A New York State of Mind

  A case study with The City of New York  

The New York City Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity (NYC Opportunity) uses evidence and innovation to reduce poverty and increase equity across the five boroughs. To accomplish this, NYC Opportunity uses strategic, data-based approaches, effective and accessible service design, and the development of digital products and services designed to improve the lives of low-income, vulnerable New Yorkers.

Blue State Digital is a purpose-driven, full-service digital agency that specializes in online fundraising, advocacy, social networking, and constituency development. As pioneers in the use of digital to open up the democratic process, Blue State Digital aims to create breakthrough digital experiences that create real impact for real people. Using data, design, and the right technology, they design meaningful and frictionless interactions that help motivate and empower users.

NYC’s need to consolidate and create resources.

For the hard-working residents of New York City, a resource for finding and understanding government benefit programs isn’t just convenient, it’s necessary. NYC Opportunity, an organization that uses research and innovation to reduce poverty and increase equity, wanted to create an online resource that was informative, accessible and easy-to-use. NYC Opportunity employed a full-service digital agency, Blue State Digital, to produce cost-effective public tools that were capable of scaling and being maintained on an ongoing basis.

From a complicated interface to an intuitive experience.

New Yorkers needed a tool smart enough to highlight benefits specific to the user; previously they had to navigate a constellation of inconsistent city agency websites. In order to create a simplified, pleasant user-experience based on the existing 340 unique nyc.gov websites, NYC Opportunity and Blue State Digital employed user-centered design processes resulting in three platforms: Growing Up NYC, ACCESS NYC, and We Speak NYC (a new platform evolved from its previous identity, We Are New York).  These tools highlight the benefits they’re providing rather than forcing the user to navigate a constellation of city agency websites.

Agile design processes make sustainable workflows.

For the first engagement, Growing Up NYC, Blue State Digital and NYC Opportunity partnered closely to establish a malleable and sustainable Agile process that could be used for subsequent city projects’ sites. To establish a replicable precedent, certain procedures were implemented. First, all of the project’s contributors aligned according to a mission built from the NYC Playbook, a guide for how residents experience City services. Second, the projects were constantly modified and revamped according to extensive testing, including onsite trials at the New York Public Library to make sure the sites were straightforward, easy to use, and relevant to the target audience. Finally, teams were given constant visibility into the project roadmaps according to research-backed priorities, regular retrospectives, and a focus on outcomes.

The support chat integrated into the WPEngine console made it easy for our devs to get support with both trivial and complex setup, installation and configuration tasks. The automated backups meant that we had a good way to experiment with confidence and restore from earlier points when a wrong turn might require it.

—Sam Zimmerman, VP, Global Project Management at Blue State Digital

Growing Up NYC.

Growing Up NYC provides a single digital portal for parents and caregivers to discover and learn more about events and resources provided by multiple NYC agencies. A sister site, Generation NYC, delivers similar resources directly to young adults.


ACCESS NYC functions as a public online screening platform in which residents answer a brief set of questions to discover whether they’re eligible for food, money, housing, or work benefit programs and provides a personalized set of services based on the results.

We Speak NYC.

We Speak NYC serves as an online learning platform where New Yorkers of all backgrounds can learn and practice English for free via Emmy-Award winning videos coordinated with online courses.

WP Engine Digital Experience Platform provides the foundation for developmental success.

Building, testing, and modifying the sites is an enormous, ongoing task; leveraging the WP Engine Digital Experience Platform for performance, infrastructure, scaling and security enabled Blue State Digital to dedicate more time to designing services for residents. “WP Engine’s straightforward deployment tools allow us to focus on  building the site itself with less concerns about infrastructure setup, scaling etc…we could keep both a staging and a production environment going simultaneously which let us test out different improvements with the client and then promote them easily,” said Sam Zimmerman, VP of Global Project Management at Blue State Digital.

WP Engine helped us adhere to NYC's strict security requirements both by locking down a lot of the setup by default and by providing quick turnaround on support requests to change web server headings and other requirements. When we needed to research best in class tools for doing Two Factor Authentication per NYC’s requirements, the WP Engine team came through with good recommendations. WP Engine’s existing relationship with NYC as an approved vendor meant that getting our team onboarded to a new instance for development and testing was a straightforward process

—Sam Zimmerman, VP, Global Project Management at Blue State Digital

Watch the Blue State Digital Team Present the Case Study at the WP Engine Summit

New York approved.

New York City residents are using ACCESS NYC and Growing Up NYC to easily find resources for the programs, services, and benefits they need. The platforms were built to adapt and scale and will accommodate future integrations and enhancements.

Since the launch of the ACCESS NYC redesign, the total number of New Yorkers completing the eligibility screening process per month has increased more than 70%, from 5,000 to 8,600 on average, and the rate of completion has increased from 44% to 67%.

Since launching, ACCESS NYC and Growing Up NYC have been recognized for their digital excellence. ACCESS NYC won “Best Application Serving the Public” at The New York Government Summit and Growing Up NYC won “Best External Application” at The NYC Technology Forum. Today, We Speak NYC serves as an approachable and fun resource for New Yorkers looking to learn English. In two seasons, We Speak NYC has addressed issues such as education, health, social services and immigration.

Share this case study:

Read more about Blue State Digital and New York City's story.

Download the PDF

Learn more about WP Engine.

Build faster, protect your brand, and grow your business with a WordPress platform built to power remarkable online experiences.