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Durham Farmers’ Market Content Strategy & Website Redesign

The Downtown Durham Farmers’ Market has been in continuous operation since 1999, and it was time to improve their online presence.

In 2017, Mary Yost, Market Manager, reached out to me at Registered Creative because of our brand and website work for Durham Central Park and LoMo Market.

We hit it off immediately. Our initial meetings with the Durham Farmers’ Market (DFM) team revealed that the old website was out of date in presentation and, arguably worse, it suffered from being cumbersome to update.

“Having a user-friendly website is important to both our vendors and customers,” Mary said. “For our vendors, our farmers’ market website is another place to represent their business and educate their customers. For our customers, our site needs to provide relevant content, such as hours, location, and recipes, as well as information about the various events and programs at the market.

A screenshot of the original Durham Farmers’ Market website when the project kicked off.

“In particular, we want to ensure that customers who want to participate in our Food Programs, such as SNAP/EBT and Double Bucks, are able to find helpful information. We were excited to partner with Registered Creative because they understood our goals and were thoughtful in their approach to designing the website in a way that makes sense for both vendors and customers.”

Downtown Durham has experienced extraordinary change and growth—particularly in the last decade. On average, more than 70 people move to the area every day. The old Market website did little to help new Bull City residents discover and explore this gem right in their own downtown.

We knew we could improve DFM’s ability to reach their audiences. The first step was achieving a more in-depth understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of how the Market was reaching prospective customers.

Discovery

What we learned in our initial work was that the DFM team excelled at producing fresh content. DFM’s newsletter went out like clockwork twice a week during peak season. Each issue is a robust rundown of what to expect at the market, recipes, vendor profiles, and more.

Newsletters are a fantastic tool for building a relationship with an existing audience. They’re less useful for helping people discover you. With the influx of new folks to Durham, the market needed to be discoverable.

They had access to a wealth of photographs featuring local products and vendors. The challenge was that this great content was trapped in the newsletter silo because the site was so slow to update.

A screenshot of the original site on mobile. The outdated user interface posed usability concerns.

Furthermore, the mobile presentation was lackluster—especially in light of what today’s visitors are accustomed to. The trend of mobile becoming an ever larger percentage of how people visit sites shows little signs of slowing. A mobile-friendly site is table stakes as of 2015 when Google changed its search ranking criteria to include mobile performance.

Social media can function as a bandaid for a mobile presence. The downside is you’re putting all of your (local) eggs in the ever increasingly fickle basket of someone else’s network.

We realized a new, modern, site could serve as the cornerstone of a new Market outreach strategy. After reviewing the existing site, we researched audiences and discussed messaging with the Market’s board.

Information Architecture

IA for the new site.

The next step was figuring out how to organize and deliver all of the above to the folks who needed it. We reworked how DFM’s information was structured on their current site. After some adjustments, we were ready to implement this new structure in a fresh, clean WordPress site.

Why WordPress?

As a nonprofit, the appeal of managing their content via the most popular, open, platform on the internet was undeniable for the Market. Simply put, having the odds in DFM’s favor that a volunteer would have experience with their web platform was compelling. Failing that, there’s extensive training documentation for rookies and veterans alike.

WordPress’ market share also brings a huge ecosystem of third party plugins, community support, and service integrations. Those benefits make adding features simpler and more cost effective—creating a powerful platform for solving marketing, communications, and organizational problems.

Layout

Initial homepage layout sketch.

Getting into layout, we did more research on what other markets were working with. Then we broadened our review to include other fresh, “local-adjacent,” endeavors. After initially pushing a pragmatic approach to the home page, we shifted direction and landed on a layout that made fantastic use of the regularly produced content and images DFM could count on.

As a cost-saving measure, Mary and other folks at DFM took on the task of migrating content from the old, proprietary site, and positioning it on the development site. This meant we had a round of training for Market staff—and that they’d be quite familiar with their new platform at launch.

With more live content in place, we developed a few more patterns to cover our bases. With sign-off from the Market board, we could move on to branding.

Branding

This is always the step that clients get excited about. The site moves from lines and generic boxes of text and photos to something that feels like it belongs to them. (Don’t get me wrong, the team here gets pretty excited too.)

We’d made some slight revisions to the existing, hand-lettered, logo a year before making it work better for signage. So, we knew dependable logo assets were in hand. However, like many nonprofits, Durham Farmers’ Market didn’t have well documented brand or graphic standards—and they chose not to invest in a full brand development. That meant we had to make our own decisions on typography and color for the website.

The fonts in use on the former site were cold for such a warm group. To bring a bit of warmth, we introduced a slab face for display and went with a softer sans serif for reading text.

The new site, featuring a slab for display and rounded sans for reading. This combination adds an approachability to content that should always feel inviting to users.

“We purposefully selected Google Fonts because it would allow them to be consistent across web and print materials, for free,” says Emily Combs, Lead Designer here at Registered Creative. 

“The pair made a good match; both are round and smooth, but the display face’s feet help the headlines feel more robust.”

We selected focal points from the existing color palette to match the approachability of our type selection and let the wealth of great Market images shine.

Deployment and Follow Up

As usual, we optimized and tested everything, then deployed the site to the production server at SiteGround (a good fit for DFM due to the high quality of service with a relatively low price point).  

While there were no existing metrics for traffic to compare, the response from customers so far has been incredibly positive.

“Customers have commented on how much easier it is to navigate our website and find relevant content, particularly when viewing it on a smartphone,” Mary said.

“In addition, our vendors are very pleased with how their businesses are represented on the new site. Overall, we’re very excited to use our new online platform as a way to share valuable content with our community while also educating customers on what’s available at the market.”

We’re excited and curious to see how the site flourishes for them moving forward. We plan to review traffic and visitor behavior in a few months and discuss what next steps we might take together.

View the Durham Farmers’ Market Showcase