Introducing Jason Wiener’s new website

When Katie and I set off to create Good Good Work, before we even had a name, we were looking for legal advice. We wanted to start a social enterprise that was prefigurative, legally sound, and reflected our radical values. Katie and Jason had been moving in similar circles in Colorado for a while (most specifically, platform cooperativism) and his name kept popping up. It didn’t take us long to realize that we’d be great collaborators.

We decided to work with him to design our business, you know, the one that eventually evolved into the Good Good Work Co-op. Our relationship was built on mutual aid and in-kind trade. As he set up our business we began working on his website, which we all felt didn’t express his professionalism, skill, and leading edge practice. 

Here’s the home page of the old site.

A new Vision

The first step in refreshing a website is taking stock of what’s there and envisioning what could be there, or what’s missing. Jason and his team had a lot of ideas for what they wanted the site to be. We sat down with them over multiple meetings and determined what their vision for the site was long term. Through this process we also began mapping out the site, it’s pages and content. This was a process of looking at what was on the site and determining how that existing content would translate into the new design. This was also a process of determining a road map towards the greater vision for the site.

The bigger picture, longer term vision for Jason’s site is to have a place online that supports the cooperative movement. Jason and his team are dedicated to promoting and facilitating change where it’s most needed. Their work is fully inline with our work in that way. If we support Jason’s team, we’re supporting better legal standards for the folks out there doing good work.

Our job is often taking a vision, in this case Jason’s vision for a dynamic interlinked resource hub, and subtracting until we find a starting point from which we can begin to build that vision. This “version 1” is a lot like base camp at the foot of a mountain. We are aiming for the top, but we need to start somewhere (plus we want to launch something sooner than waiting for it to be perfect later).

Distributing project management

To accomplish and track this we set up a content tracking spreadsheet which determined the pages, their content, and the current status of those pages’ progress. We then split them into V1 and V2. Ideas that were out of scope for V1 were recorded for V2. We (almost) always build a content tracking sheet for our projects. It helps us in a few ways:

  • it keeps everything in one place
  • it allows us to work asynchronously
  • it sits inside Google Drive so we never have to worry about project management software and learning (or paying for) new systems
  • it gives team members the authority to change things on their own as needed
  • it reduces the stress on project leads by distributing knowledge

This process allowed us to stay focused on building something that we could launch in the short term while tracking our larger goals.

 

Style Guide

Once we understood what we were building it was time to define a style guide which we would follow when designing the website. This included colors, website features, and typographic treatments.

This became the literal guide to visually redesigning the website. Home page mockups were made to get a sense of how elements might appear together on a page, and once approved we began to develop the WordPress theme. We used Theme Foundry’s amazing Make theme for our base.

A note on branding

Our aim in branding is to re-establish what we mean by “brand”. It’s less about sales, and it’s not just the logo and color palette. A brand is about the total experience people have with you and your company/group. It gets into your norms and language and the photographs you choose to represent you. It’s about how you treat people and how they feel when they walk away from an experience with you. We covered some of this in the brand guide and some of this in our conversations with Jason and Steve.

Check out some of the home page mockups from the first design pass:

jason wiener site mockups jason wiener site mockups jason wiener site mockups

Pro tip: We love using Make. Many of our clients come to us with WordPress messes on their hands. Often the Visual Composer and a bunch of other plugins have been installed and are either in conflict, are soon to be in conflict, or are unsafe because they’re out of date and updating their plugins would mean creating a conflict. Make has a lightweight and flexible page builder that we adore but avoids all the messy code conflicts.

Photography

Jason really wanted to have some new photographs for his site and his business. At some point he reached out to us to find a good photographer (Katie was a photographer in a former life) who could capture his professional approachable brand. We set him up with a few folks and he chose Jonathan Galbreath of Brightly Creative. Jason’s team and he seemed to really hit it off and the pictures are the proof.

Jason Wiener, international man of cooperation  Steve Kelton, legal aficionado extraordinaire

Putting it all together

As the content was being generated, edited, and adapted from the old site we were also developing the WordPress theme on a development server. Our copywriting and editing team consulted with the Jason and his team on their content, our designers created mockups and style guides, and the developers turned it all into code. We were able to rapidly develop the site in parallel through cycles of internal communication. Content would update layouts, layouts would change design, and design would move theme code in different directions. We tracked these changes through Gitlab’s issue tracker and our content spreadsheet.

