Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What I Did This Summer - Website Facelifts

The final child has been dropped at her first day of school, the youngest gets on the school bus and sits in his seat without a fuss, and my work schedule looks like a solid block of time to be allocated, rather than a jigsaw to be worked in around summer camps and pool excursions.

My husband said I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I don't hear a child whining "I'm BOOOOOOOORED" every hour.  I know good and well what to do!  I have themes that need their responsive javascript updated, I need to have client meetings over new websites still in the hopper, WineShoe has a LivingSocial deal that needs its codes added (and there's always a glitch with Living Social), there's new staff at the Chamber that need continued onboarding with our online systems, and I've got three databases that need to be migrated and a massive new site that needs a new host that can handle the load without costing a fortune.

Plus the usual billing, renewals, meeting scheduling, proposal fielding, and professional dues.

That'll keep me busy for about a week or 10 days.

Seriously, there's been a lot of design work this summer, especially on older sites that need upgrades.

I have never met a website that was "set it and forget it."  Web languages and CSS (cascading style sheet) codes are always evolving so what looked nice at the time it was written may be ineffective and slow in only a year or two.  The biggest change in recent years has been the growth of mobile devices with their smaller screens.  The psychology and design principles of arranging information on smaller and smaller screens is a gigantic new consideration in both website design and function and it's no longer optional.

Here's SDOC's first summer facelift:  the Atlanta Panhellenic:

The Atlanta Panhellenic is a conglomerate of 20 sorority alumnae groups affiliated with the National Panhellenic Conference.  AAPA was founded almost 90 years ago and has called Dunwoody home for more than 10 of those years.  AAPA has been assisting high school women through the membership recruitment process in local colleges and universities, has awarded increasing amounts of scholarship funds to high school, collegiate, and alumnae scholars, and encourages philanthropic work in metro Atlanta communities.  

I upgraded the website from static HTML to WordPress a year ago, but even WordPress has changed greatly in that amount of time.  The new theme is now fully responsive.  That is, its elements rearrange themselves to fit the screen being used to view it.  I was also able to streamline the plugins required to arrange and maintain all of the content, between updating the theme and WordPress' latest 3.9.x release.

The leadership wanted to maintain the left-anchored vertical menu and update the feminine font in the menu and page headers.  But how does that work for, say, an iPhone?
In this new theme, the page headers remain in their script, but the vertical menu of the desktop site disappears on smaller screens and is replaced with an icon and dropdown menu in simpler lettering.  This makes the site easier to read and navigate on smaller screens without excluding any content.

There's also a greater move toward presenting social media, both by the collective and each individual member group.  Facebook, for all of its controversies and faults, still has the most flexible API (application programming interface) that permits information from the social network to be displayed in numerous ways on a website.  AAPA has an open Facebook group to encourage communication between members and the general public.  Many members have Facebook pages as well.  So the new theme devised a way to display the open group on the front page:

The feed from the Facebook group is in the lower right corner, right of the calendar  listings and below the MailChimp newsletter registration form.

Member groups also have their Facebook feeds displayed on their pages if they are using an open page.   Space is also available for Twitter feeds and linked to closed Facebook groups or LinkedIn groups.

Even though Facebook is phasing out the organic reach of Pages, they are still useful in engaging an audience.  I'm getting a lot of requests to embed Facebook page information on website home pages.  Updates to the page are automatically added to the website, so to speak, so to the viewer there is always something fresh to read and some interactivity to join.  Twitter also has an API that is easy to integrate into a webpage.

Take a look at your website and decide if it's still as useful today as it was when it was created on current technology.  If it takes a long time to load, if your content management system is out of date, if it looks miniscule on a phone or a tablet, then it's time for a professional upgrade.

One down, several more to go.  Happy Back to School Week!


Friday, August 1, 2014

Famous Last Words Friday

"We don't crash EVER!"

Everyone goofing off on Friday, you have to find some other way to run out the clock than playing around on Facebook.
Armageddon's next!