As we've mentioned before, the Smithsonian Libraries is redoing its website to move to Drupal 7 and away from our legacy ColdFusion site. The new site aims to be more friendly easier to our visitors, with a "flatter" hierarchy of information and simpler navigation to find information. It's been two months since we started and we have an update on where we are in the development and some of the fun things we've encountered along the way.
The same content appears
differently in various browsers.
Shown: Internet Explorer, Opera
(N.B. When I refer to "styles", I really mean CSS. For the uninitiated, this is generally what controls how a web page looks, separating it from what a website does or what information the site contains.)
We're happy to say that the graphic design is nearly complete! Our initial design started with a Photoshop file. The first round of development of was simply to convert the Photoshop file into an HTML 5 Prototype that looked as close as possible to the Photoshop file while still looking normal in all of the major browsers. It's a fact of life that we still need to support some of the quirky styles that are needed to make a site look good in Internet Explorer 8, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and OS X Safari. This HTML Prototype is a way to make sure that what we want to build can be built. After that, it's a matter of turning it into something functional.
(Side note: There are those out there who may argue that this step is inconsequential and possibly a misuse of valuable time. As I've continued beyond the Prototype, I've found that the it is a useful reminder of what the page should look like. I've referred back to it a number of time during my conversion of the Prototype to a Drupal 7 theme.)
So that means the second round, creating a Drupal Theme was the next logical step. Even though the manner in which I created the prototype was completely different from that of creating a Drupal Theme, the work that I did there carried forward and streamlined some of the development of the theme. For the record, we are using the Zen theme, which is meant to act as a foundation for a sub-theme of your own creation, which we did. We cleverly named our sub-theme "smithsonianlibraries" to set it apart from the other themes that Drupal uses. Of course, we will not be sharing this theme with others, though it may get use on related websites that we build in the future, especially if they are Drupal.
Content is key!
Pretty graphics aside, there comes a point in developing a site in Drupal where the content starts to become important. It's one thing to create a handful of placeholder menu items, but those all need to be deleted and recreated (or edited) when the content becomes available. So now we have something along the lines of a chicken-before-the-egg problem. Building a website requires the content, but the content requires somewhere to go before the site can be built. So in one sense, these two things happen in parallel while we're building.In this case, I started out with some sample content to get the basics in place, but at this point in time I've deleted the sample content for a more complete set of records. They may still need some edits, but the content is still closer to "final" than "beta."
Much of the content so far has not be a simple matter of export-from-old and import-to-new. Certain portions of the site are getting a new, flatter architecture which means that content that once was separated onto multiple different pages is now being combined into a single, rich page. The benefits to the user experience far outweigh the temporary challenges that we face in reorganizing the data.
At this point in time, we can say that each of the 20+ locations of the Smithsonian Libraries will have it's on "homepage" giving you all the most important information about that library in one place. More information will be available if you wish to delve deeper, but this aims to help visitors find information faster and easier than before.
There's more to come!
As we mentioned before, this first phase of development presents a new website based on Drupal 7. Despite the learning curve involved, for both the developers and the rest of our staff, we feel we are well-positioned for what is to come later this year...
For now, schedules have shifted slightly, so now we are working towards an internal launch date in February or March and the launch and announcement of our new site sometime in April, at the earliest.