Sanctuary

Consolidating 12 websites to create a single, accessible, user-friendly platform to help residents with all their housing needs

Sanctuary is a not-for-profit housing and care provider, one of the largest providers of housing, care and commercial services in the UK. Covering England and Scotland, they build and let affordable homes, build for purchase with shared ownership, manage care homes and supported living, and provide essential information and support for people to find safe, secure and happy homes and live independently.

However, their online platforms were not up to the level of functionality they needed to fulfil this important purpose. Sprawling across 12 outdated Drupal 7 websites that had usability issues for both users and Sanctuary’s internal teams, their online presence needed a revamp. Cyber-Duck was chosen to consolidate the 12 sites, improve accessibility and transform the user experience both for residents and for Sanctuary’s in-house content team. 

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What did Sanctuary need from Cyber-Duck?

As Sanctuary’s operations grew organically in scope and scale from its origin as a housing association throughout the years, so did their online presence. At the time Cyber-Duck came on board, there were 12 separate brands, each of which was sitting on its own separate Drupal 7 website. Each brand had a different visual identity and messaging and was built from a different code base, resulting in silos which had to be individually managed. The inconsistency made CMS management a challenge, and updating each of them in isolation took a lot of time, resource and effort.

The user journeys were also posing problems across the different sites. Many residents found it unclear how to complete tasks online, such as reporting a repair or paying their rent. Abandoning the process, they would often pick up the phone and call for help instead. Sanctuary staff were spending significant chunks of their time fielding phone calls from confused customers.

It was clear that Sanctuary needed to consolidate their websites to work more efficiently, empower their users to complete tasks independently, and deliver on a new unified brand positioning they had already been developing. They reached out to Cyber-Duck to work with them on a solution.

Our objectives were:

1

Create a new UX strategy, IA and user journeys that would empower residents to complete tasks independently

2

Consolidate the 12 disparate websites and migrate from Drupal 7 to the latest version, Drupal 9

3

Build on Sanctuary's new unified branding strategy and make it suitable for application across their new platform

User Research and Information Architecture

Due to the complexity of the proposed brand and website consolidation, the project started off with an extensive planning and strategy phase, which uncovered some interesting UX design challenges. Some of Sanctuary’s residents have additional accessibility needs due to disability or economic and social circumstances. They also have many older residents who lack experience in navigating complex websites. We strived to make the website as inclusive as possible, ensuring that the user journeys were clear, accessible, and intuitive for Sanctuary’s diverse user base.

Our UX researchers spoke to Sanctuary employees, residents and stakeholders alike to gather information on what they wanted and needed from the new site.

Based on this, we then designed a consolidated information architecture (IA) strategy and devised user journeys that would guide residents towards their goals clearly and intuitively. With the new IA in place, residents will no longer have to click off to a different site to find necessary information; everything is now navigable back to the main Sanctuary website, keeping the user journeys clean and concise.

Accessibility was at the forefront of our minds throughout every stage of the project. We applied best practice and the knowledge gained from our extensive experience throughout the design and build. Test Partners were then enlisted to check that the site was accessible and inclusive.

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UI Design and Branding

Sanctuary’s internal design team had already collaborated with branding agency Spencer Dubois to create a fresh, consistent visual identity. Taking the baton, we developed their work further into a “brand bible” bringing together the fonts, colour palettes and other visual elements which would form the basis for the new design system. We ensured the branding would mesh with our UX strategy and build process, adapting where necessary to translate it into our Site Studio frameworks and templates.

Again, accessibility was carefully considered throughout, including factors such as colour contrasts and accessible typefaces.

Our developers and designers collaborated closely throughout the entire project, working in multifunctional teams to deliver true integration between user journeys, visuals, and the practicalities of building the site. Sanctuary now has a clear, coherent brand identity and a sense of visual unity across the different brands.

