Friday, August 20, 2010

District web site redesign

Here it is folks. We paid about three-quarters of a million bucks for it, so you might as well participate. Help design the new District web site.

22 comments:

another mom said...

Really the redesign of the website has a 1 million dollar price tag?

Charlie Mas said...

Whoops! Thanks, another mom. I've corrected the post to read "three-quarters of a million bucks". The stated cost is $721,000 but that's without any internal costs.

Here's a link to the Board approval of the purchase.

another mom said...

Thanks for the link. It still seems a bit spendy to me although it may be a bargain and the contract does extend over at least four years.

NotAnonymous said...

My district (somewhat to the north of here) spent a bunch of money paying outside consultants to redesign and maintain the district website. Within 2 years, it was all back in-house, and the techs had to redesign the website (yet again) in order to fix all the issues created by the outside consultants...

Vitaminc said...

Sheesh a student could redesign it for a lot less!!!

seattle citizen said...

Yes, Vitaminc, let's get some of the tech-heads students we KNOW would love to get there hands on this project to do the redesign. We could hire some master tech for, oh, 100k a year, two years, to manage them.

none1111 said...

Is there a real link to the new site under development? The link provided is rs6.net, which is an email marketing link. Not even going to click on that one.

NotAnonymous said: "My district ... spent a bunch of money paying outside consultants to redesign and maintain the district website. Within 2 years, it was all back in-house, and the techs had to redesign the website (yet again) in order to fix all the issues created by the outside consultants..."

It can certainly happen either way, i.e. in-house fixing a mess made by incompetent outside consultants, or outside consultants fixing a mess made by in-house incompetents. But one thing to consider: over the past few years, is there anything that leads any of us to believe that the IT dept in SPS is competent? There's been plenty that might lead a knowledgeable person to infer otherwise.

and SC along with Vitaminc spouted some nonsense: "Yes, Vitaminc, let's get some of the tech-heads students we KNOW would love to get there hands on this project to do the redesign. We could hire some master tech for, oh, 100k a year, two years, to manage them."

All I can say is that you've made it perfectly clear you don't work in this field [eye roll].

Melissa Westbrook said...

Seriously? We are paying money for this?

Most entities - companies and government sites - do not have to ask this kind of stuff. They are professional web designers who know what to do.

Actually, who they should ask is someone right at SPS. She works in the now-downsized Small Business program and she designed their website which I think is quite nice.

What we should do instead of helping them redesign the website is to check some other districts' websites and let them know what we find.

Sahila said...

I have some very competent techie friends (one has the patent for a microsoft product that you use every time you use a PC) who are currently underemployed and would do this job for half the price!

Sahila said...

And, he's an SPS parent, with two kids in the 'system' and another due to start soon....

Who better qualified to do this work?

Lisa said...

what is wrong with the current site? I find it reasonably pleasant to look at and not too hard to navigate. The only issues I have had is where new info wasn't posted where I expected to find it, like under "current news" or on the front page. That is not a design issue!

ParentofThree said...

Great example of spending that does not need to happen this year in order to provide our children with an education. What is wrong with this board approving this spending?

And still waiting to see the savings from all those cuts that DID impact our childrens education!

Charlie Mas said...

I've been thinking some more about this and had some thoughts:

They don't need to be asking us these questions. I mean, really, what section should "announcements" go in? Um, how about the one called "announcements". Nearly all of these categorizations are obvious. So why bother to ask? I presume that they are asking to create the illusion of community engagement. Why bother to create the false impression of community engagement? To avoid authentic community engagement, of course. What would authentic community engagement be in this case? It would be participation in the decision of what categories there would be and the fundamental purpose of the web site.

As for the cost, amateurs could quickly and easily run up a web site using almost any HTML editor and it would look fine I suppose, but it wouldn't address the real problem with the District web site. The real problem with the District web site is that the staff finds it too much trouble to post documents to it or to update it. They aren't paying $700,000 for the web pages; that's to pay for a Content Management System. That's not something that just anyone can do. Even if they are really good with computers.

The better question about the cost isn't why so much, but, as ParentofThree asks, why NOW? The approval for this expenditure came in the meeting right after the RIF.

The District is going hat in hand to the voters and begging for money for textbooks when they approved spending over $700,000 on a new web site. Priorities?

