Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Better by design

Better by design

  • Article 9 of 26
  • M-iD, October 2004
Publishing a web or intranet site is easy, but designing it well takes skill and a well-balanced team.

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | All 4 Pages

Worthing Borough Council's web site used to exemplify almost all that is bad about web site design. It had been cobbled together by an outside consultancy on a bespoke system that was little more than "a glorified HTML editor", according to the council's e-government office Jarrett Holland.

As a result, even small changes to the site could be expensive to implement. "If we wanted to change the name of the business development councillor, for example, that two-word change would cost us £53," says Holland. Not surprisingly, therefore, its home page was not updated for years at a time.

The problem that many organisations find is that getting a web site up and running is deceptively easy - but putting together a well-designed, easy-to-maintain site requires much more skill. Furthermore, there is a slew of laws that can make launching a web site more troublesome.

To try to avoid the problems, experts offer the following best practice advice:

Get the right skills mix

The first step in any web project is to put together a team with appropriate skills. There are four stages to building any web site - design, implementation, testing and launch. Finding one company, let alone one individual, who can take a site through all four stages is a significant challenge.

The key skills needed are extremely wide and include: coding skills; experience with software packages such as Photoshop, Flash and Illustrator; content management system expertise; experience in doing user testing with focus groups; the ability to optimise code for low bandwidth environments; and knowledge of how to work with cookies and browser security policies. Too often, however, organisations focus on design at the expense of usability.

"There's a lot of rope to hang yourself with," says Malcolm McIlhagga, managing director of Sigmer Technologies, "which is why it is often worth employing someone who knows what they're talking about to interview potential web site designers." Key areas to question them on, says McIlhagga, include their design methodology, their knowledge of usability, and the principles of site structure.

In Practice: Worthing Borough Council

For years, Worthing Borough Council's web site was caught in a time warp. Making even rudimentary changes could be costly, so it was rarely updated - a state of affairs that could not continue if Worthing was to stand a chance of meeting e-government targets.

In September 2003, newly appointed e-government officer Jarrett Holland put the project to build a new web site out to tender, listing 80 separate requirements. These included the e-government targets, which require such features as standardised metadata tagging.

From the very start, the Council's staff were involved. "We didn't want this to be an IT-led project. We invited everyone to comment on how we could improve the online service," says Holland.

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | All 4 Pages

Interested in commissioning a similar article? Please contact me to discuss details. Alternatively, return to the main gallery or search for another article: