The city of Durango’s website was originally created in 1995 by Fort Lewis College students. By the end of 1995, I had restructured and expanded the site’s offerings. In 2000, we conducted a redesign study and began the process of developing a more dynamic website based on a master plan that outlined a phased-in plan of expansion. In 2001, we launched what at the time was quite cutting-edge with online forms, calendars, agendas, email notifications, and other dynamic features.
Unlike our process in 2000, the initial concept in 2007 was to “refresh” the site. We formed a team consisting of staff from each department. I organized and facilitated the project. We began educating the team by providing website usability and best practices training. At the onset, a subset of the team set out to compare several “award-winning” websites. They rated each on its navigation, layout, design, content, and usability. Based on their findings, we began to structure our site.
During our initial process, we posted a questionnaire on our website. We obtained information about how viewers were using the site, which features they were using, new features they would like to see included, and any other suggested changes. We also considered feedback from staff and the site’s limitations based on my experience as the administrator.
When we felt we had a tangible layout and navigation, I mocked up the website and conducted a usability test with random library patrons. Navigation and naming conventions were adjusted as a result. As we discussed the requirements of the “refresh,” we discovered we needed a true redesign even though our budget for the project was almost non-existent. In addition, we concluded a content management system would be desirable.
I began searching for an inexpensive but full-bodied content management system, which proved to be a difficult task. Ultimately, I found a solid, basic product that could be customized for us. We also contracted with that company to provide graphic design services.
While the website redevelopment process was taking place, the City began to implement an electronic document management system. The system included the capability for the public to search records within its system, publish agendas, and stream video. We began including these features in our overall development concept.
Once our structure was outlined, we began the task of design. I must say, design by committee is not easy. We spent a great deal of time sifting through color schemes and photos. Once the team came to a consensus, we submitted the colors and photos to the designer who then produced two designs from which to choose.
Our next step was to wire-frame the site. I met with each department, including directors, to work out layout and navigational details for their related pages. This process was time-consuming, but well worth the effort. Once we had our pages created in our content management system, it was easy to connect the dots. Once staff input content, we had a thorough review by non-staff for link connectivity, formatting issues, spelling errors, etc.
The team did a wonderful job in working through the conundrums of website development as they gained a better understanding of the issues and needs of a government website. And they became vested in the project. After about a year and a half, we launched our redesigned site in July 2008.