Virginia Humanities

Multi-site Web Design & Development

As the state humanities council, Virginia Humanities (VH) is dedicated to sharing the stories, and empowering stories to be told, of all Virginians. openbox9 was brought in to create a series of connected websites, which aligned the visual aesthetics with the VH brand, dramatically upgraded back-end functionality and front-end usability, and smartly integrated features and management across a group of connected sites.

Virginia Humanities - Multi-site build

For a project of this scale, organization and careful planning are crucial to a well-functioning final product. Before diving into any designs, we first conducted thorough research to gain a better understanding of the end-user and explored the many requirements necessary to facilitate a large, multi-site system. This led to a series of planning documents – sitemaps, wireframes, a style tile, technical requirements, and persona research – which were refined in collaboration with the team at VH, until we had a clear picture of the foundations and parameters of the new websites.

Virginia Humanities - Website information architecture and planning documents

Setup as a WordPress multi-site, the individual sites share a global taxonomy and back-end system, which yields many advantages. Related articles are automatically shared across the network. Maintenance of many parts of the system only has to be updated in one place. There is an underlying consistency across sites that serves to strengthen and unify the VH brand. At the same time, we worked hard to allow enough customization and flexibility for each site to be distinct, showcasing their unique program characteristics.

Virginia Humanities - Parent site secondary page overviewVirginia Humanities - Parent site homepage closeupVirginia Humanities - Parent site mobile screen

As the lynchpin for the system, the parent website displays filterable and searchable News and Events from all the connected sites. Intentional design of visual cues, layout, and clear organization make a complex system accessible. In order to facilitate movement between Virginia Humanities sites, we created a seamless way for users to access sites across the network. This was a simple universal dropdown menu, accessible from every site in the top left of the navigation area.

Virginia Humanities - Network dropdown

Built on the same structure as the parent site, the connected Program sites display the diverse nature of their work – a radio station, a folklife archive, a large scale book festival – with each requiring unique customizations.

Virginia Humanities - With Good Reason Radio homepage and graphics

With Good Reason (WGR) is a radio station that focuses on bringing together higher education institutions and Virginia Humanities to make research accessible. For WGR, we created a number of unique features – a persistent media player, shareable episode segments, and a custom home screen with the ability to play recent episodes – to build a site geared towards the needs of a radio station.

Virginia Humanities - With Good Reason Radio tablet view and page styling


Virginia Humanities - Festival of the Book homepage and graphics

Festival of the Book is a yearly festival that brings together people who love books – from writers and illustrators to agents and publishers – with more than 20,000 people attending. This site added its own unique functionality necessary for an event – a login area with a bookmarking capability, scheduling and events pages, and a custom interactive venue map. It also allowed the organizers to review and approve book submissions and manage participants directly from the WordPress backend.

Virginia Humanities - Festival of the Book event pageVirginia Humanities - Festival of the Book venue map

The Virginia Humanities multi-site project was a complex undertaking requiring smart and hard-working systems to preserve the individual strengths of each program while at the same time allowing the network of sites to support and promote each other. The cohesion created by the design of the visual, database, and content management systems creates a richer user experience, and reduces the load of maintaining the network of websites. The result is a beautiful, functional, and enjoyable network of websites, all working together to share stories and empowering the audience with resources and courage to tell their own.