The process of website design for a Winston-Salem organization, The Centers for Exceptional Children.

For more than 65 years, The Centers for Exceptional Children (CFEC) has been providing a critical combination of support services, programs and facilities dedicated to one thing: helping children with special needs and their families thrive.

For those children and families, the services it offers are “amazing,” its schools are “wonderful” and “full of love,” and the teachers are “outstanding.”

The organization offers a wealth of resources for children and families. It partners with two Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to provide high-quality education and valuable enrichment opportunities to children with physical and developmental disabilities. Its Infant and Toddler programs offer interventions and resources beginning at birth, as well as extended day and summer programs based on a STEAM curriculum. Its primary outreach program, the Family Support Network of Greater Forsyth (FSN), is dedicated to strengthening families and providing advocacy, education, guidance and connections.

The CFEC walks with families through all seasons. It’s a true community. And in designing the CFEC website, we needed to share all the things it offers as a community, without losing focus on the opportunity to tell its story.

In our initial strategy planning session, we learned from CFEC’s leadership that the current website was becoming more of a barrier of information than a bridge to connecting with its users. They told us about opportunities they wanted to explore with the new site, their desire to see a functioning mobile delivery option, and their goal to improve user experience.

We learned who their target audience was, and we broke that group into three categories: prospects (parents looking for information to see if their child might be a good fit), enrolled families and donors/volunteers. All three audiences would have their own reasons for visiting the site, so we would need to make sure our messaging would reach all three effectively.

As a designer, I can’t emphasize how important these strategy sessions are. I used the information that we uncovered in the CFEC planning meeting as a guide and “filter” for every decision made on the site. Trust me, it’s much easier to do this up front 🙂

Getting started.
As I was being brought up to speed on this incredible organization, my heart was expanding like a hot air balloon. I couldn’t shake the thought that this website would be one of the first places that a parent might go to get answers and support for a recent, and potentially scary, diagnosis.

I not only wanted the new site to be informative, clear, and easy to use, but I also wanted it to feel happy and hopeful. Because that’s exactly what CFEC is. I tried to make “happy and hopeful” my personal filter for every stylistic decision.

Have you ever been to a restaurant where the menu had approximately 1.3 million options … just for a salad? That’s what we were trying to avoid when it came to our navigation. We knew that parents would be using their mobile device in the pick-up line at school to explore the site, and we wanted to make it quick and easy to find the info they needed.

I believe one of the biggest wins for the redesign of the site was the fact that we consolidated Its content by decreasing the number of pages on the site from 36 to 5 without losing any vital information. The content on the new site is clear, concise and still communicative.

When it comes to designing websites, protocol is to create a simple color palette that matches our client’s branding and stick to it. Typically, that’s about three colors – a primary, secondary and accent color.

The CFEC logo, however, is fun and bright and had plenty of color to choose from! Instead of limiting our palette here, I opted to make the colors just as intentional and vibrant as the programs they represent. So I assigned a color to each program. Pink would represent the FSN; blue – infant and toddler; green –school partnerships; yellow – afterschool and summer programs. That way, whether you were looking at the calendar, a page or a blog post, you would have another visual identifier to know which program you were connecting with.

Since Vela earlier had the privilege of designing the organization’s printed materials, I knew we could apply this treatment to other aspects of the CFEC brand, which elevated both campaigns.

Images are always great on websites. The CFEC website is no different, and uses photography of CFEC students, teachers and families. There is no better way to communicate the services CFEC provides to our community than through the smiles and joy on the faces of the kids and families who are its partners. #happyandhopeful

This was such a fun and rewarding project for me to work on and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Not only did I have a little outside-the-box fun, I also got to see firsthand what a difference CFEC makes in our community – and we were able to get the site up and running just in time for one of its largest fundraising efforts of the year!

The Vela team creates websites that look good and are backed by solid strategy and strong user experiences. Contact Vela Agency today to learn more about our process and projects.