September 15, 2005
Manager, Internet and Interactive Media, University Communications
REMARKS FOR CAMPUS COMMUNICATORS
It is viewed by the highest levels at UNL as a matter of importance that we continue to strengthen our collaborative efforts in communications.
So I'll start by quoting Chancellor Perlman from last Thursday's State of the University Address. After referencing the design toolbox and Web Developer Network, he said "Those working on publications and web pages outside of the guidance of these forums do no favors to themselves or this university in our efforts to build a cohesive image as we present ourselves to the world."
There's probably no greater value to the Web Developer Network than its role in the evolutionary development of the UNL website. WDN currently has 95 members, the majority of whom are working with the Cascading Style Sheets-based templates that we began distributing more than a year ago.
Several years ago, we discussed in general terms a three year cycle, by which we'd make tweaks and other small adjustments as we went along (there have been hundreds of those), and we would save more dramatic changes for major revisions. 3 years would be December of 2006. We want to move that, however, from winter break to summer break, to give us more time to work with all of the members of the Web Developer Network in preparing for a smooth transition. So we're targeting August of 2006 for the next major revision of the UNL website.
We also, in this cycle, will be starting a new process by which we gather information on which to base any site revisions.
To that end, senior administration will shortly appoint a committee, the Next-Generation Web Team, to do several things that will lay the groundwork for the design and development process that will be undertaken beginning next year by the Web Developer Network.
The Next-Generation Web Team will:
- recommend revisions to the UNL sitemap involving CWIS advisory board
- describe common elements (search, breadcrumbs, etc.) that will be on all template-based UNL pages
- describe optional elements (slideshows, tours, etc.) that will be options available within the templates
- produce a white paper describing what support and infrastructure needs to be provided to our shared web development effort by a centralized server resource.
They will complete their work at the end of this calendar year or early next year.
Now I mentioned the Cascading Style Sheets templates earlier, and these are key, and they are the underlying technology that will make this transition dramatically simpler than any transition we've done before. Transitions to a new or substantially revised look-and-feel in the past required the development, from scratch, of a shadow website. That's what's different this time. The look-and-feel of the current UNL site is controlled by shared CSS files. Those files determine where to place various elements and how they are displayed. When a person requests a page based on the CSS templates, it loads the content of the page and the description of how the page is to be displayed separately. Those descriptions are called style sheets. What we'll be doing in redeveloping the site is actually redeveloping those style sheets. When the new site is deployed, we'll simply replace the current style sheets with the new ones, and every page referencing those style sheets will have a new look and feel.
In January, or early in the next calendar year, the Web Developer Network will begin, either individually or in groups, designing various look-and-feel themes based on the recommendations of the Next-Generation Web Team. Remaining in collaboration with the Next-Generation Web Team, WDN will prepare a number of prototypes for testing.
Focus group testing, sampling our major target audiences, will begin in late February or early March. Prototypes will be refined and combined and retested until we arrive at a final design in April.
Members of the Web Developer Network and personnel within University Communications Internet and Interactive Media will then develop new style sheets to control the new look-and-feel, preparing to go live in mid-August 2006. WDN, in collaboration with University Communications, will create new documentation and training resources and make plans for deployment.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I don't want to leave the impression that there will be absolutely no effort required from individual site developers to make the transition. What's different this time is that the bulk of the work will be taken care of by changing the style sheets. Some bitmapped graphics will likely have to be changed to harmonize with the final design. Most specifically, I'm thinking of title graphics here. PSD files for these standard elements will be distributed shortly after we arrive at a final design, which should provide three months' lead time for what we estimate to be two days of work - or less - for most sites. And weÕll have workshops to guide you through that process.
What's the best way to prepare? Transition to the CSS-based UNL templates now. All effort will be focused on managing a smooth and orderly transition from one set of styles to the next.
You can sign up for Dreamweaver Template Training for UNL web developers by visiting the ITG training site at http://itgtraining.unl.edu. Next offerings are on the Sept. 28th at 2:30pm, and Sept. 30th at 10am.