Blog Insights
Creating a Website From Scratch

While most organizations find themselves working on a refresh or update of their existing websites, there are times where an entirely new website is needed. And while starting from scratch is a great way to start fresh, there are a number of important steps that need to be taken to make it successful.

Organizations often come to us with an idea for a new product or an entirely new website. This was the case when the Bureau for Consumer Finance Protection needed a standalone Curriculum Review Tool to support financial educators, and more recently, when our longtime client, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), needed a new website for their inaugural Smithsonian African American Film Festival.

The film festival is part of the NMAAHC, and the Smithsonian Institution as a whole, but it is also its own unique entity which required a unique brand and dedicated user experience strategy. This was a very exciting endeavor for our team, especially as we were essentially starting from a blank canvas to explore and build upon.

Two essential parts of this project that allowed us to deliver a successful project and distinct brand were efficient discovery workshops and dedicated internal team working sessions.

Leading a successful discovery workshop

A discovery workshop is your first big working session on a project. From getting started to running the show, you want to make sure you’re covering a number of key points. 

Planning the workshop

  • Have the right people in the room. To be efficient, you will want both decision-makers as well as any content experts or owners participating at this stage.
  • Do your research. Put together a list of questions you need answers to and make sure you leave time to get them answered. This might be your only time to see your stakeholders face-to-face, so use this time efficiently.
  • Define each activity and expected goals. Put these in an agenda and send it to all meeting attendees at least a few days prior to the workshop. This will help them know what to expect and start thinking about ideas even before entering the room. Consider writing out a script for yourself to start thinking about what you might say.
  • Prepare generously. You know what you have to cover, but having activities up your sleeve if there is extra time will go a long way to provide you with more valuable insight and make stakeholders feel truly involved.

To prepare for the film festival workshop, I reviewed comparator festival sites to understand the landscape and what audiences expect. I also looked over the materials the our stakeholders had provided to  identify gaps and develop questions. Part of this process included identifying assumptions and ensuring that during the workshop, we could validate them with content experts.

Setting the stage

  • Set up the room. Get the right number of chairs, pens and paper out for everyone. Make the space comfortable and collaborative.
  • Create stations. Put sticky notes or easel paper around the room to identify the different areas for the different activities. That will make sure that you can just move from one activity to the next without delay!

For the film festival, I defined three activities that required wall space and two activities that could be done sitting at a table. I set up walls in the room with the easel paper and sticky notes that I needed. I also had paper and markers ready for each person on the tables. 

Running the workshop

  • Keep a schedule. Set a timer for each activity. Better yet, have someone from your team be the timekeeper.
  • Stay focused on your goals. Keep pushing towards the goals you have identified for each activity. Don’t be afraid to course correct if it seems like the conversation is not being productive or leading towards those goals.
  • Document it all. Take photos & videos (with permission!) to help record any pivotal realizations or moments.

For the film festival, we had a goal-identification activity that led into a  really productive, yet unanticipated, discussion. Instead of cutting it off to move to the next planned activity, I decided to use it as a springboard into a different activity that guided the conversation towards a next valuable step.

Ensuring effective internal team collaboration

Brand design is not just creating a logo and color scheme for an organization. It’s much more than that. The brand needs to define the look and feel, the voice and tone, and the experiences that a user will have when interacting with the organization and its website. As our visual designer, Corey Jones, worked through branding concepts (including many iterations of the logo design), he and I worked closely together in working sessions to ensure that the brand was held through both the visual treatment and the user experience.

We set up recurring working sessions where we sketched a lot of ideas together. I then took the best elements from the sketches and brought them into medium-fidelity wireframes. During subsequent working sessions, we evaluated the wireframes and continued to sketch other pages. We also involved our front-end developer, Shawn Brackat, early on as well to provide information on the required effort for certain components. He was also able to let us know right away if something was actually implementable.


By leading efficient discovery workshops and having devoted working sessions with your team, you are able to create a beautiful and effective brand and website — just as we did for the Smithsonian’s first-ever African American Film Festival. Check it out in action here:

If you’re reading this and thinking: “Well, my organization already has a brand, but it could use some improvements,” then we’ve got some good techniques and strategies for you to check out on crafting consistent brand stories and amplifying engagement through brand storytelling.  

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