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Major upgrade for with govCMS

Salsa Digital was commissioned to bring across onto the govCMS platform, delivering a more reliable, modern and user-friendly website.

Jim T 17 October 2016


The Department of Communications and the Arts (DoCA) was formed when the two areas came together as part of a Machinery of Government (MOG) change. The Department maintained its two websites — and The Comms site was on govCMS and was ‘shiny and new’, while the Arts site was running on Drupal 6, an outdated content management system (CMS) and was in need of a major re-design. (Salsa Digital was involved during the later stages of the Comms site.)

The brief

Arts wanted to come across to govCMS and create a new site based heavily on the updated Department of Communications website.

The alliance

The new Arts website was a collaborative project, with a three-strong alliance:

  1. Systemik working on the web content, a new Information Architecture (IA) and corresponding content mappings

  2. Folk leading the user testing for the proposed new site IA and new visual designs; and

  3. Salsa Digital on the site build.

Salsa Digital brought the team of experts together and managed the project overall.

While Systemik was engaged directly by the DoCA and had already started working on the content, we brought in Folk. We’d worked with Folk on another project and were impressed by their expertise in the user research space. Folk’s role was twofold: to validate the proposed new site information architecture with key Arts audiences, and to elicit feedback from users regarding their perceptions of the new visual design concepts.

Project methodology

The project was run as an agile project, to allow us to respond quickly to changes and ensure feedback was integrated into the build process. The core project team, made up of reps from Salsa Digital and DoCA, collaborated closely, including daily meetings.


As always, we kicked off with our discovery phase. For this project, that involved four days of workshops in the Department’s Canberra offices. During the workshops we developed a clear understanding of all business requirements and related functionality. We got to know their current content process and started creating user stories for the functionality they wanted to include, and the acceptance criteria for that functionality. However, during discovery we uncovered that a number of the user stories that made up the Arts website needed to be exported from the Comms site — some functions without any changes and others with new requirements. This included all content types, landing page components and many functions and features from the site.

In addition, there were many interdependencies with functions and features, so testing and making sure all these dependencies were captured during export would be critical. Likewise, testing and comparing against the Comms site was also essential. At this point, it wasn’t feasible to try to capture all stories with detailed acceptance criteria for the functionality being exported without any changes (there are over 10K stories that make up the entire Comms site requirements). This task would have taken an enormous amount of time and effort and both Salsa and DoCA agreed that it simply wasn’t practical.

By the end of the week we had a list of candidate requirements and were ready to move to the next stage of the project.

The basic requirement was:

  1. Take

  2. ‘Clone’ it

  3. Apply Arts Information Architecture (IA)

  4. Apply Arts design ‘tweaks’

  5. Import/migrate Arts content

  6. And just add water

Easy right? Well almost…

Project kick-off

The project kick-off started in earnest with the alignment of key stakeholders and the presentation of Salsa Digital’s project plan.

Design and IA

While Salsa Digital’s services include design and IA, in this project our focus was purely on the build and overall project management. The visual designs for the new Arts website were handled by the Department’s in-house designers and the Department was already working with Systemik on web content and Information Architecture (IA).

Our role in these areas was to bring in Folk to conduct user testing. Folk conducted face-to-face usability testing and online unmoderated testing. Three homepage designs were tested with Chalkmark and the proposed sitemap for the website was tested with Treejack (IA validation software).

The key questions for users were:

  • Which of the proposed visual designs best aligns with users’ information needs?

  • Which of the proposed visual designs best aligns with the Arts for users?

  • Can users find what they’re looking for using the proposed IA?

  • Do the navigation labels of the proposed IA resonate with users?


Initially, the Department was looking at whether we could simply ‘clone’ the Comms site, then apply the new Information Architecture (IA) and make some design tweaks before importing content. In Drupal, configuration and content are both stored in the database, so a simple copy and paste operation isn’t possible. Using the Drupal Configuration module we extracted the configuration options from the latest version of the Comms site and imported into a fresh installation of Drupal. This had the added advantage of making it simple to leave behind the extra Comms features that weren’t required in the Arts site.

We also created lots of new functionality and features that were identified during the discovery phase. Some of the new features include:

  • A new consultation content type for the Arts funding and support programs

  • An adapted ‘Have your say’ feature (our updates to this feature will now be part of the govCMS distribution going forward)

  • The ability to add attributions/captions to photos and images

  • A new Q&A functionality, that can be inserted into any (every) content page.

Systemik took care of importing the content, which was smooth and seamless from Salsa Digital’s perspective.

We also worked with the DoCA design team, applying frontend theming to their designs to make the site look beautiful. There were a number of changes and tweaks along the way, but our close collaboration and working in agile allowed as to adapt and accommodate the changes.

The benefits

Arts now experiences all the benefits of govCMS, such as:

  • A stable and reliable CMS

  • An enterprise-grade CMS vetted and approved by the Department of Finance

  • 24x7 enterprise support and proactive monitoring

  • Security compliance at the highest level

  • An easy-to-use CMS (with features like re-sizing images automatically, which content managers use frequently)

In addition, the new site provides Arts and content users lots of flexibility to ‘build’ pages with a variety of templates and components to tailor each page to their needs.

The new site is responsive, meaning it can be viewed from mobiles and tablets as well as desktop computers, and because it’s aligned with the Department of Comms site, both sites can share developments and new functionality going forward.

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