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Toronto Net Tuesday Recap - Preparing for a Website Redesign


By: Chris Sorenson, TechSoup Canada Volunteer

Note: for more perspectives on the event, see the recap blog by Kristen Scott and the poem written by David Brydges, both event participants.

It is too easy to get overwhelmed with the technical jargon, design elements, and thousand of options available in the marketplace to nonprofits during a website overhaul, but don’t worry - we’ve got the medicine. A healthy dose of careful planning, and boiling down of your organization’s individual needs will save hours of (mis)communication during implementation.

With limited resources and few IT allies it can be daunting to undergo a site redesign but with the increasing competition for our limited attention spans it is increasingly vital to deliver the goods on the web.

Don’t worry about getting overloaded with all the options available for your website. Just take a step back, grab a big breath, and have yet another look at what your organization’s goals really are.

Our three inspired speakers: Ana Matic, Julian Egelstaff and Chad Mohr, all generously gave their time and shared the wealth of accumulated experiences dealing with all things website for nonprofits. They were terrific. The huge crowd (one of our best attended secessions ever) was engaged at levels not seen before.

Intro to CMS and Website Design Process - Ana Matic

Ana Matic opened by quoting William Morris: “Have nothing in your design that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” She emphasized that before you get started with your website, make sure you’re clear on your organization’s mission and how you communicate it. From there, decide on the purpose of your website. Instead of saying “everything”, narrow it down to 2-3 goals. Ana reminded us that you have 3 seconds to grab visitors’ attention, so your website will need to be focused. One tool in helping you to make sure you have thought these through is to complete a design brief, which she asks her clients to do. In her presentation she walked through the different components of this document and explained what is required.

Ana finished off by explaining the choice that nonprofits must make between an HTML/CSS site (built from the ground up – more customizable but more work) and a site built in a content management system (CMS). As CMS systems make it easy for non-technical staff to add and edit website content, they are a good choice for many nonprofits. Ana gave a demo of editing a page in a simple WordPress site to show how it works.

You can see her presentation here.

CMS Options - Julian Egelstaff

Julian followed up with a comparison of the different approaches to CMS (in particular between commercial/proprietary and open source systems). He pointed out that you need to have an idea of what your needs are now as well as a bit down the road, so you can grow into the system you have chosen. For example, will your visitors read a newsletter, make donations, login to a wiki, etc.?

He then went in depth on the main popular open source CMSs: Wordpress, Drupal, and Joomla. He explained that the modular nature of each allows customization at varying levels of cost. A custom site built in HTML/CSS from the ground up will require enormous resources and thus he cautioned that should only be considered by those with very customized needs and the resources to see it to completion.

You can watch Julian's presentation on Youtube or view his slides here.

Tips & Advice - Chad Mohr

Chad was our last speaker, taking us through many examples of CMS sites. He pointed out flaws in conception, design, and intent, and showed us some inspiring success stories. He stressed the importance of finding the sweet spot between the geek/designer duality. Too many sites plan either for beauty instead of functionality, or vice versa.

You can watch Chad's presentation on Youtube or view access his slides here, get his handout's here and his logins template here.

Know how your site will appear to people who don’t know everything about you. Figure out what you want to do, and how you want to appear, communicate those needs to your design and tech team and you’ll have the website of your dreams.