In the dynamic world of digital marketing, staying ahead of the technological curve is imperative.

This is part of what drives Art & Science, a full-service digital agency and the winner of WP Engine’s inaugural Agency Partner Awards for “Headless Project of the Year.”

To learn more about the innovative work Art & Science does and the details behind the agency’s award-winning project, we spoke with Art & Science Technical Director Peter Toi to look at what’s behind his agency’s success. 

Thank you, Peter, and congratulations on your Agency Partner Award. Before we get into those details, please tell us more about the origins of Art & Science and its core competencies.

Art & Science started back in 2011 as The Juice Agency, a digital marketing firm sitting at the intersection of strategy, user experience, and technology innovation. We rebranded as Art & Science following the acquisition of a leading Toronto-based SEO/PPC firm in 2013. Art & Science brings together the creative inspiration of the artist with the analytical rigour of the scientist. 

Over the last 13 years, we’ve grown into a full-service digital agency. We’re proud to be Clutch’s #1 digital agency in Canada, a 2023 Google Premier Partner, and ranked as one of Canada’s Top 500 Growing Companies four years in a row.

Our core competencies include brand strategy, creative advertising, website development, eCommerce strategy, SEO, and CRO performance, media plans, buys and reporting, and innovative, experimental projects.

How has your partnership with WP Engine affected the agency’s growth and success?

Art & Science has been a member of the Agency Partner Program since 2018, but our relationship with WP Engine easily goes back a number of years to when we first started using WP Engine as our primary WordPress hosting platform. Funny enough, I still recall the first time I was introduced to WP Engine as both sponsor and speaker at a Toronto WordCamp many years ago. From that first interaction, I considered WP Engine to be the gold standard of managed WordPress hosting and they’ve lived up to my first impressions ever since.

Hosting with WP Engine gives us peace of mind and allows us to focus on areas where we bring value, such as providing clients with strategic insights, creative thinking, and building award-winning sites. As a creative agency, we don’t necessarily want to be spending our time working on infrastructure and managing hosting.

At the same time, many of our solutions are highly technical and require support for Git workflows and pipelines, high-performance CDNs and caching, and enterprise-level security. WP Engine has provided us with right-sized solutions for all of our WordPress projects.

It’s been great seeing  WP Engine’s solutions grow with us and continue to support agencies like us. Add-ons like Smart Plugin Manager allow us to focus our energy on creating value for our clients rather than maintaining the status quo.

The support we get as an agency through our membership in the Agency Partner Program has absolutely contributed to our growth and success. The support we receive from WP Engine, both for technical and sales support, is consistently top-notch.

The account management and sales support teams have been instrumental partners on pitches, helping to craft hosting solutions where security, traffic, or enterprise requirements are scrutinized. Direct access to tier 1 support has also been invaluable, whether we require performance profiling or other troubleshooting. 

And I can say, without hesitation, that the support from our account manager and access to key members of the Atlas team was crucial to being able to build and launch the Embark website under tight time constraints.

The Art & Science team at the agency’s offices in Toronto. As part of WP Engine’s annual Agency Partner Awards, Art & Science won “Best Headless Project” for their work on the Embark brand and website.

Could you share insights into the Embark project, which was a headless WordPress project, and the decision-making behind it?

The Embark project is a perfect example of our full-service capabilities. Our client wanted to  rebrand, focusing on a new messaging platform to differentiate itself in the RESP financial services sector. This required comprehensive support, including branding, campaigns, and website development. 

With that in mind, the decision to go headless was obvious. As a modern financial services company, our client’s digital footprint included a website, client portal, and the potential for a mobile app in the future. Headless architecture allows for the syndication of content from a single CMS to a variety of platforms. That flexibility in content distribution and delivery was certainly one of the main reasons we chose headless and WP Engine Atlas for this project. 

Additionally, our client had already mentioned headless early on in the discovery process as an approach they wanted us to consider, so it was a fairly easy conversation.

The decision to use WordPress was made because it was a platform the marketing team was familiar with. WordPress is, of course, ubiquitous across the Internet and amongst marketing teams and companies around the world. So familiarity, ease of content editing, and the evolution of API integrations, both RESTful and GraphQL, were good reasons to choose  WordPress. 

 Headless was also attractive for this project because of the increased security we achieved thanks to an API-only content solution. 

WordPress—when deployed correctly on a platform like WP Engine and handled by a development team who knows what they’re doing—is a very secure platform. Knowing that we’d be able to restrict access to the backend, thanks to delivering all content through an API, allowed us to implement additional security measures, minimize the plugins, and impose stricter rules for development. 

What were some of the technical challenges and triumphs in the Embark project?

One of the main challenges was ensuring high performance, which was challenging given our four-month timeline. Four months is tight to build a site of this size and complexity, and even tighter when you include performance optimizations, content entry, and implementation of SEO and tracking. And all of this was done on a relatively new platform and new technology. 

What stood out here was the support we got from WP Engine. I can’t thank our account manager enough for the partner support that was provided to us and the WP Engine technical team we worked with. They were instrumental in helping us keep to our timeline and avoid weeks of trial-and-error to develop best practices and optimizations. We had direct contact with support who were incredibly responsive—our success is certainly owed in part to the high level of support we received.

This was especially true in regards to achieving impressive API performance with < 100 millisecond response times. It was also the case as we leveraged WP Engine’s caching mechanism and WPGraphQL Smart Cache. Once we had that entire caching pipeline activated and refactored our build process and code in a way that everything was compatible, we saw an improvement of 6,000 times better performance between our first builds and our last. The site is blazing fast thanks to all of that work.

Can you tell us more about winning Headless Project of the Year? What’s the impact of this recognition? 

Winning this award is a testament to our team’s hard work and dedication. It acknowledges our efforts in staying up to date with the latest in web development, reducing technical debt for our clients, and setting them up for long-term success. It’s also a recognition of our commitment to keeping our skills current and ensuring our clients receive modern solutions that help them future-proof their digital presence.

But the website is just one part of this massive undertaking. Really, the entire team at Art & Science should be recognized for the hard work they put in to ensure this project was a success.

Everyone at Art & Science–starting with the strategic and creative teams who developed a beautiful brand with a journey metaphor, to the technical teams who brought it to life, and the client services team who managed the project throughout–collaborated to make this project a success. I also want to thank Embark Student Corp. for inviting us to partner to shape the future of students on their post-secondary journey. Great visions help make great work possible.

As the technical director, I’m over the moon that we won an award for headless project of the year!  We’re always adapting to changes in the technology ecosystem and environment. This is a huge validation of our efforts to adapt and innovate in our industry.

Thank you, Peter, and congratulations to Art & Science on this well-deserved award! 

Find out more about WP Engine’s Agency Partner Program—the largest WordPress agency ecosystem—here, or visit WP Engine to learn more about our fully managed WordPress platform.