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Building the Site: Drupal 9 and Acquia Site Studio

It was a major challenge for us to take on all of Sanctuary’s existing sites, with code written by different teams taking different approaches throughout the years. The goal was to consolidate them into a unified, manageable system, that would give the Sanctuary content team the freedom to do their work within the guardrails of the new consolidated brand identity. Critically, it also needed to offer accessibility, usability, and functionality.

Although still in use, Drupal 7 has become unsupported, with no new features being introduced. We recommended that they upgrade to Drupal 9, the latest version, using our established migration process. This sets Sanctuary up for a smooth transition to Drupal 10, set to be introduced in December 2022, and further iterations of Drupal in the future.

Sanctuary was already hosted by Acquia, so it made perfect sense for our developers to build the new Drupal 9 site over an Acquia Site Studio framework. Site Studio provides us with the foundation to create exactly what the client wants, while making the build easier and more efficient.

Using Site Studio’s extensive UI kit, our developers built on its functionality to create a library of bespoke components with built-in accessibility, including accessible colours and contrast levels. This will give the Sanctuary team the flexibility they need while always remaining on-brand and accessible

The new Site Studio platform enables Sanctuary’s content team to simply drag and drop blocks and components into an intuitive Layout Canvas, giving them the power to create new pages and update content without the need for specialist developer work. This means our developers could spend more time delivering on high-value elements of the website.

One of the most notable of these high-value elements, which could only have been created by our devs, is the new “Report your Repair” form. Improving user experience and giving residents the ability to complete their tasks online was a major objective for Sanctuary in this project, and this feature will play a crucial role in achieving this.

Security and privacy were of paramount importance to Sanctuary and their residents, so GDPR configuration and security were incorporated throughout the build. We carried out pen testing to identify potential vulnerabilities, helping us to optimise security. Configured to be highly performant and SEO-friendly, we expect the new site to offer a greatly improved experience for both internal teams and external users.

The future is looking bright for the new platform, with much more scope to enhance and improve. Thanks to Site Studio, the time and money that would have been used for manually building base code can now be spent by developers on adding new features or making UX improvements, leading to better experiences for the residents and giving Sanctuary the tools to fulfil their goal of helping people with their housing needs.

Initial Launch and Ongoing Work

We have successfully consolidated 3 of Sanctuary’s websites into a streamlined, user-friendly platform, with a roadmap for bringing in the remaining sites. By combining our strategic approach to UX and content with robust design and build experience, we have delivered on their unified design proposition and delivered an accessible, highly performing website that also reduces Sanctuary’s digital environmental impact. 

We will continue our relationship with Sanctuary, introducing new features as the organisation goes from strength to strength. Our developers will phase in new sections of the site over time. The end goal is to finish consolidating all 12 websites into one consolidated platform, currently on track for October 2022.

Accessibility is always an ongoing journey, so as more launches and deployments keep happening, we will keep testing and identifying any issues. We’ll also monitor SEO throughout the various launches and resolve errors, complaints from users, and other potential problems as they arise.

It’s early days since the launch, but we are delighted with the initial client feedback. 

Sanctuary have informed us that their customer service team are now having to deal with many fewer calls, and residents have given positive feedback on the website and its new ease of use. The internal content team are happy that they can now be flexible and creative, while ensuring accessibility and real ownership over the content on the website. It’s now much quicker for them to implement and work with the content, saving time and money.

On reviewing the new website, Yahye Siyad, our Diversity & Accessibility Lead, said: “I found the site user friendly and accessible with my screen reader as a blind user. The site has a consistent layout that makes it possible to navigate with keyboard shortcuts. Overall, it was straightforward to perform tasks such as reporting repairs, making a payment, and searching for information.”

A Sanctuary stakeholder said: “It was great to work with the Cyber-Duck team, they’ve become an extension of our own team, and we just got things done together. They really understood our brand and technical challenges, and their work to build on Site Studio’s great capabilities has helped us totally streamline and transform our digital presence.”