Building Successful Websites from the Ground Up
by Rich Paul on March 30, 2016
At #OUTC16, Michael Chameides, Website Manager for Bard College at Simon’s Rock, gave a presentation on his experience designing for the CMS, and he has plenty. Chameides has worked with WordPress, Drupal, iModules, Net Community, custom PHP applications, and now OU Campus™. Read on to learn about the strategies he has found to create efficiently running websites.
Chameides recommends planning your site’s features long before you start building it. He calls it “designing with a crystal ball.” Do whatever you can to anticipate what you might need, and implement modules in the design phase. This might include OU Mashup™ for social engagement directly on your site, or maybe parametric search functionality for your site visitors with a module like OU Search™. Think outside the box for things that might come up so systems are already in place when the need arises.
Then, consider the order of how the website will be built. This is called the “waterfall development model.” Plan each step in the process to avoid building something that strays off strategy and creates the need to backtrack once further down the stream.
As you are building your website’s structure, try to foresee design problems. For example, you may want to lay out a newsfeed with an image for every article. This is a great idea design-wise, but the reality is that content authors won’t always have an image corresponding to each news article. What happens to the design if there’s not an image? You’ll need to decide which parts are required and what might occur if you don’t have one of those elements.
Another common issue Chameides has encountered is overflow problems. Design with the possibility of overflow in mind, especially for areas that have fixed sizes. Test and document what the maximum and minimum lengths are, and communicate with content authors to make sure those decisions are coherent.
The Author’s Perspective
The most crucial element Chameides stressed was to consider the content author’s experience early on in the process. He said, “Make it easy to manage content, or else you won’t have content.”
Chameides advises designing solutions for specific realities — who your authors are and what they need. Think about who will make the edits, how edits are technically possible, the skills and time required, and necessary oversight and support. It’s easy to design a website that looks good, but it takes a bit more consideration to figure out how it will be maintained.
It is essential to make it as simple as possible for content authors to update content, implement design patterns, and work with the brand, strategy, and style guide. Just as you want to make it easy for website visitors to do what you want them to, make it easy for authors to complete the actions that are needed to keep your website functioning smoothly.
One great way to simplify an author’s job is to implement pattern libraries. These are reusable solutions to commonly occurring problems. Additionally, remove things like background color or any other buttons in the WYSIWYG Editor toolbar that can be replaced with external CSS. This way, authors don’t have too much power over style choices, so they can add content that adheres to your website’s patterns instead of adding their own.