A website redesign is often shrouded in mystery, so I wanted to take a few minutes to demystify the process for you. Below is an image of the process in its most basic form without dates. As you can see from the graphic, there are 4 phases before launch—Initial Design and Research, Interactive, Redesign, and Implementation and Testing.
(Click the image to see it at the full size.)
The Initial Design and Research Phase
The Initial Design and Research Phase works pretty much how it sounds—a starting design is created based on a lot of research. Often the research consists of talking with people, analyzing web statistics, and looking at other sites to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what would work for your site. In order to make further design discussions easier, a design is built from the research giving less room for interpretation of ideas and getting everyone on the same page for discussions. This design is by no means the final design. It’s simply a starting point to begin the broader discussions.
This important step began for Skidmore in early April 2011. The Web Operations team met for almost 3 months to build a starting design for discussions. The initial design was created after following all three parts of this phase. The group researched designs, snippets, and trends being used by other websites at the time. The focus wasn’t just college sites, but rather any site on the web with interesting ides so a broad scope of ideas could be evaluated. The group also analyzed web statistics on Skidmore’s site to determine visitors’ behaviors, and a survey was sent to a select group on campus with face-to-face discussions added to the mix.
A new group (the Web Update Group or WUG) was formed in October and included people from the Office of Communications. Their intent was to build a second version of the initial design. Two designs (A and B) were created for a full campus review.
The Interactive Phase is the point in the process where the designs are shown to a large audience for comments and concerns. WUG began the Interactive Phase on January 20 by sending surveys out to faculty and staff. In the weeks that followed, surveys went to SGA members, JAWs participants, Early Decision students, interested prospective students, local high school students, and alumni. In addition, discussions were held with Advancement, Admissions, and SGA.
Skidmore’s redesign is in the early stages of the Interactive Phase. The Web Update Group will begin focus groups with different constituents to discuss the designs and the needs of each group in March. Don’t worry if you don’t want to be part of the focus groups, but still want to participate in a broader discussion. This blog is part of the Interactive Phase and you can use it to add your comments, ask questions, or simply follow the process. The Interactive Phase overlaps the Redesign Phase which we get into next.
The Redesign Phase is short compared to the other phases. In this phase, the comments from the Interactive Phase are discussed, debated, and used to create a new version of the design. The two phases overlap because there is often limited discussion and interaction once the new design is created. The discussions on the newest design are much more limited at this point, otherwise, the process runs the risk of becoming an infinite loop of design and discussion.
Implementation and Testing Phase
Once the design is finalized, it’s time to begin programming. In many ways, this is the phase most shrouded in mystery for non-programmers. I once explained programming as writing a letter in French to a browser. In the letter, I describe how I want the page to look and give directions on how the browser and server should talk to each other. Different browsers speak different dialects and as in any communication, there are going to be times when things are misunderstood. We’ve complicated the process a bit because we’re switching to a new CMS and implementing HTML 5 with CSS3. If you use the analogy of writing the letter in French, then we are switching the paper and pen we use (new CMS) and writing the letter in a newer version of French (HTML 5 and CSS 3).
All of those issues are why we test after we finish programming. Something in Firefox may not work in Chrome or the logic in the directions may be off. The testing phase does not catch every bug in the system, but it’s intent is to weed out the bulk of them. The best testing uses several people going through the site and tracking what they did to cause errors. If you are interested in testing the site down the road, please leave a comment or email me.
I hope this clears up the process for you. Periodically, I will post with a new graphic so you can see where we are. And as always, send us your questions or concerns by leaving a comment or sending me an email.