At the annual Illinois Parks and Recreation Association Conference in Chicago, Plainfield Park District Marketing Manager, Corinne Vargas alongside Idea President, Darren Fox, gave a presentation about the process of a website design project.

Soaring to New Heights

This year’s event, called 2019 Soaring to New Heights, was the premier state conference for parks and recreation, forest preserves, and conservation agencies, bringing together more than 4,200 professionals for quality educational programming, networking, and professional development.

The presentation included tips for planning the website design process, presenting the pitch internally, developing an RFP (Request for Proposal), and screening agencies. Corinne and I also discussed best practices for understanding a park district’s target audience and identifying which aspects to highlight in a park district website design.


Designing a website around the needs of the Park District and its users

In 2017, Corrine and Wendi Calabrese, the Plainfield Park District Director of Administrative Services, knew their site was outdated and the organization was limited as a result.

Corinne Vargas
Corinne Vargas

“Our park district wanted to completely overhaul our website to make it more user-friendly for our community and mobile-friendly for everyone,” Corinne said. “We also wanted our new site to be easier for park district staff to update and take ownership of long-term.”

Corinne and the Plainfield Park District asked several website design companies about their experience with past projects as well as a projected timeline for their new design. Eventually, they chose Idea Marketing Group.

Website design challenges facing Park Districts

Every park district that redesigns its website or produces new marketing collateral has to decide how to communicate large amounts of information while engaging the audience through the use of visuals or videos, where possible.

This aspect of the project can be overwhelming on its own. So, it helps to start by prioritizing general goals and objectives. The best way to ensure the messaging serves each department’s needs, as well as the target audience, is to involve stakeholders from every area in these early strategy conversations and develop one cohesive voice.

Mobile optimization to fit users’ needs

For years, we’ve seen a trend away from users relying on desktop devices. Now, more than half of the general internet traffic now comes from mobile devices. This was also true for the Plainfield Park District, which saw 55% of its traffic come from mobile devices last fall and as much as 62% mobile traffic during the summer months. So, their request for a mobile-friendly website is in line with what other organizations are seeking.


WordPress logotype wmark

WordPress CMS (Content Management System)

Park districts can choose from a number of content management systems (CMS) when they decide to rebuild or refresh their website.

At Idea, we prefer WordPress over Joomla, Drupal or other proprietary systems. Here’s why.

  • WordPress is easy to learn for non-designers.
  • Multiple user logins can be created with varying levels of access.
  • There’s no HTML or ongoing license fee required to use WordPress.
  • In case of emergency (after hours situations), edits can be made from mobile devices.
  • When mistakes happen, individual pages can be restored with the click of a button.

How to know when it’s time to redesign your park district website

Using a tool like Crazy Egg or even basic analytics helps companies use data to steer the direction of their website

Darren Fox, Idea President

The general rule of thumb says a business website should be redesigned every 3-5 years. With that in mind, we suggest park districts go into the process with an understanding of how their existing website is being used. This information is available through Google Analytics (for free) or more in-depth tools like Crazy Egg, which uses heat maps to indicate where users click or focus their attention most often on any web page.

Knowing what people click on most allows those companies to put themselves in the users’ shoes instead of guessing what they want.


Conclusion

Above all, it’s important to remember who your website is designed to serve as well as how you plan to manage it long-term. That’s why it’s important to start with an audience-centric strategy and find an agency that welcomes your involvement at every step of the process.

To read more about how Idea Marketing Group partners with park districts, as well as tourism and recreation organizations, check out our portfolio.