Designing an eye-catching website is essential in architecture. But the front end is just the first step—you also have to maintain your firm's digital presence. Below are tips on how some practices keep their sites fresh and engaging.
Determine how much access you need
Before building the website, consider how much how much information your firm wants to add to it, and how often. If your firm is small, and announces projects and news only occasionally, you may not need to log in to a content management system (CMS), which is the back-of-house software that lets content managers publish and edit Web pages and upload images. Instead, it may be easier to outsource all such changes to whoever built your site, if that person is a third-party contractor. But this arrangement can become a source of frustration. Brien McDaniel, director of communications and senior associate at FXFowle, in New York, remembers feeling stymied when he couldn't touch the dashboard on the firm’s former website. “If there was a misspelled word, we had to go to the designer to make that change,” he says. And every round of changes cost the firm money.
For the current FXFowle site, launched in 2013, designers at Project Projects developed a custom CMS by tailoring a version of the open-source database Directus. Now McDaniel and his colleagues can add new projects as the firm completes them, update the site’s splash, or introduction, page, and post news without requiring outside help. Staff at Perkins+Will have similar control with their Drupal-based site, says digital content producer Ryan Quinlan.
Snøhetta, on the other hand, designed its website entirely in-house and hired an IT contractor to do the development work on the website. (The firm does brand design, too, so it has digital expertise.) The site's custom CMS, designed Snøhetta in cooperation with Norwegian tech firm Kodebyraaet, links directly to the firm’s digital archive, and staff can pull images over with ease. “Working closely with the [website] designers will ensure the CMS is a priority and not an afterthought,” says Kelly Tigera, the firm’s communications and business development manager in New York.
Set a realistic
There’s no point launching a slick site and then letting the content grow stale. Establish a schedule for adding news and blog posts, and stick to it. Don’t forget to review key pages, such as staff bios, on a regular basis. Be realistic about how often the site has to be updated. Remember, you work for an architecture firm, not The New York Times.
When FXFowle launched its blog, it aimed to publish one to two posts each week; now it publishes two per month—“on a good month,” McDaniel jokes. Social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram have taken some of the pressure off firms to churn out content on their sites. McDaniel convenes a monthly ideas meeting and develops a story roster by drawing from his colleagues’ interests. For instance, firm designer Austin Sakong reviews architectural books on the blog’s Works Cited series. “When you loosen the strings, you get a lot more people interested” in contributing, McDaniel says.
clearly define responsibilities
Perkins+Will has a tremendous amount of work and activity to represent online. The firm’s website encompasses three main sections: a blog called Ideas+buildings; microsites dedicated to research and building-product transparency; and project galleries. All of this adds up to a diverse and robust Web presence, one that would be impossible to manage without a clear game plan.
“Because we are such a large organization, we do need the participation of a lot of hands,” says Quinlan. “We've found [that setting] a clear delineation of who’s going to be managing a page [from the get-go] has really helped in terms of keeping things up to date.” A core team of staff members manages the blog, with each curator generating ideas around certain topics. For the rest of the website, practice-area specialists work closely with the core online team to update their own pages. To ensure quality, Perkins+Will, as well as Snøhetta and FXFowle, give only a few employees permissions to input data into the CMS.
Delegating duties improves accuracy and prevents bottlenecks. It has another advantage, too, says Perkins+Will’s chief marketing officer, Allison Held: “It pushes throughout the organization people’s involvement [in the website] … and feeling of ownership.” Don’t let updating the website become an “extra” task that people grumble about; Make it a regular part of their workload.