At the end of April we launched a new brand identity and fully responsive website for Aster Group (www.aster.co.uk). Just so you know, Aster Group are an ethical housing developer and they own and maintain over 28,000 homes, with an ambition to build a further 9,500 over the next seven years.
For us Escapees, the project was right up our street (sorry, we promise there will not be a lot of ‘house’ related puns in here!) for a few reasons… firstly, we love housing, we have an abundance of experience within this sector. Secondly, the project began by looking at the brand (more on this shortly). Thirdly, it required a thoroughly thought out user journey and responsive design. And, lastly, it required a fully scalable, open source PHP website build.
So, let’s lay the foundations (sorry!) as to why this project needed to happen. Over the last couple of years there has been a big shift in the housing sector and Aster has been working towards becoming a more efficient, commercially-minded and digitised business to ensure it can work towards its vision of everyone has a home. For Aster this culminated in a new strategy and ultimately a new brand identity and streamlined website to help communicate and deliver it.
Part of this new strategy was also to focus on their existing customers, becoming ‘digital by default' and to importantly encourage them to ‘self-serve’, so signing up to an online account to pay their rent and access other useful bits of information about their tenancy and property.
Our journey with Aster began by looking at the brand and the Aster tone of voice. A new direction meant a new clean and crisp identity. As an organisation, Aster have grown hugely over the years, acquiring other organisations and identities and over time this created a lot of legacy branding and as such a lot of confused and conflicting messages and online journeys. We worked with our client team to review what this new identity should be, what it needed to stand for and importantly how it should position Aster with both its domestic and corporate customers.
In parallel with the brand project, we ran stakeholder workshops with Aster employees to map out the target audiences for the new website, identify the types of content required on the site and then build and review the information architecture (IA). It’s this IA (or sitemap as it’s otherwise known) that would then allow us to map out the key user journeys using high-fidelity, interactive wire-frames. These wireframes basically allow the user to click through the journey of the website as if it were the final thing.
IA and user experience (UX) sorted, it was then onto design. With the brand identity approved and in the bag, the new website would be designed and built using a series of different content block types. This approach helps to future proof the site and importantly gives the Content Management System (CMS) users greater levels of flexibility when creating and building new webpage content. From a design perspective this meant that we designed ‘blocks’ or ‘areas’ of content rather than full pages. Flexibility with design was the aim and this lead us nicely into build.
The new Aster website was built using our unique HTML5 boilerplate, inspired by Google’s very own Web Starter Kit. Whether you are sitting at a desk or on the move, our code works seamlessly across desktops and mobile devices to deliver an intuitive user experience. The new Aster site doesn’t just look great (if we do say so ourselves) but our development techniques ensure a speedy delivery by using the very best in compression and optimisation techniques.
It doesn’t stop there either! We integrated Aster into our AngularJs and Laravel based CMS. As fast and intuitive as the front-end of the site is, it gives awesome power and flexibility so making updates is a breeze for our client team. It’s also fully scaleable too, meaning that functionality updates and additions to the site over time will not be complex or unwieldy to do.
As development neared completion, the website went through customer user acceptance testing (UAT) - it was important for our client to check with their end customers and residents that the website was easy to use and that certain bits of information could be found quickly. Whilst, this was happening we were also running through our internal go-live checklist – covering off functionality, server performance and browser checks across all devices.
Now, it’s been a couple of weeks since the site launched and we’re already hearing great things. In week one after the launch, the website received ten times the number of new account sign-ups compared to that of the week before launch. Where’s the bubbly? This is just the beginning of our journey with Aster so stay tuned for further updates in due course.
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