On 4 July 2006 I dropped the first version of the template for the new Chester City Council website into the default template folder.
That was 393 days ago!
By that time I had already put in a couple of months work into Fireworks mocking up and standard HTML prototypes.
It was supposed to have launched last November. (All I will say is that there were server issues… and we could have launched in November…)
We thought it might never happen…
Last Thursday it finally did!
So the new version of the Chester City Council website is up and running.
The old one did us proud. (That link is to the Wayback machine’s archive on Dec 5 2004!)
With it’s compliant (but inheritantly flawed) table based layout layout and unorthodox navigation. It expanded to well over 2,500 pages and was starting to show it’s age.
SocITM used to love it but, as we focussed are eyes on the new design, and the site grew out it’s dated clothing, it slowly fell out of favour by it’s third year.
So after well over a years hard work we have built a brand spanking new fully CSS site with lot’s of bells and whistles.
The Good Stuff
I’m not going to go into an in depth design break down or anything – most of it happened too long ago for me to remember! But I’ll go through some of the nice bits that are there.
Full CSS and XHTML – no tables at last!
The sweetest sign…
Council sites tend to have a certain look, and I’ve tried hard to stay away from that.
We’ve tried to simplify the whole experience. We used to have different colours for every section, but we’ve dropped that for the uniform shades of blue.
Basically the watch word for the design was clean.
I think we managed it.
Considering it is trying to focus 3,000 pages of information even the front page still looks pretty crisp – all things considered!
Fully liquid layout
We thought it important to have a fully liquid design. Staff are some of our most regular visitors and we know due to IT provisions that there are a lot 800×600 screens with only 256 colours… that’s before getting out into the general public…
I won’t open any worm filled tins here though.
Higher impact news items with RSS feeds
We’re going to try and keep the images current too. RSS feeds are a huge bonus.
RSS Feeds for What’s On and Job Vacancies
So big we’ve added some others too! The job one will prove popular. It’s what 50% of visitors seem to head straight for…
It’s nice to have even if it doesn’t get used…
A print stylesheet
Gets rid of all the navigation and delivers the meat upfront, surely what everyone wants?
A separate print template and style
This one’s for when people click the ‘print this page’ links. It’s designed to look like our black and white headed notepaper!
Much higher visibility A to Z and Search
(which are having teething problems because they’re controlled by a third party… we did advise against it…)
This should make sure people see it first and then actually use it!
Plus loads of other stuff I’ve forgotten about… like the generally better typography, nicer navigation, related information boxes, the link colourings… and so on.
We use a pretty powerful CMS called Immediacy, which has it’s good points and bad points.
One of the weakest points in this version is the way forms are handled. Hint – it’s not very good. It’s completely locked down, and uses tables for layout. We’ve tried our best to make them play nice.
There’s also the various applications that have been developed by our Business Apps. team. They’re developed in .Net 1 (I think) and they’ve struggled admirably to wrangle it into outputting the right sort of HTML. A great job they’ve done too. However, being the control freak that I am, I do wish I could do the code myself…
After a few of the usual teething problems things seem to be running fairly smoothly now (Anthony scrambles to grab any piece of timber with touching distance…).
After people come into complain about spelling mistakes and the fact their page has moved (and to ask if can they have a link on the front page…) they have generally commented on how much better it is. Which is always nice.
It’s certainly not a bad effort for our two man (plus a couple of part time developers and IT people) web team and non-existant budget!