The Oregon Education Association (OEA) is a union that represents more than 40,000 educators working in Oregon’s public schools and community colleges. During my time in working with them to keep their website updated and working as smoothly as possible, the communications team at OEA realized the importance of a strong and utilized website presence – one that not only provides information, but inspires action.
During early discussions about the project, it became clear that OEA also needed a visual brand revamp. That is, a logo redesign, coupled with solid visual brand guidelines. This proved to be just as important, if not more so, as redesigning the website.
Modernizing an old logo
The previous version of the OEA logo was a simple typographic logo. While effective, the Communications team felt it was becoming outdated and that the overall feel was a bit too serious and formal. The key to this was modernizing the logo without alienating the more conservative and older members and leadership.
Starting with a simple yet informative creative brief, going all the way through various iterations and eventual finalization, the new OEA logo hit all the objectives we set out:
- keep the simple and straightforward feel that it did in the past, but with a modern and updated touch, both in the form of typography and graphics;
- convey approachability, trustworthiness;
- tie it with Oregon visually.
That last objective was near and dear to my heart. Being an Oregon native and having gotten to know what OEA does for education in our state, I really put a ton of myself into the logo and the brand style guide so that the brand would honor what OEA does and would also project the future of the organization. That passion fueled the website project as well.
Simplifying a large website
The previous iteration of the OEA website launched in 2013. In the time since, the needs for the site shifted. In their words, OEA was “looking for an online presence that is simplified, clearly articulates and is aligned with the OEA brand, and conveys the role our members have in making the union their own. Our website must sell the value of the union to prospective members and reiterate that value through actions, events, and resources to members engaged in the work we do.”
In addition to those goals, one core requirement for the project was to allow for “microsites.” OEA has sub-groups or “local groups” that have specific online needs. For example, OEA Foundation, the grant giving arm of OEA, or OEA Retired, the group for retired OEA members. Having several full-blown sites for groups such as these didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The idea of small sub-sites or microsites through subdomains was the perfect solution.
Content audit, restructuring, and wireframes
The first step for this project was to thoroughly audit the website’s content. With as many pages as the site had, it was no small task that required us to collaborate and bring our respective strengths and knowledge. This meant outlining all of the pages on the websites and determining whether or not to keep them, where to put them in the new, simplified structure, and whether the URLs would change. There was a lot of back-and-forth in this stage but it resulted in a much more streamlined site structure.
With the content audit and structure set, wireframing was the next phase. It was important to keep a good flow to the structure of the various sections. Wireframing was a great way to explore options for this. It also allowed the OEA team to get a good feel for the hierarchy of content.
The fun part for me as a designer is, perhaps obviously, the design phase. It’s far more than coloring in the wireframes. It’s pushing the wireframe as far as possible without losing the integrity of the hierarchy and layout.
For OEA, the brand work we did early on drove 80% of the decisions in the design phase. The remaining 20% was figuring out the subtle details that make a website frictionless and enjoyable to use that also engage and speak to the core audiences.
Built on a flexible platform
Having built OEA’s magazine website, TodaysOEA.org, on Craft CMS, the team at OEA leaned heavily on moving from their previous CMS to Craft. After discussing it in depth, we all agreed that moving to Craft made the most sense in several ways:
- the cost of moving to Craft was about the same or less as simply upgrading and refactoring the structure of their previous CMS;
- the editorial process was a lot better for OEA internally in Craft;
- Craft made a couple of features possible at lower costs, especially in regard to microsites.