D2 is proud to announce the launch of the new Willamalane Park and Recreation District website! We worked closely with the district to build a modern website that offered substantial leaps forward in usability, accessibility, security, and brand consistency, building in bespoke features like a real-time connection to their activity reservation system.

There's not much we can add to the glowing praise we received, so we'll just show it (with permission):

You made it so easy for us to contribute, provide feedback, and work on solutions together. You were so flexible and understanding when our internal timelines were shifting, and you remained focused on the goal. [...] We just got some feedback from someone with dyslexia highlighting how easy it is to use and read, which was absolutely the best thing we could have heard! [...] We have no doubt that we selected the right vendor for our website. I've never found it so easy to work with an agency. We are looking forward to the next steps and continuing this partnership.

The process—the way we interact with the client, maintain accountability, and guide each step of the decision-making process— is the key to a superior result, and not just from a technical sense.

Here's how we did it:

The team prioritized early stakeholder buy-in to a user-centered process, emphasizing the how of the decision making process rather than delving into specific details immediately. We further established clear success criteria based on values and user needs, allowing us to derive desired features from these overarching goals in an organic way. A small, dedicated group of stakeholders was empowered to make key decisions in that framework.

Embracing an iterative approach, we prioritized building the minimum viable solution that demonstrably improved upon the existing user experience. This not only allowed us to build upon a solid foundation but also ensured flexibility and room for future enhancements as the "unknown unknowns" made themselves obvious.

One of the keys to maximizing efficiency lay in parallel processes. By working on content, design, and system integration in parallel, no one part of the site-building process was delayed by any other.

One of the biggest challenges of a full website refresh is often around content and how to organize it. Institutional sites with lots of editors, over time, tend to put content here and there wherever it's convenient at the time. Some information goes out of date or maybe there's no obvious place to file a piece of content so it goes in "misc." It's not the fault of any one individual, but emergent from inflexible system design.

Willamalane's stakeholder group recognized this shortcoming of their incumbent site and how it impacted the ability of visitors to find what they needed easily. We crawled the existing library of content and used analytics data to sort it into semantic categories (among others):

This semantic division with tagged entities gave them the flexibility to break free of their prior, stricter categorization (e.g. "does aquarobics fit under exercise or swimming?"). By setting up content under flexible taxonomies, they can grow and change them as their operational needs evolve over time.

Having performed the crawl as we did, separating each page into a "node" of content to be evaluated, Willamalane's stakeholders could figure out at a glance what could be dropped or what needed further investigation to be rewritten. We also had the benefit of keeping a lossless map between URLs on the old site and eventual URLs on the new site so redirections could be set in bulk—important for SEO.

To maintain accessibility, these colors aren't the only means of indicating what an element does or means, but by defining those early, we avoided the previous categorical trap that the existing site had, where blue meant aquatics, teal meant parks, etc... which caused confusion when there was content that, again, didn't fit neatly into predefined categories.

To keep things lively and add more playful interactivity, subtle dimensionality was proposed with rounded "cards" comprising the main elemental building block.

We're platform agnostic here at D2, which means that we don't limit ourselves to a single system with which we're familiar—not every tool is right for every job. In this case, we recommended Drupal for a number of reasons.

Handling ActiveNet

Beginning the project, we knew that Willamalane's activities were managed through ActiveNet, that they had an API available, and that it was important to integrate it into the new site to ease the user experience. We did not know the exact ins-and-outs of the API or what the limits were, but were confident that any challenge has a solution and approached it that way.

While the ActiveNet API didn't have the most complete documentation, the biggest challenge was the rate limits imposed that put a hard cap on being able to call for data on-demand to show available enrollment on each of the hundreds of activities. To respond to these limits, we made the architectural decision to replicate the data from ActiveNet on a regular basis, synchronizing changed activities on a half-hourly basis. We created a small program in Go that ran as a systemd process that managed the synchronization of ActiveNet information into Drupal, which was then searchable and queryable on demand.

We're still working with Willamalane to keep the site up-to-date with a monthly cadence of improvements to meet the evolving requirements of the organization.

If your organization—regardless of what kind—is ready to elevate your digital presence, reach out and we can work on a solution together.