ExpressionEngine is the only platform that can provide the flexibility that the site required. By using EE and other 3rd party add-ons we were able to simplify the process of managing member groups and eliminate the high learning curve for the many members and departments who will have administrative access. One of our highest priorities in developing sites is perfecting the client’s user experience and simplifying their publishing process.
What can you tell us about the team that built the Partnership for Strong Families site?
Flaxen Design is a full service agency with locations in Boulder, CO and Gainesville, FL. We have been working with ExpressionEngine for about 4 years. The team that contributed to this site is made up of myself, Matt Green - lead developer and designer, Matt Stauffer - secondary developer, Amy Cox - information architecture and content developer and Kelly Norris - copywriter.
What can you tell us about the site in general? What are the goals of the site and the main audience?
Partnership for Strong Families is a non-profit welfare service organization in North Central Florida. Prior to the redesign they hosted completely separate sites for each of several departments, with the organization’s meaningful content distributed across the different sites. They asked us to create one consistent site to bring the departments and content together.
They wanted their web presence to be inviting yet professional, and needed it to appeal to every demographic—their audience includes young foster children, families or individuals looking to adopt or foster, partner agencies, partner families, and a network of providers. The goal of the site is to raise awareness and provide resources and information.
What was your major consideration in using ExpressionEngine for this?
There are a few reasons why it is the perfect fit for this project. EE is the only platform that can provide the flexibility that the site required. By using EE and other 3rd party add-ons we were able to simplify the process of managing member groups and eliminate the high learning curve for the many members and departments who will have administrative access. One of our highest priorities in developing sites is perfecting the client’s user experience and simplifying their publishing process. Also, EE allows us to build in such a way that the site is scalable without compromising the necessary separation between design and content.
Were there any Commercial Add-ons that proved useful? If so, which ones? How did they help?
Datagrab - We used Datagrab to import content from their previous calendar application and their staff directory. They use an external application to manage for the staff directory, so we have Datagrab running on a schedule to import the external application’s automatically uploaded CSV files. Datagrab does a great job on repeating updates (like our daily import), comparing and updating existing entries and adding and deleting changed entries.
Backup Pro(ish) - Although we use cron jobs to back all of our databases every night, then local crons to download them, we like having the option to manually log into the control panel and back up there as well. Also, this provides the client peace of mind that they can run a manual back up any time, just in case.
Low Search - We used Low Search for the intranet document search. The search results are conditionally displayed in category by channel. We also needed it to create the staff directory search, which uses custom field searches using dropdown menus.
Structure - This module was perfect for this job. It handles all of our navigation, breadcrumbs, and page management (which is significant, as the site currently has over 100 pages). We prefer Structure over other navigation and page solutions because it requires the least amount of steps for adding content and has the lowest learning curve for clients. It also provides a simple solution for us to display a public sitemap.
Matrix - We used Matrix fields in cases where it made more sense to keep repeating content within a single edit page, rather than adding listings using Structure entries. The “Heart Gallery” adoption board is an example of this. Matrix was also important, used alongside Assets, for the intranet document resources and file management.
Playa - We try to use native relationship fields when possible, but in cases where we need multi-selects we have to use Playa, and we love it for its amazing UI and ease of use. One example of where we used Playa is for the different sidebar elements. For each page the client can drag and drop from a list of all sidebar elements (filled from a different channel) which they’d like to include or exclude from the sidebar on that page.
Assets - We used Assets for all of the clients file management. This was especially important for the massive amounts of documents they make available to the public, and within their intranet as well.
Solspace Calendar - Each calendar entry is added and assigned to a primary calendar category using Solspace’s Primary Category module. All front end calendar events are published to the intranet calendar as well, and we extended the module to restrict access for each calendar based on member group.
Flexible Admin - Flexible Admin allows us to customize the CP menu bar on a per-user or per-member group basis. This was an absolute requirement, due to the number of members and member groups who will be accessing the control panel. We needed to make it as simple as possible and hate having to say “just ignore that button”. For most members, we set their home page to Structure and provided one other navigation item for changing their username and password.
Better Workflow - Manages all of the publishing. Each registered member belongs to a member group for their department. There are multiple levels of editors and admins with publishing approval.
Did you do any custom add-on development?
Before Better Workflow was released for EE 2.0 we had developed a bare bones publishing workflow.
What is next on the plate for the Partnership for Strong Families site? Any additional functionality you can tell us about?
After the initial launch of the site we built phase 2 which was a replacement for their internal intranet. We imported all of the content including document resources, calendar events, and online forms. All resources are now managed by EE and restricted for Intranet Admins. Admins can upload documents, assign them to categories, add pages, and even build online forms within EE’s control panel.
Do you have any other information you’d like to share with the community? Tips from this project you’d like to share? Lessons you’ve learned?
EE is capable of so much, so don’t hesitate to push the limits and use it to build to the needs of your business and clients. Also, sometimes developers are developing so long and are so close to a project that they get too far away from thinking like clients, who are just trying to manage their content. For the last few years we’ve been very intentional in thinking about CMS usability, working to create a easy-to-learn and easy-to-use backend site editing environment. For this site alone we conducted 3 different full training meetings and created an extensive user guide for the many users that would be managing content on a weekly basis. Since there are so many employees using the site, ranging from IT techs to non-technical employees, it is very important for us to work to lower the learning curve, to test very thoroughly, and to write well-organized and understandable documentation.