In the news on Friday, it was announced that Parksville design & development company Trinex will be building the new website for NEDCorp at a $27,000 price tag. The decision, I have no doubt, will be met with skepticism. Especially after the previous CEO, Susan Cudahy, hired a firm from Toronto to build an $8,800 website, a decision which led to a scandal and, consequently, her “relocation” to parts unknown (at another hefty price-tag for taxpayers).
Trinex is closer, at least, and they have some experience working with municipalities, but I’m only cautiously optimistic. $27,000 is a lot of money for a website, especially when at least $1 of that is coming out of my pocket.
It’s the first major public expenditure attached to the new CEO Sasha Angus, who has been hailed for his social media savvy. Even though he likely had little to do with the bid process, now that he’s here, all eyes will be on him to ensure that this project goes smoothly.
I was curious what NEDCorp and the Nanaimo taxpayers were getting into, so I asked Sasha Angus and NEDCorp on Twitter a few questions. Moments later, Jenn Houtby-Ferguson, responsible for NEDCorp’s media relations and travel trade was kind enough to take a few moments to answer me (as well as providing me with a copy of the RFP and addendums!).
So, what should the taxpayers expect for $27,000? The list below is a combination of keywords I pulled from the RFP and addendums, with my own thoughts about how they could be interpreted in the design.
1. Progressive content design
There’s a requirement that the site be designed using progressive enhancement. Progressive enhancement essentially means designing from the content out vs. graceful degradation, where you design around a browsers’ ability to render your content. A List Apart has a great article on progressive enhancement vs graceful degradation.
My main concern here is the use of PDFs for displaying content, instead of creative solutions with HTML5 (but we’ll get to that shortly). There’s talk of page-turning technology, but most of that relies on flash, meaning that content will be inaccessible to people with the most current smartphones and tablets.
In the RFP (and addendum #4), there’s talk of “telling the story”, content interaction and an enjoyable user experience. One NEDCorp quote that jumps out:
We would like it to be more fluid and intend to have a focus group to help us decide on content placement, navigation and clearly
define the visitor experience.
If done correctly, this could go a long way towards determining the usefulness of the site, like usability testing with personas, but with real people.
2. Responsive design.
Section 6 of the RFP calls for “tablet-friendly design, scalable pages, mobile plug-ins, and customizable auto-detection/re-direction.”, which means responsive design for me. Responsive design essentially means you design the content to fit any viewing window gracefully (like this design for a clean air challenge. Go ahead, resize the window if you’re on a desktop, or visit the site on a tablet or smartphone, cool huh?).
I’m excited to announce that it’s a part of the new design, confirmed in the conversation I had with Jenn Houtby on Twitter.
3. Deeply integrated social plugins.
Yep, I want deep integration with Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest and whatever else is coming down the pipe. Section 6 of the RFP calls for “the ability to share content via social media (Facebook, Twitter and beyond)”. To me, this implies an inherently social framework, with content designed for sharing and interactivity. According to Jenn, we can expect some social integration, though how much we’ll get is still in question.
4. Fast loading speed
It’s gotta be fast, this site by Trinex does pretty good (especially for a CMS, which can be clunky). 77/100 with the Google Page Speed tool, I think – with some minimal effort, they could come in over 90 (meaning, it loads faster than 90% of sites indexed by Google). This metric is especially important for mobile users, who have data plans to think about when they load a site. Speed isn’t part of the RFP, but it is part of SEO, which is raised in section 6, and is next on my watchlist.
5. Professional SEO
SEO, to some extent, is supposed to be part of the deal. Section 6 asks “Detail your SEO approach and the level to which the NEDC can control your on-page optimization.” and asks for support for schema.org. Additionally, I would expect basic meta control (no keywords please, seriously!), URL management, appropriate headings, clean code, the right mix of images and rich media and more.
6. Professional photography
They already hired a photographer to produce content for them, at a price tag of nearly 28K, Nanaimo’s Cinnibar Vista productions. I would hope those images/video get used throughout the site.
It looks like a no-go for HTML5. According to addendum #3, “…HTML5 is an evolving platform that will likely not be standardized until at least 2015. In addition; the compatibility with browsers, especially Internet Explorer, is troublesome at best. Most versions of IE are not compatible at all.”
That’s essentially true, but it’s an oversimplification. Consider that HTML4 is still being worked on, and HTML5, while experts are saying that it won’t be a proposed recommendation until 2022, it’s already gone through last call, and is currently published as a working draft (the next steps are recommended candidate, followed by proposed candidate).
To answer the question “is HTML5 ready yet?“, the short answer is “yes“. It’s functional enough to use as a framework for design and development, so if possible – it should be.
8. Cohesive branding and messaging across all channels
NEDCorp desperately needs a re-brand (as does the tourismnanaimo.com site), but it’s not in the cards this time around, though it’s a little confusing. The RFP says “Web pages should communicate strong, consistent branding” (6.2), also “(the website) is the gateway into a collection of consistently branded web-delivered content” (6.3). But later on, it’s mentioned that “The NEDC will be undertaking a brand exercise in early 2013 at which time colours and logos will need to be updated throughout investnanaimo.com and tourismnanaimo.com. The NEDC will consider the “re-skinning” of the website within the scope of the initial proposal as well.”
So the redesign actually includes two designs. I find myself wondering why they’re pushing so hard for a redesign now, though I can imagine it’s to get the site live and wash away the bad taste the previous site left in everyone’s mouth, but why not push for a rebrand before building the new sites? Wouldn’t that decrease the overall costs?
At this point, it looks like NEDCorp has the best of intentions, and it’s an ambitious project, but if you’ve ever heard the maxim “a camel is a horse designed by committee“, you’ll know how quickly things can get out of hand. If NEDCorp is offering, I (and several people I know, I’m sure) would love to participate in usability round tables as we move forward.
How about you? What would you like to see included with the new website for that $27,000. Widgets? Dancing dogs? Let me know!