In the end we were able to deliver a highly polished refresh to a stale website. You can see the new site over at jrwiener.com.

Thank you

A big thanks to Jason and Steve, and our own internal team of talented Good Good Workers for making this project a huge success! We’re looking forward to continuing our relationship with Jason’s firm as they develop more resources for the cooperative community and make legal services accessible for the rest of us.

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A Website for the March For Racial Justice

In early August, organizers from the March for Racial Justice connected with us, needing a website for their march in Washington DC on September 30th, 2017. We were able to get started on August 15th, after writing up a statement of work that outlined a design and development process.

It quickly became clear that things were moving faster than our plan could handle. There were over 6 thousand people “going” to the Facebook event and over 50,000 “interested”, with no website to speak of. Andrea, the point person who brought us into the project, was overwhelmed and stretched thing, taking on more than she could handle. In addition to making a website, our goal was to make her life — and the lives of the other organizers — less anxiety-inducing. 

We were quickly brought into their project management system, got on the same page as their core organizing team, and collaboratively formulated a plan to get this website put together. The original plan started with a sitemap, provided by the organizing team. Given that info and their technical desires/limitations, we came up with a feature list and reorganized their sitemap. The interactive features included:

  • Shop
  • Resource library
  • Sister march map (and sign up)
  • Endorsement capture
  • Donations
  • Volunteer sign up

It turned out that many of these features were already being handled in an ad-hoc manner. A stopgap website was being put together by the design team Design Choice on Squarespace (these were the folks who did a bang-up job building the brand and identity for the March).

Initially, we planned to build the site with WordPress but determined that it would be best to stick with what had already been developed and continue implementing custom features into Squarespace. The platform is pretty flexible as far as proprietary systems go, and we knew it would be quick and easy to get admins on the site, empowered to make changes.

a browser image with the m4rj website inside it

Though Squarespace can be pretty limited, it allows teams to build an online presence that looks great. Most non-developers really love the drag and drop feature on the page builder and limitations of the text formatting keep things neat and tidy, even when there are a bunch of different people pitching in and making edits. The downside is that there is no revision history, so many people pitching in can cause serious problems.

Once the site went up, we started seeing all kinds of change requests spring up from stakeholders, so we built a content tracking sheet in Google Sheets. This is standard practice for us, as it helps us stay on top of edits and overall site progress.

a screenshot of a browser displaying a Google Spreadsheet that is tracking content

This sheet acted as an outline for the sitemap as well as a central resource for links to live pages and Google Documents where people could edit, suggest, and comment on content before it went online. Having this in place allowed us to let self-organizing take over. When more people have a stake in the work and are empowered to take charge, things get done a lot faster, especially in a semi-chaotic situation.

Special Features

We created two custom features for the M4RJ site, the Resources library, and the March map. These are easy to build yourself if you have some time and patience. Learn how to build these tools using Awesome Tables with our tutorial.

The resource library

The M4RJ organizers wanted to build a resource library so that the march would have an impact beyond the day of the March. This space would serve as a hub for people to share information about racial justice. The Squarespace blogging feature is pretty weak and it would have taken an absurd amount of time (which we didn’t have) to make a custom feature within the platform. Even building it in WordPress would have taken too long.

We finally settled on building a spreadsheet that would feed directly into the site via Awesome table. It had a few key bonuses:

  • It could be updated by a lot of different people.
  • The styling could be easily updated to match the site.
  • No one had to log into Squarespace to make edits.
  • It took mere minutes to set up.

Awesome table is fairly intuitive once you understand its basic principles. We were able to coordinate two volunteers to add custom styling to the tables so they better matched the site theme.

Here’s the live resource library, from this Google Spreadsheet:


The sister march map

Organizers wanted to create a map that displayed “sister marches” around the world. They already had a Google Form that fed a spreadsheet where they were tracking potential sister marches as they sprung up. Because the marches were self-reported, the organizers had to confirm that they were real before we added them to the map. The workflow looked something like this:

  • Sister march organizer filled out a Google Form to announce their march.
  • #M4RJ organizer reached out to confirm details about the sister march.
  • Once verified, the entry in the spreadsheet is marked to be added to map.

