Our biggest project so far, a rebuild from the ground up of a website serving the needs of a diverse range of users, including the more than a million visitors per year to this iconic building at the heart of British history.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site with a thousand year history, Westminster Abbey is one of the busiest tourist destinations in Britain. It has hosted Coronations, memorial services, and Royal Weddings, yet is still a working church. Its website caters to visitors, worshippers, music buffs, attendees at various events, historians, genealogists, schools and colleges, and many other interest groups.
Having experienced usability problems with its previous CMS, the Abbey selected Umbraco on the recommendation of other Church of England organisations. For the design and UX, they chose Myself & Co, a small agency headed by the vastly experienced David Curless, who in turn contacted Pixel<to>Code through recommendations from mutual contacts.
After a number of client meetings at the Abbey, we started work in August 2017, planning the structure of data, how best to present the vast amount of content in an efficient way, and how to make content entry as easy a process as possible.
Planning and approach
We liaised with the designers to help ensure the autonomy of the content, so that the various modules could be placed anywhere on the site without dependency on each other or the containing layout. A decision was made to handle transitory data (e.g. service and opening times) separately to permanent content in order to prevent clogging the Umbraco database. Bravely, we eschewed the use of popular Umbraco core features such as Nested Content or the Grid, in order to keep the user experience within the Umbraco content tree as consistent and as intuitive as possible.
Breaking with the usual waterfall process, we started work on the back-end first, using our Simplismo framework, and built the front-end on top. Grant Sykes, our go-to front-end guru, provided expert advice and built the navigation prototype. The front-end itself was signed off on a static copy, but by then we had much of the back-end development done and had saved work on a temporary HTML structure. I can heartily recommend this approach whenever time is scarce, i.e. always.
Content entry and launch
We took enormous care to migrate several thousand items of content from the old website, providing tools to assist with updating the content and imagery. SEO and social media implications were considered at every stage. For Westminster Abbey Choir School, their web presence having been part of the old site, we were happy to build them a new website concurrently, using a similar setup but on a smaller scale.
Approaching the live launch, we worked closely with the hosting and support provider, Zebedee Communications, to overcome a series of issues that arose during implementation on the Azure platform with Cloudflare and Railgun. Azure was chosen for its ability to scale to handle the huge spikes in traffic likely during Royal events or at Christmas, but the universal 'solution' to problems is always to upgrade your subscription. Happily we managed to overcome the various hiccups and launched successfully in May 2018.
A big thank you goes to the team at Westminster Abbey for being a truly wonderful client to work with.