City of Red Deer responsive city website

The City of Red Deer is a young, fast-growing city in Central Alberta; the province’s third largest at about 100 000 people. But the City was having a hard time keeping up with their web communications as their population grew.

The challenge

The municipal government knew how important the web was to their strategic goals, but their website wasn’t built to deliver the content and functionality their citizens needed. And since it was designed in the early 2000s, the look and feel wasn’t in line with modern standards either.

They were faced (as every city is) with limited resources and budgets. They needed a partner that could augment their available time and skill sets, so they could deliver the right mix of web services and information.

Aerial photo of Red Deer
Red Deer core and the Red Deer river from the air.

The solution: a brand new city website

We’ve been working with the City of Red Deer since 2011 to help transform them into a web-first organization.

Strategic web planning

It all started in 2011, when we developed a complete web strategic plan for the City of Red Deer. We spent weeks holding research workshops with every single internal department and ten external stakeholder groups to find out exactly what they needed from the municipal website. Then we developed a complete set of recommendations on how to get the City to where they wanted to be.

Our discovery framework considers technology, governance, audience, and content, so the strategic plan helped them to see their web channel comprehensively. We focused on the value that the website could bring to the citizens and businesses in Red Deer: how it could help them to better tell their story, deliver services, and engage their community. We wrote our recommendations based on their goals as a community, not just the features we thought their website needed.

By the time we were through, the City of Red Deer project team had a solid set of recommendations that allowed them to approach their senior leadership and city council. They walked out with unanimous approval for a web redesign and re-platforming project.

Municipal website redesign

We started the website redesign process in 2013, with content strategy, information architecture, design, and front-end development for the new This project was the definition of a true partnership: we collaborated with the Red Deer team to find the best use of time, budget, and resources to deliver the best possible solution.

Collaborative discovery

We needed to get everyone at the City of Red Deer informed and on board for the website redesign project. So instead of the traditional “big reveal” approach to discovery and design (“Ta-da! Here it is! What do you think?”) we worked collaboratively with the Red Deer team to develop all of our discovery and design work together.

We worked with our partners at Republic of Quality to:

  • Hold workshops with major project stakeholders from leadership, IT, and communications to establish a project vision and messaging priorities. What do we need to accomplish with this project? What are the outcomes we want to see?

  • Collaboratively develop wireframe sketches and content plans with our client stakeholders. All our project stakeholders were involved in choosing content priorities and making design decisions, so everyone was aligned on the overall direction.
  • Develop a new information architecture and content plan.

Red Deer website project vision
Photo credit: Steve Fisher, Republic of Quality

User-centred design and research

Once we had a plan in place, we got to work on the design. The City of Red Deer had been struggling with a brand problem: they lacked a clear idea of their own identity. A branding project was underway, but it wouldn’t be finished in time for the new website. So we worked together to define how the City of Red Deer should look and feel on the web, and:

  • Create a web style guide with a complete, extensible visual system

  • Develop a responsive web design framework so the new website would work on any device

  • Build functional HTML wireframes to finalize the interaction design and user flows

  • Conduct multiple rounds of user testing to validate content and design decisions
  • Train the Red Deer team on how to conduct their own ongoing user testing
  • Redesign the entire visual look and feel of

  • Develop the final front-end HTML and CSS build

Red Deer web style guide palette Red Deer website wireframes Red Deer website style tile and homepage

Content strategy and web writing training

The Red Deer team knew how important their content was to the success of their project. They devoted months to training their team and developing content that was easier to understand and use. Their communications department teamed up with our content strategists to:

  • Develop and conduct web writing training sessions for the entire City of Red Deer content author team. Everyone involved in content creation knew how to write clear, compelling content for the web.

  • Collaborate with content authors to develop a sitemap and page-level content that met users and departments’ needs. All their content was well-organized and easy to find.

Comparison of the Red Deer website on small, medium, and large screens.


In the end, we delivered all of the City’s content and design work on time and under budget. The City of Red Deer’s internal IT team got to work on building out the CMS implementation using their new CMS, TerminalFour, and their content authors and communications team worked for months to create and migrate all their new content.

Our partnership with Yellow Pencil has been way more than just a vendor-client relationship. It's a lot like a hockey team actually - you get a coach, referee and teammates all rolled into one.

The coach helps guide the process and build skills, the referee helps to break up those internal fights and keep people on track, and when the time clock is running, you have a whole bench of teammates ready to jump in and back you up. Yellow Pencil has been all of those things for us and more. You really can't ask for more than that.

Carrie Keylock, Communications Consultant, City of Red Deer

The new website launched at the end of June. City stakeholders are unilaterally thrilled, and feedback from citizens has been nothing but positive so far. We can’t wait to see what this amazing team gets up to next.

See it for yourself