considering the area as a place to visit, live or do business, became better connected to the information they need to live and serve in the community.

This is the story of how I was able to help make a positive difference to everyday life in Cass County, Iowa.

www.atlanticiowa.com

Cass County - Remembering the Past, Embracing the Future

Challenge

Living in or visiting a vibrant, growing community is exciting, but it can also be challenging because there’s so much you don’t know. Getting detailed information can be particularly time-consuming if you’re an individual or business trying to decide if an area is somewhere you’d like to relocate. What is there to do? What will the area be like in 5 and 10 years? What rules and regulations do we need to follow? How do I open a business in the area? How can I find a place to live? Online searching for answers may involve navigating multiple county websites to try and find the answers or the contact information of someone who can help.

The stakeholders in this project understood the user challenges all too well. Cass County, the City of Atlantic, the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, and the Cass Atlantic Development Corporation (CADCO) decided to join forces to create a community website that would integrate each of the four organizations in one place, with an overall goal of providing better, easier-to-find information for those already living in the community, as well as those visiting or considering relocation. They also wanted the integrated website to better represent the true brand essence of the community -- one that would remember the past, specifically the area’s rich history and strong foundation, while embracing the future of a growing, vibrant, active and family-focused community.

"When you're here, you're home."

Cass County, Iowa Logo City of Atlantic, Iowa Logo Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, Iowa Logo Cass Atlantic Development Corporation, Iowa Logo

My Role

I was responsible for leading and executing the experience strategy, as well as defining the scope and structure for the product. This included discovery and research, creating personas, and developing the site map and information architecture (IA). I was also responsible for creating and presenting deliverables to a myriad of organizational stakeholders.

Strategy

Where We Came From

During a number of conversations with stakeholders from each of the four organizations, as well as with several community users of each organization, frustrations and pain-points emerged. I was able to see clearly why Cass County, Iowa was undertaking this project.

Navigating and finding information across a variety of outdated websites was very difficult for members of the community and potential visitors, residents and businesses. Information was often duplicated across the websites, lacked consistency, and was difficult to update. The identity and true brand essence of a vibrant growing community was lost. The existing structure caused frustration and confusion for both the stakeholders and their users. Such lack of efficiency in accomplishing tasks projected an overall negative brand image.

Old Cass County, Iowa Website

Old Cass County, Iowa Website

Old City of Atlantic, Iowa Website

Old City of Atlantic, Iowa Website

Old Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, Iowa Website

Old Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, Iowa Website

Old Cass Atlantic Development Corporation, Iowa Website

Old Cass Atlantic Development Corporation, Iowa Website

Moving Forward

Each organization and its users had specific needs and goals, and during our conversations, I was able to identify and summarize them.

Product Objectives

  • Increase efficiency in accessing county information and forms

User Groups

  • Current residents & businesses (taxpayers)
  • Future residents & businesses (future taxpayers)
  • Residents serving current and future residents and businesses (realtors, developers, etc.)

User Needs

  • Research real estate information (property values, property taxes, etc.)
  • Easily locate and identify individual county departments and relevant information to each department
  • Find answers to specific questions relevant to the county (i.e. How do I?..)
  • Access important and necessary county forms
  • Access information and hours/operations of county departments and services

Success Metrics

  • A decrease in foot traffic (an assumption was made that there was currently 90% foot traffic and only 10% website traffic)

Product Objectives

  • Increase efficiency in accessing county information and forms

User Groups

  • Current residents & businesses
  • Future residents & businesses

User Needs

  • Easily locate and identify individual city departments and relevant information to each department
  • Find answers to specific questions relevant to the city (i.e. How do I get a building permit?)
  • Access important and necessary county forms
  • Access information and hours/operations of city departments and services

Product Objectives

  • Create awareness and inspire (or stimulate) current residents and business, as well as potential new residents and businesses, to take action in the community, participate, and join
  • Increase efficiency in accessing community information

User Groups

  • Current residents & businesses
  • Future residents & businesses
  • Visitors

User Needs

  • Discover things to do in the community and ways to get involved
  • Discover/research businesses in the community
  • Membership benefits/networking opportunities/join the chamber
  • Post events and promote events/activities

Success Metrics

  • An increase in membership accessing and updating their information (currently only 10% of membership does this)

Product Objectives

  • Stimulate business and economic activity for both new and existing businesses
  • Increase efficiency in accessing information and business resources

User Groups

  • Business owners/entrepreneurs
  • Board members

User Needs

  • Discover/research information and resources available to start, grow, and maintain their business
  • Membership benefits/join

During stakeholder interviews with the City of Atlantic, Iowa, it became clear that the Parks & Recreation city department was an important part of the Cass County area development, and would benefit by participating in the website project.

Product Objectives

  • Central location for information on all the parks and activities in the area
  • Increase park & recreation awareness and encourage activity

User Groups

  • Current residents
  • Future residents
  • Visitors

User Needs

  • Access/research information on parks (locations, hours/operations, amenities, events, programs offered, rules and policies, etc.)
  • Reserve shelters

Personas

From the data I collected during the user and stakeholder interviews, I created a set of simple personas to better represent the user groups of each organization. The context proved helpful moving forward, reinforcing the need to keep the users in mind when defining the scope, structure, and visuals for the project.

