In the autumn of 2019, Studio 24 was appointed WordPress development partner for the Parliament Digital Service. The project comprised seven websites all to be launched in early 2020 to coincide with a wider re-branding of the main UK Parliament website. The websites aim to inform and empower people of all ages across the country as they engage with UK Parliament and democracy.
About the client
Through a number of different channels, UK Parliament encourages people to understand the role and function of the House of Commons and House of Lords and how they can get involved.
About the project
UK Parliament was aiming to migrate the content of their current CMS onto the latest version of EPiServer by early 2020.
We were appointed to develop seven websites. This involved migrating the old Research Briefings website into three library microsites: the Commons Library the Lords Library and the POST Library, with one landing page. Plus websites for UK Parliament Week, EqualiTeas and Learning.
All these sites are involved in disseminating information and helping adults and children to engage with how UK Parliament works.
The first site to launch was Learning. And this is the site we will focus on for this case study. UK Parliament’s Education and Engagement Service helps teachers and community group leaders to engage young people aged 5–18 in matters of Parliament; focussing on active citizenship and democracy. Users can book a free visit to Parliament, search for teaching resources or book an outreach session for their school or community group.
This site had the tightest deadline – only 10 weeks. We had to work closely with the client on devising a strategy for a successful delivery.
For the Learning website we had 3 main objectives.
1) No fail deadline
To coincide with the end of a supplier contract and the first part of the launch of the UK Parliament parent site we had a no fail deadline to launch in January – that’s just 10 weeks to design and develop a new website.
2) Easy to use for content editors
PDS had a number of bespoke templates and tools that could not be quickly replicated in the new Parliament CMS. Template restrictions in the CMS meant the PDS team had little control over the layout of their content, so we developed these sites using WordPress to allow greater flexibility. We had to redesign functionality that was not currently working to provide a site where pages could be created quickly and adapted easily.
3) Improved user experience and content management
The Learning site helps users to know what Parliament does – with bookable visits, downloadable resources and national events to get involved with. We presented clear Information Architecture so visitors to the site can quickly understand what resources are available to suit their needs. Consequently, PDS wanted to see an increase in conversions (e.g. bookings and downloads) and an improvement in SEO.
The UK Parliament parent site was due to launch at the end of January 2020, so the Learning site had to be launched in parallel. The timeline was:
- commissioned in November,
- beta site delivery in December,
- launch in January.
We had to hit the ground running on this one! The Project Manager quickly identified that the key to success on this project would be pragmatic scheduling.
We believe in honest communication. To meet the tight deadline, we had to prioritise work and discuss Minimum Viable Product (MVP) with the client. For example, it was agreed that visit booking forms would not be custom developed for the launch.
We spent one month working with the client on the designs. We worked with key stakeholders on a User Experience (UX) review to understand the main audiences and what journeys they would take. The Studio 24 design team produced a new site map, templates and components. Whilst looking at the designs we incorporated the expected design elements of the wider Parliament website such as fonts and colours.
We focussed on user journeys with calls to action presented simply and clearly to help the Education and Engagement Team deliver their services. Once these had been agreed with the client and stakeholders, we started the build in December.
The team used an advanced templating tool called Timber to help uncouple the HTML templates on the front end and the Content Management System (CMS) on the back end so that they could be worked on separately. This enabled us to break the project into smaller phases that could run in parallel to meet the earliest deadline possible.
Throughout November Studio 24 and PDS worked simultaneously; our developers were working on the front end whilst the client was adding content to the CMS at the same time.
This provided an added element of risk for the project, as normally we work with the client on using the CMS once the build is complete. Using this approach, the PDS content editors were unable to see what the pages looked like after completing content for each page as the pages were still being designed!
Our Project Managers had to be on top of the schedules at all times to balance the needs of design, development and content entry. They facilitated this method of working with weekly catch-ups to go through tasks assigned to Studio 24 and to understand what the client would be doing.
The weekly catch-ups involved key stakeholders from PDS including representatives from the marketing, content, and visits teams. This meant that there was clarity on both sides regarding expectations and approaches to the project. It’s only by having this close and focussed collaboration that we could work in this unconventional way.
Once the website was launched, we could get to work on improving Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). We optimised each landing page and keystone content page to rank for Parliament’s preferred keywords. This will provide the end user with the information they need to continue on their user journey from the search engine results page.
It was a fast paced, rigorously planned project with two teams working simultaneously to meet a very tight deadline. The site was launched on time and on budget.
1) No fail deadline
Thanks to good project management, clear prioritisation, and efficient design and build approach we met the no fail deadline.
2) Easy to use for content editors
Parliamentary staff were trained to use the CMS and work confidently on making changes. After the launch, the content editors were able to set up their own, new booking forms without any assistance from us. These replaced the forms that had been taken out from Minimum Viable Product (MVP) at the start of the project.
3) Improved user experience
The Learning site launched in January. Just a couple of months later, Covid-19 meant that school visits and visits to Parliament had to be canceled.
The excellent working relationship between Studio 24 and PDS continues as we now move into iterations of these microsites. Learning and Research Briefings are now in their second phase.
These are turbulent times for politics in the UK and across the world. We are very pleased to work with the PDS on websites that help everyone to learn about and engage with democracy.