Website Design Case Study

Designing a website is not just the nuts and bolts of design and development―it’s how we help the client to clearly convey information about who they are and what they do. In this case, our task, technically speaking, was to design and develop a modern website that could be updated easily by the firm. Our real job was to help them formulate their message.

Background and Challenge

CLR Design is the global leader in innovative animal habitat design and is legendary in the world of zoo design. They have been true thought leaders for more than 30 years, and their cutting-edge designs have become the benchmark for the industry. Clearly the CLR brand has a story and purpose that is much more than the services it offers.

Original Site

CLR’s 30-year anniversary marked decades of global growth, and with it came new leadership, new offices, new employees and the need for a new website. The existing website was obsolete and lacked many modern features, such as mobile responsive design and a content management system. It was also very difficult to update.

We understand the need for openness, debate and listening to all views. This makes the final product all the richer, and it brings respect and team spirit to the entire enterprise.

CLR has inspired generations of zoo directors to trade animal cages for immersive landscapes. The firm is innovative, brilliant and passionate. The new website design had to convey those qualities present the depth and breadth of the work be easy for CLR staff to manage themselves.

But more than this, the existing site strategy and messaging was old-fashioned and out of alignment with the current competitive landscape. Crucially, it did not position CLR adequately with important audience groups: new customers and prospective employees.

Our team has worked with architects for years, and we knew that CLR needed more than just another average website to maintain its position as the global leader in zoo design. CLR needed our help to recodify its character, capabilities and goals.

Strategic Process

Project Management and Consensus Building

CLR maintains offices in California and Philadelphia. Meetings and presentations for the new website had to accommodate time differences, video feeds and the schedules of the CLR team.

M&P is well-versed in working with large groups to build consensus. We have collaborated with architects and built-environment clients for many years. Our industry knowledge is based on solid experience.

CLR has offices in California and Philadelphia. Meetings and presentations for the new website had to accommodate time differences, video feed and the schedules of nine CLR partners, associates and staff.

To ensure a smooth process, consensus and successful outcome, and to guarantee that key components of the site were not overlooked, we established a project management plan. The plan set goals and time frames, defined how we would gather information and confirm assumptions, and made it clear who had decision-making authority. We recommended that CLR engage Lori Sullivan of BluePrint Growth Consulting to be part of our team. We have worked with Lori on several projects, and we knew that her experience, thoughtfulness and work ethic would be invaluable.


We worked through a series of interactive workshops to develop a strategy that would guide website design and messaging.

These workshops addressed these key themes:

  • How do we honor the legacy of the CLR Brand but also emphasize the creativity of the firm today?
  • How do we set up the website to help CLR to recruit talent who can think across the multiple design disciplines of architecture, engineering, landscape architecture and exhibit design?
  • How do we design and organize the information so that the end user can access the information they want? (The client had many complex projects across many categories.)
  • What kind of experience do we want our users to have when they view the work?
  • How do we create this unique website so it can be updated easily? (A known “must-have” was the ability for CLR staff to edit, change and add new information—constantly.)

Enhanced Discovery: Decisions Based on Facts

To support discussions and decision-making, we conducted primary and secondary research that involved careful examination of CLR’s mission, positioning, messaging and value proposition statement for all core audiences.

We conducted multiphase employee, customer and consultant interviews to ensure that the CLR brand messaging was anchored to its customers’ perceptions, needs and expectations. This helped to guide our decisions about how the CLR brand would be translated on every page of the site.

With customer input, facts, data and team consensus, we developed a clear value proposition and a competitive positioning statement. Finally, we organized it in a document that guided development of the website design, content, site architecture and user experience.

Findings and Recommendations

We presented the research findings to the team and used it to develop a positioning strategy that guided messaging and website development. Once the vision, target audience, and core values were defined, we worked with CLR to develop brand language, visuals, and communication styles to cohesively tell the brand story in the website design.

We presented the research findings to the team and used it to develop a brand-positioning strategy that guided messaging and website development. The findings:

  • Defined CLR’s attributions and reaffirmed its position as the global leader in habitat design, which gave the team the confidence to take ownership of that position. Our challenge was to integrate CLR’s thought leadership in a prominent way that would be relevant and useful to the client.
  • Identified differentiating aspects of CLR—as defined by its target audiences.
  • Clarified how prospective customers would search for information. This informed the user interface and helped us to construct a user experience (UX) across multiple user dimensions. We wanted users to easily access a complex and large cache of projects organized by species, habitat, facility type, services and design approach (Design Frameworks).
  • Revealed what decision-makers wanted to know. From our research, we learned that clients used CLR’s industry-leading animal well-being and design concepts to make critical decisions for zoos’ strategic and facility plans. This knowledge drove both how we positioned CLR’s innovative process on the website and how we used it to define a unique website user dimension (Design Frameworks).
  • Helped to craft a web presence that would be attractive to younger generations of prospective employees and zoo decision-makers.
  • Highlighted the importance of the firm’s history. We drove the design idea, content and format for the pure history section and helped the client feel comfortable with the positioning of its legacy work.

