ADAA.ORG Drupal 8 Upgrade - Case Study

What is ADAA?

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety, depressive, obsessive-compulsive, and trauma-related disorders through education, practice, and research.

The ADAA.ORG website supports the efforts of the organization by acting as a communication hub. The typical users can use the website to quickly locate critical information about their own situation and that of their peers. Additionally, the site provides a path for professionals in the field of mental health to advertise their specialty and availability. Finally, the site promotes the organization’s annual conference. 

The ADAA organization needed to modernize their brand’s image, enable a modern user experience and security, as well as improve the site’s overall efficiency. ADAA.ORG was built on Drupal 6 and was in need of a serious upgrade. The choice at the end of 2015 was between a new build based on Drupal 7 -- a mature and solid platform -- and Drupal 8, which at the time was weeks away from its first official release. The ADAA team ended up opting for the more adventurous choice. 

Why was the upgrade from Drupal 6 to Drupal 8 critical for ADAA.ORG?

Drupal 6 was built and released in 2008. While version 6 of the CMS was considered a great platform then, the rapid evolution on the web brought about significant changes in requirements that cannot be handled by the older technology. Drupal community has added over 200 new features to make Drupal faster, easier for the administrators to customize components and Drupal 8 ships with extensive support for accessibility standards. You can read about the salient and important features of Drupal 8 on our infographic (link).

How did the story unfold?

As it turns out, Drupal 8 works very well for associations like ADAA.ORG. The new CMS can address their often complicated requirements more efficiently, as well as provide a less expensive way to keep up with the modern user’s expectations. In comparison, content management systems based on WordPress or Joomla are not as well suited to handle this level of functionality. 

ADAA’s previous of the website was built on Drupal 6. While the next upgrade path was to move to Drupal 7, the development team started with an evaluation of their current web property and content inventory. Based on the projected site’s design and the new functionality requirement audit, the team was confident that the best migration path should involve Drupal 8.

Development started in early November 2015.  The objective was to release ADAA.ORG in February of 2016. 


Not only was the website was built and released on time, but thousands of dollars below the planned budget. ADAA.ORG does a great job for the global community and we at VTL were happy to help the organization in cost cutting measures so that more resources could be devoted in helping people who depend on organizations like ADAA to improve their daily lives.

How did we go about it?

First stage was wireframes of the entire website to give structure and story to the website. This was followed by the design phase, where the VTL team, a website design and development company in Chicago, provided a home and subpage design mockup for both desktop and mobile versions of their website. We always provide and stress the importance of mobile websites early in the process, often thinking mobile first. This proactive approach typically provides the highest dividends since mobile and tablets is responsible for the majority of traffic growth today. 

Once the design of the website and functionality was laid out, the coding process of the Drupal 8 migration started on our development servers, so the previous website would function as normal without affecting the current development process.

We managed the process in JIRA, and provided weekly executive summaries that informed the stakeholders with details on what was worked on during that time period and what was completed at that point. We've found this to be a very effective way to keep all the stakeholders, especially the non-technical ones, up to speed on the project's progress.



The new ADAA.ORG website was faced with two challenges from the get-go. 

The first of these challenges was the sheer amount of legacy content that needed to be imported and re-cast in the new, restructured format. While the existing import module at the time did work for the majority of the content it supported, there were key areas where we encountered a number of hurdles when manipulating media files. We ended up extending the module with custom methods that enabled the export process to go through flawlessly.

The second major challenge was to deliver an administrative interface that enabled structured content to be edited logically, as well as support any future improvement. This required a significant investment in news tools and climbing a rather steep learning curve in order to adapt to the new Drupal 8 framework. The challenge was met successfully and change requests, such as new modern features, can now be delivered quickly and efficiently.


The ADAA.ORG site averaged around 500,000 unique users in October of 2015. As of October 2016, that number nearly doubled.  The site is fully responsive, where traffic originating from mobile devices hovers around 60% on average. Changes and adjustments due to shifting and enhanced requirements are now tested and deployed rapidly, usually overnight. The organization can also leverage Drupal 8 improvements to implement quick changes in the demand. For instance, native advertising banners can be deployed to specific pages on very short notice. 

Development and customization

One of the major feature requirements for the new ADAA.ORG website was the ability for administrators to modify the content quickly. The relative complexity of the content that gets exposed on the site -- a mix of media and structured data that keeps updating over time -- means that regular maintenance used to be quite time-consuming for the administrators. 

Luckily, Drupal 8 support for direct content editing for most content types makes the life of the administrators significantly easier. Furthermore, by leveraging modern templating system that the new version supports, the VTL development team was able to provide and modify custom content types quickly, thus making improvement implementations a lot quicker and safer than they used to. Using those Drupal 8 improvements, the team is able to put together custom modules designed to handle the specifics of the content quickly and efficiently. 

Training for Drupal 8

The VTL  team trained the staff of ADAA on how to use the new CMS features of Drupal 8 and followed up with continuous support until they became experts

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VTL is a leading interactive design, development, and technology consulting firm that assists organizations with user centered design (UCD) and website development solutions. What sets VTL apart from other agencies is that we provide an optimal blend of strategy, user experience, technology and creative expertise to deliver exceptional solutions that combine the best in form and function.

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