Cass Community, Iowa Persona Cass County, Iowa Persona
City of Atlantic, Iowa Persona City of Atlantic, Iowa Parks & Rec Persona
Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, Iowa Persona Cass Atlantic Development Corporation, Iowa Persona

Scope

After defining the product objectives, user groups and user needs, I was able to analyze the data and identify areas of overlapping information, as well as product objectives and user needs that were unique and specific to each organization. The overlapping information helped to identify important information that would be relevant to users regardless of which user group they belonged. Information such as events, real estate, news, jobs, things to do, places to go, businesses in the area, etc.

Knowing and understanding this information, I was able to suggest a scope that included creating and leading with a 'Cass Community' section for the website that would include all of the overlapping information, as well as content that was most commonly searched for and accessed most frequently by users. This approach would provide easy access and discoverability of the most relevant, important information that users were looking for regardless of which user group they belonged. It would also help to avoid duplicate and potentially inconsistent content across the multiple organizations. Each organization would also have their own individual section of the website to include the information that was unique and and specific to them. Information such as organizational contact information, forms, resources, departmental information, etc.

Primary Areas Of Interest

  • Real estate
  • Forms & documents
  • How to information
  • Events
  • News
  • Jobs
  • Hours of operations for all county departments and services
  • Emergency information

Primary Areas Of Interest

  • Radix
  • Forms & documents
  • How to information
  • Events
  • News
  • Jobs
  • Hours of operations for all county departments and services
  • Emergency information

Primary Areas Of Interest

  • Events
  • Locations
  • Amenities
  • Reserve shelters
  • News
  • Jobs

Primary Areas Of Interest

  • Events
  • Members/businesses
  • Join the Chamber
  • Tell your story (success stories and testimonials)
  • News
  • Jobs
  • Community Guide
  • Ads

Primary Areas Of Interest

  • Business resources
  • Events
  • Join
  • How to information
  • News & press releases
  • Jobs
  • Success stories & testimonials
  • Newsletter

Requirements

Additionally, from the interviews and the data collected, I was able to define specific product requirements for the project.

  • To articulate the community brand (family-focused with a vibrant, strong, and active community). "When you're here, you're home."
  • A well executed site map, information architecture (IA), and content strategy, to provide users with a user experience that allows them to easily find and complete tasks, and one that meets their needs and goals.
  • Design for content; readable and easily scannable with clear visual hierarchy and call-to-actions (CTA), clean typography, and good utilization of white space.
  • A modern, flat and light-weight design utilizing current development technologies, best practices and methodologies to assist with optimal user experiences (responsive design, SEO techniques, etc).
  • An emphasis on professional custom photography, imagery and video that creates user emotion.
  • Encourage engagement through events and activities, sharing, action steps (i.e. how to guides, join, etc.).
  • An effective event management system for managing and presenting events/things to do.
  • An enhance user experience through responsive design (accessible on all devices).
  • A content management system for managing and maintaining content.

Structure

Site Map

Although there were a number of overlapping areas of information, it was still important to categorize the information in a way that would be identifiable and relatable to each user group. Doing so would help influence their interactions and behaviors in experiencing the website to help them discover the specific information they were looking for. For example, users that are residents of Cass County, as well as visitors and those considering Cass County as a place to live, could be seeking information on ways they could experience Cass County. Information about things to do, places to see and stay, directions, etc. would be relevant to all three kinds of users. Users that were considering Cass County as a place to live could also be interested in information regarding relocating to the area. They would need information about real estate, jobs, school information, etc. And users looking for businesses in Cass County, or considering business opportunities, could be seeking information related to doing business in the area. Information such as finding businesses in the area, starting a business, places to work, etc.

Based on this understanding, I suggested the following site map for the Cass Community website.

Cass Community, Iowa Site Map
Cass County, Iowa Site Map & Information Architecture Whiteboard

Cass Community, Iowa Site Map & Information Architecture Whiteboard

Information Architecture

In addition to the site map, I proposed the following information architecture (IA) for the Cass Community website to define the organization, grouping, ordering and presentation of the specific content. The IA, together with the site map, helped demonstrate the navigational and informational structure that would help users to move through the website and find the specific information they were seeking.

Cass Community, Iowa Information Architecture
Cass County, Iowa Logo Cass County, Iowa Information Architecture
City of Atlantic, Iowa Logo City of Atlantic, Iowa Information Architecture
City of Atlantic, Iowa, Parks & Rec Logo City of Atlantic, Iowa Parks & Rec Information Architecture
Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, Iowa Logo Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, Iowa Information Architecture
Cass Atlantic Development Corporation, Iowa Logo Cass Atlantic Development Corporation, Iowa Information Architecture

Surface

After completing the navigation design and information design, the visual design was created to express how the site would be presented aesthetically on “the surface” to deliver the intended experience to the users. This experience and visual identity would ultimately help articulate the true brand essence of Cass Community, Iowa, allowing the community to “remember the past, while also embracing the future.”

"When you're here, you're home."

Cass Community, Iowa Website

Visual design created by the talented Brittany Wong

Cass Community, Iowa Responsive Website