A Labor of Love
We were ecstatic when we were presented with an opportunity to modernize our hometown's aging website. Tourism-related projects make our hearts flutter and we were looking forward to making a big contribution to how visitors discover our city online.
Combining Powers for Charleston Tourism
Josh Dodd, well known locally for being a digital agency owner and all-around great guy, reached out to Aaron Silber in early 2018 to discuss a new project that the Charleston CVB had wanted to pursue. Aaron and Josh had known each other for a while, but they hadn't yet found an opportunity to partner on a project. You could say that Josh and Aaron are cut from the same cloth and make a great team.
A few meetings later, they decided that Aaron would bring his design knowledge and Josh would put his technical talents to work on the new charlestonwv.com.
Josh and Aaron met early on to discuss how to best approach a tourism project. They each had some initial thoughts on the site's digital strategy, but they knew that the project would never reach it's full potential without deep conversations with stakeholders. No matter how well we think we know a customer and their audience, workshops and interviews offer new insights and perspectives.
We met with the Charleston CVB in their office for a design workshop, where the entire staff contributed ideas for how they could best serve their audiences online. Josh did a great job of leading the process, while Aaron helped the group think through new ideas. We worked to inventory their existing content, develop an outreach strategy, identify audiences, and set healthy expectations for the project.
Strategy meetings are fun for everyone, and allow everybody in an organization to contribute to a project — leaving everyone involved with a sense of buy-in and engagement. It's a great way to get things rolling!
The Charleston CVB's visual brand had aged and their organization was interested in exploring new visual standards that better captured the city's vibrancy.
One of our favorite tools in quickly working through visual design systems are "style tiles." These small compositions demonstrate a visual style through a small set of interface components.
We usually create a few of these and present them to our client. Based on feedback, we dial in a final solution, which then sets the standard for the entirety of the design system. Working in this way gives customers choices, but allows us to move forward confidently.
Here's the winning style-tile for charlestonwv.com, featuring natural colors, organic shapes, and throwback-vibes;
Through analytics data for charlestonwv.com and based on our knowledge of other tourism platforms, we knew that visitors to the site were often using a mobile device like a phone or a tablet to navigate. Overall, the whole world is moving more and more towards mobility, so we knew a simple and effective mobile experience was paramount.
Our content workshops led us to believe that most of the site's user needs could be addressed by three primary areas of the site: Things To Do, Where to Stay, and Trip Ideas.
Things to Do
Visitors to charlestonwv.com are most frequently interested in browsing the city's offerings. Users can browse the city's art, recreation, music, and food attractions here — optionally filtering results by topics like 'Family fun' or 'History.'
Where to Stay
Visitors need a place to stay, so it's a no-brainer to provide them with the lodging options. We also wanted to be sure to give locally owned lodging business (like the Brass Pineapple Inn) a way to appeal to travelers.
Most tourism websites are cookie-cutter. They all say, "here's a list of attractions and places to stay," but they don't often give curated advice on what to do during your stay. This section of site offers articles on travel advice and suggestions. Articles like "Coffee Anyone? Better Latte Than Never!" share local knowledge with out-of-towners.
While exploring their content, we discovered that the CVB had produced a series of short videos telling the stories of locals and visitors who love Charleston. The videos are so well produced that we were keen on featuring them prominently on the site. Ultimately, we decided to build the homepage of the site around these videos. What a great first impression!
Bonus: Find the Hidden Gems!
Charleston has so many special but lesser-known things to do that we knew we needed an interesting way to share them. Thoughout the site, visitors may find a sparkling gem on their page that, when clicked, displays one of Charleston's many "hidden gems."
"I’ve been involved in several website builds and this was hands down the best experience I’ve ever had. Josh and Aaron were great to work with, they really listened to my team’s input and were able to take that and turn into exactly what we envisioned. They also bring a lot of insight and ideas to the table, pointing us toward things we’d never thought of. The end result is a site that’s clean and attractive, one which our local partners have raved about. And beyond looks, our site engagement has grown because it’s easy to navigate and well thought out."
— Tim Brady, Charleston Tourism Executive