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

The card sort exercise (and a poor one at that) is the way we did software design in the 80s... ugh... how uninspiring to send that link out. This is a WEB site we're talking about. The best research they have is the site statistics: what pages are people using? what terms are people searching for and finding or not finding? etc. And for additional feedback, the mechanisms should be built right into the live site (e.g. "couldn't find what I was looking for" or "this was useful") so they can tailor the site to what people are doing. Good web design is an on-going process -- not a one-time up-front exercise. What people do on a web site (and care about) changes constantly (completely different in August than in May). This card sort thing is such a time-consuming, complicated exercise that clearly any results they get will not be representative of the great population who will use the web site. What a waste of time. Let's just hope the SchoolFusion folks will do a better job on everything else...

ParentofThree said...

Of course if you asked why spend this money now the answer would be, "It's part of the strategic plan." Or what I have come to call the blank check plan

seattle citizen said...

no, none111, I don't work in the tech field and don't really have a clue. It just seemed like it couldn't be THAT hard, and there are plenty of VERY smart students who would love some real-world internships. Sorry if I spouted "nonsense," just throwing out ideas...

vitamincee said...

none1111 you missed the point of the comment...i shouldn't have guessed everyone could read the sarcasm! The district can find people already working for the district to redesign and manage the site. Your comment about not working in the tech field is an assumption on your part. FYI one doesn't have to work only in the tech field to know about webpage design and management!

none1111 said...

SC said: "... I don't work in the tech field and don't really have a clue."

No problem, at least you're up front about it. There's no harm in tossing out ideas, and my response was a little snide, sorry. ( but I was right, huh? ;-) )

Vitaminc said: "... you missed the point of the comment...i shouldn't have guessed everyone could read the sarcasm! The district can find people already working for the district to redesign and manage the site."

You're right, it's difficult to ascertain the meaning from a single sentence: "Sheesh a student could redesign it for a lot less!!!". But it was treated at least somewhat seriously by at least one person, and so to help keep others from having a similar misimpression I think it was worth responding.

Vitaminc also said: "Your comment about not working in the tech field is an assumption on your part. FYI one doesn't have to work only in the tech field to know about webpage design and management!"

My response was primarily to SC, as there was an actual proposal (kinda sorta), and SC's post was the only text I quoted. And my assertion was in fact correct.

I never said "tech field", I said "this field". Tech is really broad, and while a person working in cutting edge nano-technology might be really smart, they are highly unlikely to be qualified to speak to the consequences of hiring high school kids to redesign a large scale web site. I can speak to this directly as a result of experience doing this with college kids, multiple times personally and seeing it done by others a number of times as well. Can you? The post above by NotAnonymous describes the most common outcome: much of the work will need to be either tossed or redone. It's not generally cost effective and the end results usually suck, although it might be good training for the kids. We already have a functional SPS site, even if it's not great. Any update needs to be an improvement, not just a change, and it can't be piecemeal crap, it needs to be done understanding the full scale of needs for all the different classes of users. This isn't a Mom and Pop site selling home made relish.

Your last statement, if I'm reading it correctly, is one of the biggest jokes among top talent in the industry. i.e. everyone thinks they can design a web site, including the clients. And they are flat out wrong. Everyone is an armchair critic, just like everyone "knows" they could do a better job play-calling than their favorite pro team's coaches. Right.

If you are involved in web site design and management, then by definition you are working in the tech field. You don't have to be a coder or a UX guru. You could simply be a tech manager that understands the process. But in that case you still need to have someone to do the work. Rambling now, I'll stop.

Eric said...

Hmmm, maybe MGJ sits on the board of the company doing the redesign? Or it's one of her friends?

This seems like a TON of money going toward something that already does its job.

dw said...

Wow, a lot of idiots on here, most of whom have never built an enterprise website.

"My brother's cousin could do it!" Sure, but he'd suck at it, because he's a software developer from Microsoft who hasn't built a site bigger than some pictures he threw into Frontpage.

"Let's get some techhead students!" Yeah! Because 16 year olds know so MUCH about designing websites! Oh, while we're at it, why don't we fire all the mechanics at Metro and have shop students do all the bus repairs! Or hell, why do we need teachers when we can just have the seniors in Spectrum teach all the classes! I mean, they're smart! And it's educational!

Wow, the stupid is thick on that one.

"I have some very competent techie friends (one has the patent for a microsoft product that you use every time you use a PC)" -- YES! Because application development is 100% congruous to web development! Just like how being an auto mechanic is 100% congruous to being a airplane mechanic! What do you mean, there's a difference between a jet engine and a car engine?? They are the SAME THING!

