On the list of endeavors both useful to advancing your group’s mission and just plain cool, “launching a new website” is certainly an item near the top, and one that can come about for any number of reasons. Maybe your organization has decided to rebrand and its current site looks wildly inconsistent with your new visuals. Maybe a new software system promises untold ease of administration. Maybe you just want to shake things up. Whatever the case, it’s just as important to look past the technical nuts and bolts and ask yourself a few practical questions to ensure that the next rollout goes just as smoothly as this one.
What makes the current site disposable? An illogical layout, a gaudy visual style, a counter-intuitive user experience: whatever the case, something drove you to make a drastic change. At 2nd Story, our current site’s back end forces us to constantly work against a near-total lack of interoperability: To add or update a new piece of content that spans multiple sections of our website, we have to manually update every single instance of that item. (Imagine how much fun it is to update a footer note on 100+ individual pages, and you can see why we’re in the process of building a better working environment!) Obviously you’ll want to move as far away from your particular undesirable element as possible, but it’s just as important to remain cognizant of it in the future so you don’t end up right back where you started.
What does the current site do well? It can’t be all bad, can it? Because if you and your users like something, there’s absolutely no reason to throw it away unless for some reason it becomes totally necessary to do so. Perhaps there are some salvageable graphics, or some useful bit of code, or even that indescribable “feel” that makes your site unique. Whatever it is, it’s okay to use that as a foundation to rebuild, rather than replace; you stand to possibly save yourself development time (and costs), and your users will have one less hurdle standing before them.
What might the new site need later? It’s one thing to create a site that does what you need it to do today, but what about tomorrow? What about a year from now? What about three years from now? How might your organization grow or evolve in the time between? Changes in markets, in personnel, in technology, in legislation: any of these can affect what you do and how you do it and scalability, in the long run, can turn out to be your best friend. Adding on to something is most certainly easier than overhauling it—and besides, that’s probably how you ended up needing a new site in the first place.
Andrew Reilly is an associate producer for 2nd Story, a live reading series and fully chartered non-profit organization based in Chicago. His nonfiction has appeared in Alarm, The A.V. Club, and The Beachwood Reporter, among others, and he once upon a time wrote and edited the award-winning 35th Street Review White Sox blog. His fiction and essays have also been featured in a number of print and online publications based in some unknown number of cities, but he still calls Chicago home, just as he has since leaving the north suburbs where he grew up.