Building Political Sites and Gearing up for the Elections on WordPress

Ahead of the upcoming U.S. midterm elections in November, we spoke with Ben Ostrower, Principal and Creative Director of Wide Eye Creative, a creative web design & development studio who has built some of the recent entries of high profile WordPress sites in the government space. 

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

Why WordPress? There are so many players in the CMS space, especially in the political realm, why do you choose WordPress as your go-to software?

When I started Wide Eye, we were doing almost exclusively work with Drupal. It filled a lot of our client’s needs and it’s a great tool for some purposes, but it was always cumbersome. The way Drupal was built, it just kept imposing limits on design, which, as a designer, was incredibly frustrating. My developers would always say: “no, it’s really hard to do that because it’s not the way ‘xyz’ module is built”. It was as though the materials we were using to build a house were guiding the design and architecture, not the other way around.

When I first started trying WordPress in early 2010 or so, it was already fairly mature and I wondered immediately why I hadn’t been using it earlier. The structure of it was just incredibly intuitive to me – as though it had been created by designers, not just developers. Suddenly it became much more possible to realize my own creative vision for a project.

On top of it, and almost more importantly, it was more user-friendly for our clients. People would just immediately “get” the interface and how content can be controlled and structured. I saw clients generally become more self-sufficient with the management of their own sites, and our exposure to followup questions, bug-fixes and hand-holding went way down. Since then, while we’ve used Drupal for a handful of select database projects, we’ve used WordPress for literally everything else – every campaign site we’ve done since 2010 has been on WordPress. It’s been a great marriage.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

What can you do using WordPress that you can’t do using locked-down / proprietary software, like NationBuilder?

We pride ourselves on intimately tailoring each site to a project’s goals. WordPress, especially with the Advanced Custom Fields plugin integrated, gives us the ability to deliver really granular control over page templates to a client — i.e. turning a banner image on and off, changing the color of a button, toggling the positioning of elements, the list goes on…Plus, we have a wealth of excellent plugins available to us that we can use to quickly extend functionality. Ultimately, when we train clients on the backend of their site, we consistently hear them say: “Wow. I’ve never had that level of control before.” That level of customization just isn’t as possible with a proprietary framework. NationBuilder is an impressive tool and a good solution for some campaigns, but, for us, it’s really analogous to the difference between a fully bespoke suit versus tailoring a suit purchased off the rack.

You have a great client list and you work with some high profile politicians. What sites have you done that are most exciting to you?

We love all of our clients – that’s not hyperbole, but the most exciting ones are when we work with a campaign or organization that trusts us as a creative partner and is willing to take risks and try new things. Brandon English and his great team at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for example, actively collaborated with us to innovate the way stale old email sign up forms have worked for years. Now a multi-field form operates in the space of a single input field, sending the input data to Blue State Digital’s tools with each click forward instead of form fields stacked one on top of another with a big button below. As a client, they truly understood the value of user friendliness and the capacity that good design has to fuel better, more successful results.

Chris Coons’ Senate campaign in Delaware is another client that worked with us on something that we call a “smart website” – calls to action that change for a user based on their prior engagement with the campaign. That was really fun.

Our other great scenario, as least from a design perspective, is where we have the challenge of striking a difficult creative balance for a client: i.e. “we want to look simultaneously polished and savvy, but also modest and grassroots”, “conservative and classical, but also innovative and cutting-edge”, etc… That’s always fun.

U.S. Senator Chris Coons

U.S. Senator Chris Coons

Do you have any tips and tricks to share that could help other developers and designers who are building websites in the area of politics and non-profit?

  1. Don’t approach political and non-profit projects with any less of a standard of quality than you would for a corporate client like Nike or Apple. Quality matters. Audiences are more sensitive and savvy than ever before to design and functionality – when something is subpar (doesn’t look good or doesn’t work the way a user expects), it diminishes the campaign’s or organization’s message.
  2. KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid – one of the first things you learn in filmmaking class. Keep your message simple and your actions focused. By packing lots of information and options in a small space, you’re diminishing the impact of everything.
  3. Don’t be afraid to provoke emotion with your designs – you’re appealing to a visitor to take action. You can’t just expect them to click a donate button because it’s there, you need to tell them “why”.
  4. Interaction matters. With the rise of CSS3 and HTML5 over the last several years, use animation to give visitors the sense that the website is alive and responsive. Buttons should react when you hover, form fields should highlight, etc.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's Off The Sidelines

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Off The Sidelines

Look 5-10 years into the future – what do you think the future will look like when it comes to technology in politics, campaigns and in the government arena?

1. Websites, ads and apps will continue to become smarter. Messages and calls to action will be more and more targeted and segmented based on a visitor’s profile. By 2016, the era of visitors all receiving the same general, default call-to-action on a website landing page will be over.

