So, why did we create a new website?
These days many organizations succeed or fail because of their website. The City’s Department for Culture & Creative Development (DCCD) would call it a great success if you visited their new website and did more of what San Antonians do best – get creative. GetCreativeSanAntonio.com, launched after 1 1/2 years of collaborative process to make the many disciplines of art in San Antonio accessible to local creatives, art lovers, and cultural tourists.
Rewind to 2012, the DCCD was then known as the Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA). It had been known as the source for arts funding, the leader of The Cultural Collaborative, and organizer of creative economy reports. At the turn of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2012 – after much discussion and coordination – several divisions and venues that were previously managed by other City departments became part of what is now known as the Department for Culture & Creative Development. With that, the department grew to include the San Antonio Film Commission as well as La Villita Historic Arts Village, Spanish Governor’s Palace, Historic Market Square, and Mission Marquee Plaza (formerly Mission Drive-in). The growth of the department represented a drastic increase in the amount of programs and services provided by DCCD for the community.
Amidst the growth of the department, we should also note that the local creative community continues to grow as demonstrated in local Creative Industry data and reports. A recent Texas Monthly article also noted that San Antonio is popular with Millennials and keeping that generation around depends on the quality of life San Antonio offers. According to The Arts Factor, a report released on June of this year by ArtsBoston, arts and culture provide an excellent return on investment, helping to create and retain an innovative workforce. More than any other social offering, the availability of arts and cultural opportunities makes people love where they live.
With so many changes at the local and department levels, the need for a new website was becoming inescapable. DCCD had to improve its online presence and improve how it reaches the audience it serves.
So, fast forward to 2013, a little over a year ago we met with focus groups representing DCCD-funded agencies, tenants of La Villita and Market Square, SA2020, local artists, communications and tourism representatives, some of whom had never used SAHEARTS.com. The focus group conversations centered on the design, navigation, and content of existing DCCD sites, primarily SAHEARTS.com. We did this along with surveying department staff to identify the needs of so many new and different audiences.
Some of the comments we heard during the focus groups:
I don’t know where to start (on SAHEARTS homepage).”
Pages look cluttered.”
Homepage doesn’t look like a homepage.”
There is a lack of unity, doesn’t tell a story.”
Need more photos, less text.”
Site shouldn’t be just calendar, supposed to be a guide.”
Site should be about what makes SA different/special.
When SAHEARTS began, it was a result of The Cultural Collaborative and a partnership with the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau to increase the city’s promotion and awareness of the arts. One of the site’s main purposes was to present the variety of cultural events offered by local organizations, whether the event was funded by the department (OCA at the time) or not. The other goal was for the site to not look governmental.
While the goals of SAHEARTS were still relevant in 2012 when OCA became DCCD, the challenge was how to tell a more complete story of what DCCD now represented. We quickly determined there were too many different existing websites, content management systems, and web administrators — not to mention multiple logos, social media sites, and plenty of frustration and aspiration to go around.
So what did we need? We needed a site that presented DCCD in a cohesive and comprehensive manner with more functionality – a lot more functionality, actually. Also, the site still needed to be user-friendly, attractive, interactive, and informative. It was also important to not disregard the established identities for each division and venue while presenting them under the umbrella of the DCCD. Moving forward we also had to be mindful that as the SA2020 Arts & Culture Lead Partner, one of our goals is to help San Antonio achieve the vision to “lead the world as a creative community.” How would this new website support and further this cause?
After coming to the conclusion that our platform at the time would not work for all the needs of the department, it was decided that the City’s Information Technology Services Department was going to build the site and we began meeting with the project team.
One of the first big decisions was choosing a domain name for the site. I learned that a domain name can truly steer your project. Particularly with our site, we needed to choose something that made sense to a wide spectrum of audiences and communicated what DCCD stands for since it is not just about a wide array of arts — DCCD is also about culture, history, and even some of the humanities. Plus, we are the Department for Culture and Creative Development. After weeks of researching the field, searching for available domains, and testing marketing ideas, “GetCreativeSanAntonio” started to resonate. It was both a call to action and fun way to interpret what DCCD does for the community.
The project involved many months of analyzing, researching, editing, designing, and formatting, in order to incorporate as many needs or requirements as was reasonable. As a result of much planning and many meetings, we were finally able to launch GetCreativeSanAntonio.com in July. Intended to be a one-stop-shop for arts and culture in San Antonio, we want the site to be a resource for locals, visitors, creative consumers, and creative producers. You’re bound to find something for everyone on GetCreative!