Our process unearthed something totally new, capturing the thought processes and unique philosophy that drove CLR’s pioneering habitat solutions. CLR didn’t realize what it had.

Design Process and Outcomes

CLR’s distinctive models of design and its thought processes demanded a singular approach to website design. Our method unearthed totally new aspects to CLR and captured the unique philosophy that drove the company’s innovative habitat solutions. Those discoveries were expressed in the following ways on the website.

Website Design for Architects
Final Home Page design featuring animation, and recent news.
  • We designed an exciting new kinetic home page featuring CLR projects. And we built it so that the client can easily change the images in-house. In addition, to address the massive amount of constant new information, we designed a robust news section that potential clients can access directly from the home page. This gave CLR an easy and direct way to highlight new material.
  • We branded their research and design philosophy and named it “Design Framework”—a key outcome of our findings. This became a new website section that showcases CLR’s compassion, innovative thinking and technical expertise. The result? A very robust section with complex, layered information and deep connections to the firm’s philosophy.
  • Because of the complexity of CLR’s work, projects have many layers of information. Our design for this section included multiple sorting options.
  • We drove the design idea for the pure history section and developed a format that was appropriate to the content—and easy for CLR to change and update.
  • During the process, we put systems in place to help our client organize content and keep the project moving. This helped to identify “holes” in content. We recommended Rosemarie Fabien of Fabien Communications to help CLR write new material. We have teamed up with Rosemarie on numerous projects. She has a sharp wit, a great writing style and a wonderful sense of humor.
  • We conceived a visual and technical approach to photographing the partners and staff. We were on-site to art-direct the photography and prepared a Photoshop document to help the client replicate what we had intended in the future. We recommended Peter Olson to do the initial photographic work. Peter is an internationally recognized portrait photographer and our go-to.
  • Mobile-Ready. Our findings led us to a hybrid mobile-responsive/mobile-first design path for this project. During each of the design and development phases we assessed our work to ensure a positive result on multiple platforms.
Initial Concept

Our design process encompasses three stages with accompanying presentations: concept, schematic and final design. We presented our concept by using three distinct ways of communicating the information and ideas from our comprehensive findings. We showed our designs in clickable wire frames for the CLR team to browse through to help them understand the navigation process. We housed the wire frames on our server so they could review them individually after each presentation at their own pace.

Each concept had a distinct graphic approach and impression. The designs were discussed and consensus was reached before moving to the next stage. Our presentations were a combination of video and in situ meetings to address partners in multiple locations.

Wireframe Layout


As with all of our projects, the client is given “the keys to the car”―they have full autonomy in making site changes.

We decided on a custom-designed WordPress content management system as the platform for building this website because it allows clients to update the site on their own—which was one of CLR’s main requests. As with all of our projects, the client is given “the keys to the car” so they have full access.

Development occurs after design approval, in the prototype stage. Part of our project management is the creation of a detailed schedule. While the site was in the beginning stages of development, the client supplied text and visual content needed for the data-entry stage, helping to keep the project moving. We built deadlines into our schedule so there were no surprises as we entered into the delivery of the Alpha (a rough initial version of the code for initial evaluation) version of the website.

A critical element of our process is personnel training. Before the site goes live, M&P ensures that key personnel have a thorough understanding of how to maintain it.

After approval of the Alpha version, we completed final browser testing and began data entry. A website Beta (with refined code, used to enter content and to eliminate any remaining bugs) was reviewed, and final edits were made prior to launch.

A critical element of every Malish & Pagonis website process is personnel training and support. Before the site goes live, we ensure that key personnel have a thorough understanding of how to maintain the site. The training session involves a review of how to add content and administer the site. A full set of documentation is included in the training session. Our work also includes 30 days of telephone support to help with any questions that arise.

Clients choose Malish & Pagonis for our proven design capabilities and expertise. There is, however, a more subjective, but equally important reason to select us: Commitment. We recognize the importance of building and maintaining long-term relationships, and we highly value collaboration, communication and flexibility throughout the process. We are team players.

We honored the traditions of the CLR brand while positioning the company to stay in the forefront of what’s next for zoos and zoo habitats by creating a place of learning for the company’s visitors in a handsome, easy-to-update, flexible website.

We did this by capturing the story of how CLR inspired generations of zoo directors to trade individual cages for immersive landscapes where animals thrive in safe, naturalistic environments, connecting it to how CLR builds on these principles as design leaders today.