2. Mobile will continue to become even more important. Designers and developers will need to stay ahead of the curve on that.

3. Ads, emails and appeals for people to take action and donate will only become more and more ubiquitous. There are going to be more and smarter ways to reach people.

4. Not that it’s not happening already, but digital campaigns will be more and more driven by data, analytics and math.

Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota

Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota

What new technology are you using that you’re most excited about? 

There are a lot of technologies that we’re keeping a close eye on. We’re really excited to play with NGP VAN’s new API, and we’d really like to be building more around Google’s open source civic tools.

My incredibly talented Lead Developer (and JavaScript Ninja) Nick Cerminara considers the JSON API WordPress Plugin the most exciting WordPress technology we’ve been toying with lately. With it, we’re able to do any WP_Query and get a nice and pretty JSON endpoint with almost no custom work involved. This is huge for application development because it allows us to leverage WordPress as an out-of-the-box backend. Down the road, this makes using Front-End Frameworks like Angular JS a lot more practical with WordPress where they’re typically intended only for single page applications. Combining these is going to bring a whole new and unprecedented liveliness to WordPress sites.

Thank you to Ben – to learn more about Wide Eye Creative or to see some more case studies, please visit their website! Visit the WordPress.com VIP site for more information about WordPress in Government or get in touch.

The Meredith Vieira Show Launches On VIP!

Meredith Vieira has had quite a career. You probably know her from years as co-anchor of the Today Show or maybe as host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Well, starting this fall, you’ll know has as host of The Meredith Vieira Show, which is slated to launch September 8th on NBC. And, starting this week, you’ll know her as the newest member of the WordPress.com VIP family - the brand spankin’ new website for the television show is live and we’re super excited to welcome Meredith and her team! Good luck with the show launch!

The Meredith Vieira Show

http://meredithvieirashow.com/

Alberta Motor Association launches on WordPress.com VIP

Welcome to Alberta Motor Association (AMA), who recently launched on WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting! The AMA is a non-profit membership organization serving Alberta and the Northwest Territories, and is affiliated with the Canadian Automobile Association and AAA.

The Alberta Motor Association provides its members with roadside assistance service, a range of auto touring and leisure travel services, insurance services, and member discounts with partners.

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The AMA site is packed full of features, including the ability for potential members to get a quote for their life, home, or auto insurance needs directly online.

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The AMA also offers extensive travel planning as a benefit, and members can plan their next cruise, vacation, or even business trip using their customized travel planning tool.

AMA Travel   Flights   Hotels   All Inclusive   Last Minute Deals   AMA

Visit the Alberta Motor Association site.

Interested in WordPress.com VIP for your corporate or enterprise site? Get in touch.

Buyers Rejoice! Roadloans.com launches on WordPress.com VIP

Congrats and welcome to RoadLoans.com, who just launched on WordPress.com VIP Hosting. It’s a great example of a corporate site packed with information & tools for their customers!
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RoadLoans’ guides to buying, getting loans, and other helpful information when it comes to test driving, buying, and financing a car are also supplemented with their shopping tools which help consumers make decisions on-the-go about which car is right for them.
Shopping Tools

The RoadLoans team also regularly blogs to keep their users informed about the latest happenings around the automotive world, and some tips & tricks, too.
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Visit RoadLoans.com.

Interested in WordPress.com VIP for your corporate or enterprise site? Get in touch.

InStyle Launches New Look for What’s Right Now

TIME’s InStyle launched new desktop and mobile designs of their popular fashion and lifestyle news site, InStyle’s What’s Right Now, on WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting.

InStyle What's Right Now

The fully responsive site features up-to-the-minute articles about fashion and celebrity news and has some great new features which they detail in their site refresh post:

“…effortless sharing from everywhere; a new way to save your favorite finds; bigger, bolder images; and a new How-To section packed with videos, slide shows and even a few GIFS that will show you how to get the latest fashion and beauty looks. What’s more, you’ll find the same clean and intuitive layouts on every device and screen size.”

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The site also tracks and showcases the stories which are most popular and are getting shared on various social media channels:

What's Popular on InStyle What's Right now

The WordPress.com VIP team was excited to help this get launched! Congrats to the InStyle team.

Want more information about WordPress services for your fashion or publishing site? Get in touch

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight Launches on WordPress.com VIP

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight, which launched today! FiveThirtyEight is devoted to rigorous analysis of politics, polling, public affairs, sports, science and culture, largely through statistical means.

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The site, which is led by Nate Silver, was formerly part of The New York Times and is now operated by ESPN, and joins ESPN’s Grantland on our WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting platform.

Nate announced the change back in July and his team has since been working hard on launching the new site and its verticals on the VIP platform.

