The National Churches Trust (NCT) is, as the name suggests, like the National Trust, but for churches. They aim “to develop a high-quality resource for visitors and churches, supporting and promoting a beautiful collection of fascinating places to visit.”
To this end, NCT decided to separate its Explore Churches resource from the main site, which we have managed for over five years. The NCT recognised that a well-designed, standalone digital product would be key for long-term user engagement and growing their audiences. Consequently, they planned and budgeted for an ongoing digital partnership to last until 2024, with several phases of site expansion.
As ExploreChurches already had a web presence, we were tasked with updating and enhancing the existing design – particularly the homepage and UI – as well as adding several new features. High priorities were improving the map functionality, adding a filterable events listing and implementing a flexible page builder template.
The new ExploreChurches site needed to engage committed ‘church crawlers’ (people who avidly visit churches and will seek them out), while also tapping into the huge audience of ramblers and culturally engaged individuals who might pop into churches on a walk or visit them on a city break. As well as looking beautiful, it needed to provide a clear return on investment to secure its ongoing viability.
This project was all about balance. The design needed to be bright, modern and attention-grabbing, but with a feeling of tranquility that characterises the actual churches themselves.
As the ExploreChurches project will be enhanced in specific phases with very fixed budgets, we needed to build a highly scalable site that allows us to incorporate further features in a cost-effective way. We anticipated modifying current features in future based on user interaction data and feedback – and knew that this had to be possible without rebuilding entire pages or content types.
Careful initial scoping and discovery was crucial to achieving these goals, as it allowed us to allocate our resources in the best possible way, with the right mix of design finesse and tech wizardry.
The strength of Explore Churches’ offering is the stunning architecture people can find within easy reach all over the country. Therefore, we decided to allow these beautiful images to speak for themselves by using a balanced palette and keeping a predominantly white or toned-down background. This also really brought out the bold yellow that is their primary brand colour. We used iconography and enticing typography to add personality to the site and complement the churches’ angular edges.
We added a completely new events listing, with date categories and 11 different filters for event type. The design is bold, clear, and built to the latest accessibility standards. We also improved the “find a church” map functionality, adding numerous nested filters underneath four broad categories, a geolocation feature and on-brand styling.
As many of Explore Churches’ users may be out walking or on-the-go when they use this feature, it is vital that our map works well across all devices. We carried out rigorous user testing to ensure that the user experience is as smooth for mobile as desktop and featured the map’s postcode search on the homepage for easy access.
We found solutions within scope for content that needed unique templates but was out of budget range for phase one, like the filterable themed content page. We added subtle design elements such as showing the number of churches on each category image, as a way of piquing a user’s interest and encouraging them to click through.
We also implemented a highly flexible page builder template, working in collaboration with the ExploreChurches team to define their exact needs. For example creating regular pages (as well as guides for church visitors, website users and partners) on how to plan their visits or provide content for the site. They are using page builder fantastically well to grow and promote the site, until it is time for us to add the next raft of stunning features in phase two.
“We love our new ExploreChurches website. It's bright and fresh, whilst still in keeping with the branding of our original site and other marketing. The help we received from Fat Beehive in both planning and production, ideas and inspiration were invaluable!”Sarah Crossland, Explore Churches Lead, the National Churches Trust