Or.......there's always another mountain to climb.....
I'm sure you couldn't have missed the fact that we've just finished and released a brand new version of our CSS editor Style Master. Well, getting those new product info pages to work was the final confirmation I need to know that it's time for a major site redesign.
What I'm doing here on this rapidly disappearing morning is taking the first few steps in the foothills of this project. It makes me smile (or is that a grimace) to remember some of the incarnations we've had over the years.
We started life by developing a nifty little hypertext application for the Mac called Palimpsest. Somehow or other we cottoned on pretty early to the idea of giving stuff away in order to sell stuff on the web so as an adjunct to our product info about Palimpsest, we created The eText Pages - a collection of resources for people interested in working with electronic text. Actually, looking at these pages, I don't feel too bad: the shameful stuff is coming up next.
But anyway, much as I loved those early designs I eventually had to concede that most of our potential customers simply wouldn't be waiting for them to download, so we pared down the images and ironically, went back to tables for layout, and came up with a site that was all-but all CSS. Unfortunately archive.org actually pulls in the current style master style sheet to display this page, so I can't show you what it looked like. But anyway, there were a couple of iterations of this site before we came up with the current one, which ditched tables once and for all, in March 2002. I think this design has served us pretty well for the last two years, but all good things come to an end, and we've decided it's time for a change again.
Which brings me to ask that question you neglect at your peril: what do you want to achieve? Here's what I've come up with, probably in order of importance as well
1. valid XHTML (strict?) and CSS only
Only CSS for appearance shouldn't be a problem. And a lot of the pages are almost there as XHTML strict. The major stumbling block has been "Quirks mode" on IE for windows, a problem I have largely responded to by ripping out the document type of pages that give me grief :-) So my plan over the next couple of weeks is to get to the bottom of quirks mode once and for all and then try to make it work.....
2. major site architecture redesign
When Russ and Peter from Web Standards Group pointed out to me the other day that they found it hard to find stuff at our site they were only repeating what I have heard from others over the years. I've identified a number of issues, which I'm hoping to tackle in this redesign.
- While we don't yet have 40,000 pages as they do at the Macromedia site, we have a lot of content, and perhaps more importantly, quite diverse content: all the info about two applications (Style Master and Layout Master), all the info about our self paced courses, our free course program, and all the CSS resources at the House of Style. Drawing all this together into a narrative isn't an easy task to start with.
- The site as it is at present has no "home": while there is a page at westciv.com/index.html we don't emphasise this and it is not linked to throughout the site. I think this came from an idea that all four major sections of the site were of equal importance, and all of them were much more important than westciv as a company itself. So when I created the current design I put links to the 4 major sections at the top of every page, but no link to a central page where you could go anywhere. I'm told that this is confusing.
- History. As you can see from my little story above, the site has grown organically, like a city, with bits massaged into the existing design as they were developed. So something may have found itself in a particular section for any number of reasons apart from the fact that this is the absolute best place for it, but as time goes on it becomes more and more difficult to see beyond this to what would be the best way of organising the information. I guess that's what major site overhauls are all about, but there will always be some assumptions about how things are going to be that it is very difficult to leave at the door.
3. a more contemporary, less cluttered look: white, lots of white!
4. some basic concessions to web usability of the Jakob Nielsen variety: underlining only for links (not for headings!), a style for visited links (strike-through?). Are there more?
5. develop a print style sheet at least for the major tutorial pages.
I kind of think that's going to keep me busy enough actually, so I better stop there before I really do make a rod for my own back. Next step: coming up with a basic architecture.