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The team has expanded to address all the site’s verticals and Nate explains the aim of the site in his launch post, What the Fox Knows.

The breadth of our coverage will be much clearer at this new version of FiveThirtyEight, which is launching Monday under the auspices of ESPN. We’ve expanded our staff from two full-time journalists to 20 and counting. Few of them will focus on politics exclusively; instead, our coverage will span five major subject areas — politics, economics, science, life and sports.

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Here’s the FiveThirtyEight team counting down the launch of the new site:

In true FiveThirtyEight style, they even predict the probability of you reaching the new site during the launch (WordPress.com VIP’s note: only during DNS propagation…after which we predict 99.9999% uptime!)

On the development side, WordPress.com VIP Featured Partner 10up assisted in creating the new site:

Want more information about WordPress services for your enterprise site? Get in touch

TIME.com Launches on WordPress.com VIP

TIME.com just launched a great responsive redesign of their homepage, and the site is now hosted on WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting! The popular homepage joins their numerous other TIME sites already running on the WordPress.com VIP infrastructure.

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Their new design also focuses on their growing mobile audience:

…the new site is designed especially for busy, mobile readers. In fact, our data suggest that nearly half of you are currently reading this on a smartphone or tablet. TIME invented the news brief; the original magazine included 100 stories, none longer than 400 words. Fittingly, the centerpiece of our new home page is The Brief, a fast take on the 12 stories you need to know about right now, as chosen by TIME’s editors. No matter where you enter our site, you’ll get a continuous story feed on every page that allows you to move around TIME.com for a quick take on what’s happening now.

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You can read more about TIME.com’s redesign in their launch post or visit TIME.com.

The WordPress.com VIP team was all on hand during our team meetup to oversee the exciting launch.

Want more information about WordPress services for your enterprise site? Get in touch

Consequence of Sound Launches on WordPress.com VIP

We’re excited to announce that Chicago-based online music publication Consequence of Sound launched on WordPress.com VIP today.

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 11.52.31 AMTo build this beautifully responsive site, Consequence of Sound teamed up with WordPress.com VIP Featured Partner Doejo.

Consequence of Sound is now mobile responsive and will look just as great on your iPhone or Android phone as it does on the web,” site creator Alex Young wrote. “The homepage is easier to navigate, our content is better presented, and Festival Outlook has been completely revamped.”

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The Consequence of Sound team is planning on rolling out new features in the coming weeks, including the ability to personalize the homepage.

“In other words, if you no longer want to see stories about Kanye West, you no longer have to see stories about Kanye West,” Young writes. “Your settings will also carry over to our mobile app, which will also soon get a fresh update.”

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We’re excited to bring such a beautiful and dynamic site onto WordPress.com VIP. Congrats again to the team!

Extreme Makeover, Data.gov Edition

Earlier this week, Data.gov relaunched with a beautiful new redesign. Behind it is a powerful CMS platform called WordPress. The previous version of the site ran on a mix of Drupal and other proprietary systems, but as Marion Royal points out in a blog post explaining the relaunch, development on the previous version of the site was done behind closed doors. Marion goes on to explain the open source ethos that was put into play with this update of the site:

Now we’re using open source systems, including WordPress and CKAN. Most importantly, the development is public from the beginning on GitHub so you can see how the site came to be, and will continue to grow. We’ve already had significant help from the open source community and look forward to more.

Data.gov is one of the most innovative initiatives inside of the federal government. A talented team of designers and developers are working hard to expose millions of pieces of government data from across the entire government so that citizens, along with government entities, can leverage that data for good. From the Data.gov website:

Data.gov is the home of the US government’s open data. You can find Federal, state and local data, tools, and resources to conduct research, build apps, design data visualizations, and more. The Data.gov team works at the U.S. General Services Administration, but the site itself is open source, and we’d love your help making it even better.

I have personally worked closely with many of the developers who helped to steer this project. I have been continuously impressed by their level of dedication to opening up government data and putting it into the hands of those who want to use it to make America a better place. I expect big things out of this team, and I believe that Data.gov — and other similar initiatives — can help redefine the way citizens view the work that the government does. It’s an exciting time to be working on these issues and I’m very excited to see WordPress at the center of the action in Washington, DC.

Data.gov on GitHub.

ESPN’s Grantland launches on WordPress.com VIP

Welcome to ESPN’s Grantland, a popular sports & pop-culture blog started by veteran writer and sports journalist Bill Simmons — it now has a home on WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting!

10up partnered with ESPN to develop the new site and worked with our team to transition its content to WordPress.com. 10up is one of our Featured Partners.

Grantland features stories from a long list of contributors, several podcasts and video content, as well as the Grantland Quarterly, a printed companion to the site.

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Visit Grantland.