Using some Google Spreadsheet functions, like QUERY(), we were able to add awesome table functionality to the existing spreadsheet without ever interrupting the organizer’s workflow. You can see the live map here: https://www.m4rj.com/sister-marches/

a browser window displaying a map with a big title reading sister marches

Looking toward the future

The team rallied together to make something pretty incredible happen in a very short period of time. It was wonderful to be included.

In the end, we all agreed that it would have been really nice to stand something up that was designed for marches. The good news was that we built a great site. The bad news was that it was a rush job and had to be built on a proprietary platform. Looking into the future, we know we’ll get more requests like this.

This isn’t the first time that we’ve done this either. It’s not at all uncommon for us to be given similar parameters for a project: short deadline, lots of organizers, volunteers aplenty, and similar feature requests. It’s stressful for both the team organizing the march and the team providing support.

Because we profoundly believe in sharing resources and maximizing efficacy, we want to build an open-source version of this website that everyone can use. It’s just one of many projects that, if crowdfunded, could provide a huge amount of financial, emotional, and technological benefit to the network of activists and organizers working on positive change.

More on that in a later blog post.

 

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How we saved the People’s Summit nearly $10,000

This is the story of free and open source solutions that made an event more inclusive and less costly.

On the weekend of June 9th, 2017, thousands of progressive americans came together in Chicago for the 2nd annual People’s Summit. There were inspiring speakers, such as Nina Turner, as well as  brilliant panels that enlightened, informed, and educated the throngs of activists who had gathered from around the nation. The keynote speaker was Bernie Sanders, who asked the assembled crowd of over 4,000 attendees, “How many of you have run for office, or are actively involved in local campaigns? Stand up.” Half the audience stood. It was truly inspiring.

A few months earlier, in April, organizers came to us, looking for a solution to sell tickets more profitably. Last year, Eventbrite had cost them an exorbitant sum of money in fees. Fees that could have been spent on stipends to help people attend—one of The People’s Summit’s main goals. So, this time around, they wanted to deploy their own ticket sales system.

In the end, we delivered a unique solution that not only helped them achieve their goals, but also saved them ~ $10,00 in fees.

The First Problem: High Eventbrite costs

Eventbrite charges a fee per ticket ($0.99) and takes a percentage of the ticket (2.5%). We created a spreadsheet where we did the math, taking the tickets sold through our system and applying the eventbrite cost to them.

ticket type cost approx ticket sales eventbrite fee per ticket total fees
Scholarship Ticket $0.00 474 $0.99 $469.26
Low income/Student $45.00 1042 $2.12 $2,203.83
Regular $115.00 1283 $3.87 $4,958.80
Solidarity $225.00 230 $6.62 $1,521.45
Institutional $350.00 68 $9.74 $662.32
eventbrite total $9,815.66

This spreadsheet doesn’t include the one-time fee paid to Good Good Work for creating the new ticketing system or payment processing fees—which can’t be avoided. In the long run, however, this sum will be the total savings for each of The People’s Summit’s events.

The spreadsheet takes the fee from Eventbrite and sticks it into our formula with the ratio of attendees based on a past event.  Because there are always additional fees when credit cards are a payment option, the Stripe fee is an unavoidable expense, even in a new system.

By setting up our own ticket shopping cart with the WordPress plugin Tickera, we were able to provide the same functionalities that Eventbrite has:

Example of the PDF ticket generated by Tickera
  • Online cart, sales page, etc.
  • Multiple tickets with different prices
  • Payment processor (using Stripe)
  • Paper ticket generation with Tickera via PDF download
  • Day of event check-in via Tickera phone apps that could scan printed QR codes

The major feature that Eventbrite has and that a WordPress plugin can’t provide is exposure. People go there to find tickets! For many events that might be an issue, but The People’s Summit had enough exposure on their own. They knew that they would sell out before even making an announcement, so they didn’t need Eventbrite to make them more visible than they already were.

Because we were able to handle all the other features through Tickera—which had a $99 price tag—we could avoid paying third-party fees.

