I’ve been part of Progressive Asian American Christians since late 2016. It’s pretty much impossible to overstate the positive effect of meeting thousands of people around the world to whom I don’t need to explain my Asian American Christian life experiences. PAAC is basically my church, though I am also part of a progressive United Church of Christ congregation locally that provides on-the-ground support in the conservative Midwest.
At the beginning of 2018, someone organized 60+ PAAC creators to put together a Lent devotional written by and for progressive Asian American Christians. That content was housed on PAAC’s old WordPress website. After Our Daily Rice wrapped, my friend Chris Paek proposed publishing a series of personal essays exploring Asian American identity. In September 2018, a team from PAAC wrote a counter response to a racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic statement put out by a bunch of old white religious men scared of losing their privilege. The Statement on God’s Justice went up within 48 hours and sparked a series of important conversations within PAAC.
As PAAC co-founder Liz Lin and I started talking about rebranding the PAAC website, we realized that we needed to have a place to house all of this written content. After chatting with the producer of the PAAC podcast and other active PAAC members, we decided to spin the blog into its own digital publication.
My role was primarily that of web designer. But since structure and function are so closely intertwined, I ended up participating in the development of the publication’s editorial process. (This included about 752 hours of discussion on the publication title!) These were the needs to be met by the new website:
- Clear delineation of different verticals with room to add more
- A central dashboard for assigning and scheduling content within WordPress itself, rather than scattered among various personal emails
- The ability to show multiple authors on one post since many posts contain custom artwork
- A way for readers to subscribe to get posts by email
- Dedicated institutional emails to use rather than personal email addresses
Here are the tools I used to design the website for Diverging Magazine:
The Extra theme by Elegant Themes is specifically made for online magazines. It features layouts that show posts based on categories. With Extra, I was able to present several different verticals on the home page, and also create custom category pages with contribution forms for each category.
The PublishPress plugin created an editorial calendar within the WordPress dashboard. The editors can assign posts for different verticals and see at a glance what content is coming up. We also purchased the premium upgrade. Editors can create guest authors who can be attributed without creating WordPress user accounts for every single person who ever writes something for Diverging. The premium PublishPress plugin also has several other functions such as checklists for each post, notifications for upcoming posts, and integrations with Slack and WooCommerce.
The Bloom plugin comes bundled with the theme license for Extra. Bloom is an email opt-in and lead generation plugin. I used the simplest functionality to create a sign-up form for weekly digests of Diverging posts sent through MailerLite.
MailerLite probably has the best free email marketing plan out of all the free plans offered out there. I used MailerLite’s RSS campaign to set up a weekly digest of Diverging posts.
Gsuite is Google’s enterprise email tool, which Diverging has access to thanks to our fiscal sponsor, Newbigin House of Studies. After setting up Gsuite, I was able to create Google Drive and email accounts for each vertical. This way if editors ever change roles, old posts and institutional knowledge will not be stuck on someone’s personal email address.
While I would have been more than happy to meet regularly with my friends on the editorial team of Diverging anyway, it made a big difference to be able to provide input on the editorial process and magazine structure from the perspective of a web designer. Sometimes I have to tell clients that some functionality they want isn’t possible with the tools and budget available to them, which is disappointing for everyone.
When you meet with a web designer for your church, organization, or business, keep in mind that what you need your web site to do (and perhaps how your organization works) is going to affect how it looks. (Here are four questions to ask yourself before you hire a web designer.) I’m so glad that the Diverging team was open to feedback on their internal organization based on the web site tools we were using to build the magazine website.