About Our Website Redesign
June 15, 2009
This new website is a collaboration. It has been built with the hard work of many people, from new students to current students to alumni, from faculty and staff to the trustees, and the help of tech guys and consultants too. And what’s more, we’ve just started.
Launched in the summer of 2009, this website was thought about, designed and developed in earnest beginning in the spring of 2008. It represents a great deal of thought and attention paid by the Lewis & Clark community and a small educational web consultant called WhiteWhale.
When WhiteWhale arrived on the scene early in 2008, lclark.edu was a site in need. We had navigational black holes, where the back button was your only hope. We had sites as silos with at least five areas — we never counted them all — that talked about our home city Portland, Oregon. We had a design that was restrictive, angular and didn’t come close to representing the richness of the personal experience that is Lewis & Clark.
Kindred (techie) spirits WhiteWhale and New Media set to work immediately and began the arduous work of re-architecting the website from the ground up. Together, we set ourselves on the road to universal navigation; we played Layer Tennis with the site designs; and we sought input far and wide across our three campuses to make sure we were on the right track.
In the end, this was the strategy phase of our redesign, and took the first six months. Implementation, in one form or another, took the next year.
On the other end, we found that we had gained quite a bit. What follows is the shortest of short lists.
Occasionally appearing on the home pages is a new series of stories loosely titled Uncommon Journeys. They are simple stories about the people who are at or have traveled through Lewis & Clark.
Integrated, Dynamic News
This website hosts an integrated news system that helps us share the good news from far and wide, and a newly redesigned Newsroom and The Source.
Debuting in October 2009, The Green is a community messageboard like few others. Employing the community to value posts, on-campus community members will be able to post announcements, news, classifieds, car or house sharing opportunities, or jump on the soapbox.
We now have a site that is robust and more than able to adapt as we become ever-more electronically-engaged.
Content Management System (CMS)
At the same time as we were changing the appearance and content of our site, we also chose to retire our homegrown CMS, Trillium. At its birth at the end of the last century, it was novel, and better designed than others out there. But, as time progressed, and web applications became rich with experience, Trillium began to fall behind and finally to hamper our needs to express ourselves digitally.
Once we decided to let go — and that took a little while — we looked around and found the market swamped with choices. But closer examination revealed CMSs that were poorly-designed and gave little thought to the experience of the site editor. Whole new paradigms would have to be imparted should we choose one of those systems and whatever Trilium lacked in dynamism, it made up for in its simplicity for most site editors to just use it and get their work done.
We also valued a hope of greater collaboration. Trillium was based on a singular site concept — you owed a site and edited it only. We wanted our next CMS to be collaborative and few truly are. We wanted to share the ability to edit content — not pages — and do so in a system that helped you be productive in overlapping groups. Lastly, we did not want to be locked in to some proprietary architecture — we wanted open standards so that we would always own our content.
In the end, we chose LiveWhale.
LiveWhale is a brand new, beta CMS software being produced by WhiteWhale. It has many features that we sought, but most importantly matched our goal of collaborative work with our absolute requirement that it help you do your work, easily and effectively (in a37signals kind-of-way) without making you jump through tech terminology. We are thoroughly enjoying our new software and recommend it highly.
Like our content management system, our search had seen its day. A forerunner of segmented information display that has recently become popular, it was geared to the old systems and we felt it time to start anew. In fact, we decided to rethink the concept entirely.
Most search engines like Google consume pages — as many as they can — and then either through algorithms or human oversight or both, attempt to classify the results. In most of these situations, the engine knows little about the website’s structure or content and has to surmise anything it does know based on what it finds.
But for us, we already know a lot about our website. We know its structure and how it’s organized. Further, we know the information it contains and we can impart that information to make our search engine smarter from the get-go.
So, our search engine doesn’t consume pages at all. Instead, it scans our databases. And because we know what’s there, and how elements there relate to one another, we can help it be more effective and produce more relevant results.
There’s Always More
A great big thank you to everyone in the Lewis & Clark community, particularly in Information Technology and Public Affairs and Communications for giving us your time, thoughts, suggestions and help. And finally, thanks to the five members of WhiteWhale for making this site come alive. Keep up the good work!
15 June 2009