The Arc: A Case Study on Complex Problem Solving

The Arc LogoAs the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, The Arc is on the front lines of an incredible mission –

To promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively support their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. 

The Arc encompasses all ages and more than 100 different diagnoses including autism, Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, and various other developmental disabilities. And they consistently ensure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families have the support and services they need to be fully engaged in their communities.

We think highly of their work and were thrilled when they approached us with an opportunity to partner with them on a national scale.

The Challenge

A Flexible Template for WordPress Multisite

When the Arc approached us to design a WordPress template for up to 700 state and local chapters on WordPress multisite, we were pretty excited about the challenge.

Right away it was apparent that we’d need to:

  • Create a design that could unify the brand nationwide
  • Create a design that could be accessible for several distinct audiences
  • Develop of highly customizable framework
  • Develop a sound WordPress Multisite home for all of the above

From Discovery to a custom hosting setup, read below for an overview of how we addressed this complex design and development challenge.

Discovery Phase

Audiences and Site Goals

Our first step in this project was to identify The Arc’s brand story and site audiences. After several conversations with the Marketing Team and select affiliate chapters, we identified:

  1. A distinct brand story and key branding elements
  2. Four existing user groups that regularly interact with and depend on the Arc
  3. A fifth user group that The Arc would like to engage, but hasn’t been sure how to do so thus far
  4. The Arc’s short and long-term goals for the template and their organization.

Strategic Design

Audience Based Landing Pages

Armed with this valuable information from the Discovery Phase, we entered the design phase where we, after a style tile and wireframes, crafted Audience Based Landing pages. Each of these pages targeted a different audience profile (5 total) without breaking away from overall branding and appearance. We adjusted our tone of each landing page by shifting the layout, imagery, and use of branding colors to cater to different profiles.

For example, on a page we anticipated would be most frequented by an older audience, we utilized a familiar page layout with easily accessible categories of content.

Aging Comp

And on a page we anticipated would be most frequented by persons with screen readers, we provided the most minimalist design available to ensure a page friendly to accessibility standards.

Simple Landing Comp
On all pages, we strategically highlighted the information each audience group was most likely to access, based on their goals for coming to the site and anticipated workflow once they were in the site.

Custom Build

Flexible, Empathetic Development

Once designs were iterated, improved, and approved, we began tackling our next major hurdle – implementing designs in such a way that:

  1. A superadmin (with access to all sites within the multisite network) could maintain brand fidelity across hundreds of sites
  2. And an admin (with access to an individual site in the network, i.e. for a specific chapter) could incorporate unique content into the template.

Throughout development, we asked questions such as:

  • What level of flexibility would most admins want?
  • What level of flexibility could potentially break the design?
  • What customizations would make the template most marketable?
  • How would each change impact the client’s workflow?

For each feature and stage of development, we turned these questions over as a team and with the client to craft a flexible template that included features such as:

Customizable CTAs

We created customizable call to actions that could be easily adjusted on each page.

Call to Action Feature

Content Sharing Framework

We created a custom content sharing framework that allowed the National organization to share information with individual chapters within the WordPress admin. We also created a companion framework that allowed individual chapters to subscribe to and publish each other’s stories, so long as both chapters were within the multisite.

News Comp

These features, combined with flexible forms, an ecommerce setup, calendars, event registration, photo galleries, newsfeed and social sharing created a robust framework that would meet a majority of the chapter’s needs.

Homepage Comp

Custom Multisite Setup

To house all the sites that would potentially use this template, The Arc also needed WordPress multisite – a feature of WordPress 3.0 and later that allows multiple sites to share a single WordPress installation.

Luckily, our technical lead and co-founder Pete Mall helped lead the WordPress Multisite release when it was first introduced!

We worked as a team to setup a custom environment (including useful tools such as Human Made’s Domain Mapping tool Mercator) to allow The Arc to eventually host a large number of sites. 

Custom Built Hosting Solution

Sometimes, out of the box hosting just doesn’t work as a solution. So we also offered the Arc our custom, white glove hosting for the multisite setup. Turns out, our tailored hosting solution included exactly what they needed – ridiculously fast servers built specifically for WordPress, custom caching, malware scanning, managed developer integration and tools, and expert support.

Most importantly, because we built the environment and template, our hosting offered The Arc network oversight by the people who know it better than anyone else.  


Interested in a custom multisite setup, tailored hosting or strategic design for your own business? Head on over to our contact page and let us know how we can best partner with you!

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Authored By

Project Manager

Laura leads team efficiency by communicating with clients, tracking hoards of details, and providing timely support. She likes challenging recipes, hedgehogs, beautiful words, and bourbon.

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