One of the coolest things about GetCreativeSanAntonio, in case you haven’t already noticed, is that it’s a responsive site, giving you a quality experience while navigating the full site on mobile and tablet devices. We’re proud to have the first fully-responsive site launched by the City.
GetCreativeSanAntonio.com offers a number of interactive functions that enable the user to learn more about local arts and culture in a dynamic way with lots of attractive images to fill the pages. So far our analytics tell us people are spending more time getting to know our site, which we are definitely excited to see. We’ve still got more to come, which is truly the challenge of maintaining a website – keeping it up to date so people come back.
To tell the story of the DCCD we found several ways for each DCCD division and venue to maintain its own identity while under the umbrella of DCCD. Each has its own landing page that serves as an “About” page with the respective logo in the header to help with identification and navigation. Depending on where you’re navigating, you’ll notice that the page footer is particular to the section of the site you are reading. For instance, when you are on the homepage, all social media will link directly to DCCD pages but if you are on a Film Commission page, you will find a Facebook feed from the Film Commission page plus direct links to all of their social media pages.
Some existing functions have been upgraded, like the Events Calendar powered by Artsopolis and Newsletter through Constant Contact, and new ways to connect to the many social media sites for DCCD. Another improved resource on the site includes opportunities such as calls for artists, jobs, and internships available for creative types.
We’ve also custom-built an infrastructure for our Public Art Map to be a system that lives within the site. The new map is a great tool we encourage everyone to use to explore local public art projects.
If you are looking for information on how to rent a space at La Villita Historic Arts Village for a special event or other occasion, we’ve got plenty of details online to help you make a reservation including maps, diagrams, and policies. We’ve also raised the profile of Spanish Governor’s Palace, a lesser-known historic site in town, in order to educate others about its relevance to Texas history. The Spanish Governor’s Palace is also the perfect setting for a picturesque wedding and available to rent for that special occasion.
Finally, the loyal audience of the local arts organizations – many of which rely on DCCD’s financial and promotional support – had specific needs and special attention was given to the Arts Funding section of our site in order to more clearly articulate the ways in which DCCD programs fund local arts and culture.
The arts funding section of the old SAHEARTS site was one of the most cumbersome, yet most critical. By reviewing similar agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts, Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, and San Francisco’s Grants for the Arts, we came up with a more user-friendly way to present what is often dense and complicated information. This section will continue to evolve parallel with funding practices and procedures.
Coming soon, we’ll be adding another third party integration with the addition of Reel Scout to the Film Commission’s production resources page. Reel Scout is an online tool for finding and promoting film locations. It is an industry standard used by over 100 film commissions worldwide that will offer prospective producers and directors a detailed look at San Antonio.
Another big project in the works is finding a new solution to our Arts Funding online application process. We’re about to begin that research phase which will potentially include a solution to the agency award management process as well. As our funding process has dramatically changed this year with new funding categories and a submission process that was completely online, the department continues to seek ways to improve data collection and management that serves the community and the department.
So what did I learn?
Before GetCreativeSanAntonio, I had never completed a website project from start to finish. Previously, I was responsible for the needs assessment, procurement, and some of the design for the San Anto Cultural Arts site. I also worked with developers and designers on the early stages of the online Tour Request system for the San Antonio Museum of Art. Here are some key lessons I’ve learned over the years about building a website:
1. Communication is key.
For me, that meant communication with users, managers, creators, and consultants. Lots of meetings, conference calls, demos, and click-throughs.
Find out what works for other sites, what’s lacking from other sites, and get to know your own organization even better.
3. Work with people who know more than you but are willing to listen.
I worked with the DCCD department director and managers, IT managers and team members, an IT consultant, and an editor. Each had special knowledge to bring to the table and it was my job to act as a bridge for all these conversations, needs, and tasks.
4. Ask technical questions and learn the lingo.
It can be overwhelming and even alienating but extremely helpful once you get accustomed. Learn the meanings of: wireframe, information architecture, RTF, module, and my favorite, GO LIVE DATE.
Always keep your eyes on the prize. Keep tabs on timelines and deadlines, even when you don’t meet the original deadline.
*Featured/Top Image: Folklorico dancers fill the plazas at Historic Market Square. Photo by Tracey Maurer for the City of San Antonio.