Hopes, fears and writing a website
Taking hold of new technologies to improve the efficiency and design of reports has been hard, building a website was much easier.
Its been a long time since I wrote a blog about the potential usefulness of seperating content from formatting. Since that time, a lot of things have happened. I have been on many holidays, my consulting company was bought out, I left my job and started a business. Disappointingly, I have not been able to access the potential of separated content and formatting, despite now running my own business.
At Loop, we have really wanted to use some tools to build efficient business processes and deliver content in an interactive way. We have been using MultiMarkdown a little bit, and investigating/developing up a latex report template. But we have run into a big challenge, all our collaborators — clients and partners alike — use Microsoft Word.
So while we chip away at that, we have been able to have some success in trialing new ways of delivering content, building a project website. Building a website has taken Microsoft Word out of the equation, this automatically means that one must separate content from formatting.
So, my hopes for the website were vast, but vague. I knew I wanted the client to actually use the information that we gave them. I knew that I wanted them to be able to look at bits of the content at a time, jumping in and out of the information as they needed. I wanted to build a resource that they would keep coming back to. But, I had no idea exactly what the content would be like, and how and why the client would need the information.
Alternatively, I had so many fears about the website. Fears that the client didn’t really want it, wouldn’t use it or worse, couldn’t use it — i.e. the IE9 issue. That it would take our developer too long to design, build and refine to be client ready quickly once we started the project.
But really my biggest fear was that we would just write a long report and put it on a website, foregoing the potential benefits of actually developing a website. All the awesome website I have found are design company websites. These have limited text, limited content, and LOTS of pictures. Writing about climate change adaptation and organisational processes just does not have the same potential for fun designs.
Despite all these fears, we took the leap. We included a small budget for website development in the project proposal and crossed our fingers…about winning the project, about the client even wanting a website, and simply having an Internet Explorer version greater than 9.
Building a website
So, obviously I was able to source the best web developer — I have a knack for finding the right people for the job. We were able to use many new web development tools to make the website mobile friendly, clean and light. Tools such as Angular JS for a reuseable modular design and bootstrap to make it look good. It is amazing how many tools are out there now to help with the design and development of a website. We have incorporated some d3 into the website, importing .svg format images, to continue the ease of mobile device compatibility.
We also got a friend to help out with the design. She was awesome. Quick, easy to implement designs in the .svg format. To inform the design, we used awesome death to stock photos and colour palette creating sites like http://www.pictaculous.com and http://coolors.co.
The design is simple and intuitive, and really captures the non linear nature of the information that we have posted so far. We have also built a broader structure for the website, which will enable us to continuously place new content on the website as it is developed as part of the project.
It is a client website, password protected, so I can’t share it with you, I am sorry, but it does look amazing.
Writing a website
Obviously, having the right people to build the website is very useful, and while I had an awesome team helping me write the content for the website, none of us had written much website content before.
Our project team wrote the content initially in word and then we transferred it into html. Once this was done, I realised that we had not written a long report, but at least long sections of report.
The angular JS, I do not understand, but the bootstrap, I have looked into slightly. They have some awesome plugins that you can include in your website. For the uninitiated, these examples were great to provide me options for how to structure my content. These plugins enabled me to break down the long sections of my content, presenting my information in a more useable, website friendly format.
The website that we have delivered, will provide the key focus point for delivery of all project information over the course of the 18 month long project. We are at the beginning of the project, which means we can really test how our users actually interact with the website, and refine it based on their feedback, while adding content as the project progresses.
Now we have a project website — while by no means finished, we do have the structure and basic design — I have stopped worrying and started dreaming, properly not like before. Now I just keep coming up with ideas of how this tool can really be used. Through the website medium, we are able to share not only our content, what otherwise would have been in our long report, but also upload key documents, link in resources, embed slides, and videos. The world is open to us.
I am so excited about its potential to really become something that our clients uses as a reference guide over and over again. With diverse content, it can also become something that people across the organisations will find useful and could use. In the context of the project, this would really deliver on the project outcomes.
It is also exciting from our development perspective. We now have the scafolding of a website that can be easy rolled out for projects where it might be of use. This will enable us to hone our skills of writing interactive, engaging website content. Just what our clients want, even if they haven’t told us yet…right?