Digital campaigns are more akin to designing a building than painting a work of art

by Tectonica


How do you create a website that’s not just beautiful but built for action? That’s the focus of our Architect Spotlight Series, featuring insights from certified NationBuilder Architects. This week we hear from Tectonica of Buenos Aires.

1) What are the most important elements of an awesome digital campaign?

Too often studios build a screwdriver when they need a hammer and leave their clients unable to succeed in their campaigns. The key to creating a website and utilizing digital engagement tools successfully is found in strategy. When we started Tectonica several years ago we knew from our experience that digital campaigns are more akin to designing a building or planning a large construction project than painting a work of art: above the aesthetics websites and online campaigns are spaces that serve a purpose and function. It requires a combination of understanding the project’s objectives and the best methods and tools to achieve them.

It is for this reason that with some projects — like the themes we created for candidates, MPs and organizations of Great Britain’s Labour Party — we can spend as much as a couple of weeks just planning. To succeed at each project we must first fully understand the overall direction and mission of the organization or campaign. Next we identify what role the digital campaign efforts have in that larger context. And finally we examine closely the make-up, motivators, and tastes of the audience that is being targeted to engage.

Strategy as we think of it is more than just planning — it’s a holistic approach. It’s being intentional about achieving the campaign’s goals in a way that is incorporated into every phase of the project from the initial assessments through design, the set-up of the website and throughout the lifecycle of engagement and communication.

While Ned’s role is to “frame the question” of a campaign, Mar’s job is to “answer that question” with a design solution. As our team has grown to a full diversity of specialized talent we work closely and in an integrated fashion to ensure that everyone is involved along the process. Our coders, for example, give input and sign off to designs before they go out to clients for feedback — to ensure they can be built stably and integrated in a way that the client can manage changes on an ongoing basis.

2) What is one question you ask your clients when starting a new project that everyone should think about?

One of our favorite questions to ask clients during our assessment and planning consultation sessions is:

“Imagine you are looking back two years from now on the successful digital campaign that was built. What concrete things have actually happened to achieve this success?”

Very often clients have an easy time identifying the larger goal they want to achieve, but a harder time thinking through the steps that need to happen to achieve that goal. We help folks work through the logic of that to understand the steps along the way. This informs us of key decisions in the work we do from our communications plan (including e-mail, social media, and actions such as petitions), user goals, site navigation, calls to action, data collection decisions, donor engagement strategies, key messaging, branding, etc.

3) What are three tips for promoting digital engagement?

Tell the story: Really, the cornerstone for any engagement strategy is to convince people of the worthiness of getting involved. Basic narrative principles (and even the 5 act plot structure) should be used everywhere in engagement — from a story arc in an email, to making Facebook posts about personal impact of announcements, to telling the organizational narrative on a long scroll homepage (like we did with Innovate Your State). Telling the story of the organization often can be helped by telling the story of the people involved, such as we did with CODEPINK — including an “Inspiration” section which highlights the stories of activists and leaders.

Use the tools as they are meant to be used: The great thing is with NationBuilder and the systems it works with, we have so many great avenues for engagement. From turf cutting and greeting elderly neighbors with the message of your movement to coordinated Twitter actions — there are so many ways to engage people in your cause. The key here is to not assume that all methods are equal. What you might say in a text message is not the same approach you would take on a phone call, Tweet or mail. Every channel is unique and NB makes it easy to run your campaign on all of them. Understanding how to use these different methods or consulting with those who do is key. In our communications plans we always advise on the specific approaches (both custom and best practices) to have successful outcomes in the various engagement and communication methods.

Take the user by the hand (or “lessons in less is more”): Really the best way to make a digital campaign successful is by taking your target audience ‘by the hand’ and leading them to the most important things they need to do for the campaign’s success. People aren’t looking for a puzzle to solve. They want to be helpful so the more direct and less confusing you can be — the better. If donations are what you need — don’t beat around the bush — make it as easy and simple for your potential donors to get there with well-placed “calls-to-action” across the site and in e-mails. Having a great design with a well thought out visual hierarchy is what our design studio does (in a way web users don’t even realize when they experience a good UI/UX). But clients also need to make some tough choices and pair things down to the most important. Less is more. For each additional option a user has, the less value each one of those options carries.

We’ve helped get around the trickiness of some of this on some sites recently by creating multiple navigation structures — one which is grouped by just a few items (and is prominent) and one which is more exhaustive of the entirety of the website. In some cases, like Unison South East, we just include a trimmed down navigation and an extended footer.

4) Share a site you’re proud of. What was your approach and how is it incentivizing action?

One of our great pride’s at Tectonica is the work we completed for Defense for Children International — Palestine. We were incredibly moved by the gravity of importance in the work the organization did and by the talent of the team itself.

We completed a full analysis of the organization’s digital and communications strategy and developed a logic model that would build engagement. It goes a little something like this:

  1. Tell the story of the cause — in this case the unfair human rights violations children in the occupied territory face daily.
  2. Explain what the organization is doing to significantly impact change.
  3. Invite the users to engage — in a variety of ways from signing petitions, taking part in actions to making donations.

In the case of DCI — Palestine, since so much of the achievement of their mission relies on telling the world what is happening — the first of these (“telling the story”) serves both a programmatic and an engagement purpose. We accomplished this in a number of ways, including presenting an embedded crowdmap using Ushahidi platform, presenting searchable statistic data, and — probably most powerful — creating six documentary-style online interactive stories using real stories of children to demonstrate real world examples of the six issue areas the organization works in. You can read a little more about the in-depth process we incorporated and way strategy plays out through the entirety of the process on our online case study of the project.

5) Is there any “inspiration” your team uses to stimulate creativity? Music, environment, art, etc.?

We like to feed people, which I guess explains the joke that no one leaves Tectonica skinnier than when they started with the us (thankfully we also sponsor gym memberships for our employees). We really have a touch of the “foodie” culture around here — whether it’s Mar making chicken tikka Masala, late afternoon choco-torta (an Argentine treat), or ordering “facturas” (Argentine pastries) in the morning.

We even have a breadmaker which we set the timer on to coincide with us arriving at the office to the smell of fresh warm bread. During meetings and work time, we always pass around Yerba Mate — an Argentine drink made of a highly caffeinated herb. Drunk out of a metal straw in a gourd, it is shared by a group. There is something natural to the camaraderie it creates. Last year’s holiday party involved the team going to a 12-course dinner at one of Argentine’s best modern cuisine restaurants. It was pretty decadent. We’ve just bought all the materials to start our own Tectonica-brand artisanal home brew beer. Of course, we’ve also got a fully stocked bar, a nap area, and our CCO (Chief Cuddling Officer) Jonas around the office to keep us content and inspired. One of our former employees, upon his return to the US, wrote a beautiful blog article all about life at the studio which pretty much sums up things.