Birthday Facelift

StripedCow 2000

StripedCow celebrates the big “one oh” and decides you’re never too young for a facelift.  Here’s a few of the technical and design decisions that we made to bring our corporate website into the present.

As we celebrated StripedCow’s tenth birthday, it occurred to us that the corporate website was implemented so long ago that it really needed a revamp.  Both the style and the internal structures were designed to work across a broad range of browsers, including Internet Explorer 5 and Netscape 4.x on a monitor running at 640 by 480.  It seemed like a good opportunity to get rid of the table-based layout and move to CSS.

As a technology-driven company, we pride ourselves in our ability to keep up with the latest tech knowledge and felt the website should reflect that by implementing the latest standards (W3C Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict) and following accessibility guidelines (WAI 2.0/Section 508).  Using the “too busy with client projects” and “the cobbler’s kids have no shoes” explanations wasn’t going to keep working as we enter our second decade.

The first step in our journey was migrating the existing site to WordPress.  There are several great CMS tools available, but the decision was pretty easy for what we needed – basic article creation and site maintenance, with enough flexibility to keep our existing URL structure.  More on how we arrived at this decision in a later article, where I’ll list some of the options that are currently available and how we arrived at our decision.

Copying the content from the old system was as easy as exporting the SQL database and then formatting the data into something that WordPress could import.  Basically this meant we needed XML, formatted to look like an RSS feed, something that WordPress can easily handle without any special plugins or development tricks.  This was made even easier by a low page count and the fact that our site doesn’t have user comments.

Initially, the new site was configured using the default WordPress theme, which gave us the freedom of getting the necessary plugins installed and configured without worrying about a custom theme.  We like the Acronyms plugin (by Joel Pan) which does a great job converting acronyms into valid HTML acronym tags.  We’re also using the Wickett Twitter Widget, a great tool for displaying our new corporate Tweets.

On the design side of things, increasing the width of the site allowed us to give some much needed white space to the page, which gives it a more modern appearance with a “leap off the page” feel.  We still kept the body of the page less than 1024 pixels, which makes the page easier to read on the iPad or other low resolution devices.  The existing color scheme and logo tie into the corporate branding that we already have in place, so there’s no need to revamp our letterhead or business card design.

Overall the process has been painless (thanks in a large part by WordPress) and we no longer have to explain to potential clients why our site looks like it was coded in the stone ages.

[Lee Stewart]September 17, 2010