Some key points here include:

  1. The power of open systems like WordPress.
    Because WordPress is a free and open system designed to be extended with plugins, there’s a whole ecosystem and user-base available to developers who wish to solve problems, such as ticket sales and event registration. This ecosystem can provide inexpensive solutions to millions of people in a decentralized way. Where Eventbrite has to maintain many servers and staff to keep everything running, that overhead is distributed among the WordPress community of users and developers. It is all-around more economic.
  2. An investment that gets less expensive with age.
    With a one time investment in hiring Good Good Work, The People’s Summit now has a system that will save them money over and over in the next few years. While they saved ~50% of $10,000 this year, next year they will save 100%. And as Eventbrite fees increase, they will continue to save more and more. A little investment of resources now will net a huge win in the future. Ultimately, profits will go exactly where they’re meant to go rather than into the pockets of third-party websites like Eventbrite.

The Second Problem: Making a more inclusive summit

Summit organizers knew they were in the unique situation of having more people who wanted to attend the summit than what the space allowed. The event was going to sell out, which would skew the attendee profile towards people who could afford to purchase tickets fast. This wasn’t what organizers wanted.

The People’s Summit wanted their own, personalized ticketing system that could circumvent the need for a website such as Eventbrite. They also wanted a more open application process that could empower partner organizations to select attendees from their diverse crowd of applicants. They wanted the conference to be a true representation of the American people; diversity in age, race, location, identity as well as individuals with a different mental or physical stance, outside of the usual binaries. Its final goal was really to make the event all-around inclusive while saving them as many third-party ticketing fees as possible.

Our solution had to be flexible, fast, and easy enough for organizers to use. We immediately began researching the problem. There were three main systems to consider:

  • Applications system – We needed to create a step in the application process that would involve partner organizations first, before moving accepted applications on to the registration process, starting with the gateway.
  • Registration Gateway – Once an applicant was selected, the website needed a way to verify the acceptance before letting them buy a ticket. We also needed to be sure that the applicant’s data – such as a registration code – hadn’t already been used to buy a ticket before.
  • Sales system – Once an accepted applicant was through the gateway, we needed a way for them to purchase their ticket—minus the Eventbrite fees.

Once we fully understood the problem and the requirements, the solution and its design quickly became clear.

Here’s the chart mapping the review system we created. Click here to find out more about the process.

The Good Good Work team always aims to empower our clients to use and adapt the systems we create for them. That’s why we live by the principle of meeting people where they’re at technologically. In the case of The People’s Summit, we opted to use Google Spreadsheets because that’s where the organizers were doing their work. We didn’t introduce any new or hard-to-grasp tools because we felt it was better to follow our stakeholders, even if there might in fact be more effective tools out there.

As we were working closely with organizers and talking to them about the system in a holistic way, we were able to develop systems that saved countless staff and volunteer hours in addition to the final ~$10,000. I’ve created a more detailed technical overview. Go check it out!

The Final Product consists of…

  • An application and registration process that allowed partner organizations to accept the right applicants and automatically grant them access to buy tickets.
  • A ticket sales platform that we integrated into the existing summit website which could handle the sale, distribution, printing, and collection of tickets for the event.

In the end, we were able to solve some complex problems with elegant solutions in a matter of weeks. We hit a constantly moving target, for which we’re all very proud. By stepping back from the problem and taking our time to thoroughly examine the solutions, we were able to save The People’s Summit many hours of labor as well as thousands of dollars. We managed to automate a system that our client didn’t even imagine could be.

This years registration was pretty smooth, in large part to the staff and volunteers and the system we put in place.

The People’s Summit can now do all their own ticket sales, no longer reliant on Eventbrite. They’re mostly self- sufficient; they might now be dealing with more overhead, but it comes with more control.

In fact, with a little more investment, the system we built for The People’s Summit could be generalized and used by the smaller partner organizations who don’t have the resources to hire the developers to do this.

Each time organizations use open systems like WordPress, they support all the little organizations who don’t have the resources. We built something that could be used and re-used and we supported a group who has already built a successful ticketing system (Tickera), which then helps them continue to make their product better.

If you’re organizing an event and think that a system like this might be helpful – or you’re into saving thousands of dollars, give us a holler.

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