Developing Departmental Websites at Indiana University

Learning paths road sign.Congratulations! You made it! If you’re here, that can mean any number of things, but most likely you have inherited a departmental web site and are going to redesign it or you have been newly hired and are responsible for redesigning the department’s site. Where do you begin?

If this sounds overwhelming, then you are in the right place. My goal, by the end of this post, is to help you understand the landscape for departmental and group web pages at the university and describe some resources to help you along your way.

Before we jump into the specifics, let’s get a quick overview of what this post contains.

  1. The IU Brand – find out how to make your site conform to the visual identity that has been established for IU.
  2. Plan Ahead and Prepare – Not just a part of Leave No Trace, but also a crucial phase in web design and development. Understand the problem fully before you begin building a solution.
  3. Build, build, build – Put your planning to good use while putting together all the pieces of your site.
  4. Publish, Document, and Maintain – Once you have a design, it’s time to publish it, create help documentation, and then maintain and grow the site through the future.

The process is not linear, nor does it have a finite ending point. Instead, the process looks something more like this:

Plan, build, maintain, repeat.

After your planning phase, you build. Once built, you maintain. While maintaining, you build new features, etc. There will come a point when you need to break out of the Maintain-Build loop back to the planning phase. As you can see from the diagram above, there really is no end to the web design process, only changes of phase.

Branding the Site

Indiana University TridentThere are several resources available for developers to brand a site at IU. Understanding the branding requirements is a crucial part of the design and development process. The main resources available for branding implementation and guidelines are:

These two sites give web developers an introduction to the brand, the branding assets, and how to implement them properly. This includes everything from branding bars and footer content to web fonts and print media resources. If you’re developing for the university, these are essential.

Now that you know how to brand your site as an Indiana University site, how do you begin designing? Where do you put your web site? How do you manage updates going forward? Generally, the process looks something like this:

Flow of the web site development workflow. Planning includes Information Architecture, Page Tables, Hosting Space, and Stakeholder Needs. Development and Design includes Interface Design, Back-End Development, Usability Testing, and Accessibility Testing. Implementation includes building in the WCMS, User Access Control, Publishing, and Documentation.

Let’s answer these questions now, starting with planning.

Planning a Site

Planning is perhaps the most important step when it comes to building a new web site. The graphic above outlines some of the high-points of the planning process. Rather than spend a lot of time talking about the specifics of the planning process, I would like to focus on the IU-Specific information you need. For more information about the planning process, check out the following courses (NOTE: All training resources are free to IU students, faculty, and staff unless otherwise indicated):

Hosting Your Site at IU

There are a couple of options for publishing your site, Webserve and the Consolidated Hosting Environment. Information about the two services can be found on the knowledge base:

Deciding which service to use will be determined by several factors including, but not limited to, programming languages available, databases available, capabilities of the site, cost, etc. Most departments will be developing relatively simple sites with static content. Webserve can meet that need as well as popular scripting languages.

Once you have decided what service to use, it’s time to start designing.

Designing the Site

Just like deciding on publishing to Webserve or to the Consolidated Hosting Environment, designing your site depends on several variables. Some things to consider include your current level of knowledge of web languages, timelines for implementation, architecture of the data to be displayed on the site, and what the user experience will be on multiple devices.

There are many tools available to design a site. Tools like Muse, Dreamweaver, Brackets, Microsoft Visual Studio, Aptana, Notepad++, and TextWrangler all have strengths, weaknesses, built-in features, and built-in libraries that can be helpful for many different kinds of development and developers. Deciding on an application is largely dependent on your familiarity with the tool and your level of knowledge. Remember, this is not an all-inclusive list.

For design and development training, consider the following training resources (these are not links to specific courses):

Finally, it’s time to implement and manage the site.

Implementing & Managing the Site

Typically the last step in the process, implementation should be handled with one eye on the present and another on the future. Specifically, what sorts of things are needed to continue supporting the site once it’s implemented? Usually, this involves managing content, users, data-structures, documentation, assets, etc. At Indiana University, departments have the option to use the WCMS (web content management system) Cascade Server. Cascade Server is developed by Hannon Hill and hosted and maintained by UITS. At IU, the WCMS service is a centrally-hosted, centrally-supported, free-to-use application that allows you to manage user access, content, assets, and publishing. IU Departments are strongly encouraged to use this system for their sites.

For training on Cascade Server, consider the following workshops:

Creating for the web can be a confusing and complex process. Hopefully this post gives you an idea of where to start and what all to learn. As always, if you have specific questions or suggestions for items to be added to this guide, please leave a comment below!


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