"The card sort exercise (and a poor one at that) is the way we did software design in the 80s... ugh... how uninspiring to send that link out. This is a WEB site we're talking about." Wow, you don't think we still use card sorts? I use them ALL THE TIME -- along with site analytics, eye tracking, and a lot of other UX testing tools. Should they have sent this out? No, probably not. But don't knock card sorting -- it's a great way to understand the mental taxonomies of your users.

"what is wrong with the current site? I find it reasonably pleasant to look at and not too hard to navigate. The only issues I have had is where new info wasn't posted where I expected to find it, like under "current news" or on the front page. That is not a design issue!"

Holy crap, Lisa, you are the only sane one here. That IS the problem -- the CONTENT. The solution isn't technology. The solution is to put people in charge of the content. A CMS will help, but end of the day the current mishmash of communications needs to be fixed. Hell, I can't find a bunch of stuff on the site. I wonder what would happen if they did a card sort....

And as for the price... you're talking about over 100,000 constituents -- parents, students, teachers, staff -- using this site. You're implementing a content management system. You're building a giant corporate interface. $721K is about right on target for hiring professionals to do that.

I helped a unit at UW evaluate their website. Initially I threw up a flag saying that they had a web designer on staff so perhaps just handing them a Drupal install would be the best practice. On investigation, though, I found their web designer was really a staff member who kind of knew HTML and barely understood CSS (and zero PHP skills). I then changed tacks and agreed they should go outside for help, even with the $20K price tag.

I get the sense that SPS is lacking for a strong web team. Doing it in-house would likely cost them $700K just to hire a staff to build out the site and run the CMS. This contract provides external support on top of design, development, and implementation. It's not a bad deal, honestly, given the size and scale of the site.

dw said...

Wow, a lot of idiots on here, most of whom have never built an enterprise website.

"My brother's cousin could do it!" Sure, but he'd suck at it, because he's a software developer from Microsoft who hasn't built a site bigger than some pictures he threw into Frontpage.

"Let's get some techhead students!" Yeah! Because 16 year olds know so MUCH about designing websites! Oh, while we're at it, why don't we fire all the mechanics at Metro and have shop students do all the bus repairs! Or hell, why do we need teachers when we can just have the seniors in Spectrum teach all the classes! I mean, they're smart! And it's educational!

Wow, the stupid is thick on that one.

"I have some very competent techie friends (one has the patent for a microsoft product that you use every time you use a PC)" -- YES! Because application development is 100% congruous to web development! Just like how being an auto mechanic is 100% congruous to being a airplane mechanic! What do you mean, there's a difference between a jet engine and a car engine?? They are the SAME THING!

"The card sort exercise (and a poor one at that) is the way we did software design in the 80s... ugh... how uninspiring to send that link out. This is a WEB site we're talking about." Wow, you don't think we still use card sorts? I use them ALL THE TIME -- along with site analytics, eye tracking, and a lot of other UX testing tools. Should they have sent this out? No, probably not. But don't knock card sorting -- it's a great way to understand the mental taxonomies of your users.

"what is wrong with the current site? I find it reasonably pleasant to look at and not too hard to navigate. The only issues I have had is where new info wasn't posted where I expected to find it, like under "current news" or on the front page. That is not a design issue!"

Holy crap, Lisa, you are the only sane one here. That IS the problem -- the CONTENT. The solution isn't technology. The solution is to put people in charge of the content. A CMS will help, but end of the day the current mishmash of communications needs to be fixed. Hell, I can't find a bunch of stuff on the site. I wonder what would happen if they did a card sort....

And as for the price... you're talking about over 100,000 constituents -- parents, students, teachers, staff -- using this site. You're implementing a content management system. You're building a giant corporate interface. $721K is about right on target for hiring professionals to do that.

I helped a unit at UW evaluate their website. Initially I threw up a flag saying that they had a web designer on staff so perhaps just handing them a Drupal install would be the best practice. On investigation, though, I found their web designer was really a staff member who kind of knew HTML and barely understood CSS (and zero PHP skills). I then changed tacks and agreed they should go outside for help, even with the $20K price tag.

I get the sense that SPS is lacking for a strong web team. Doing it in-house would likely cost them $700K just to hire a staff to build out the site and run the CMS. This contract provides external support on top of design, development, and implementation. It's not a bad deal, honestly, given the size and scale of the site.

Melissa Westbrook said...

DW, could you please lighten up on the name-calling? You can make the point without it.