Now that, WA Web Week is well and truely put to bed, with Edge of the Web, WebJam9 and the WA Web Awards done and dusted; it’s now time to inject some life back into this blog. Yes the posts have been a bit scant of late. Sorry about that, the real world has been getting in the way.
So you have a site that you have lovingly designed coded and integrated into your CMS of choice. You’ve delivered it to the client, perfect. Not a pixel, word or image out of place, following industry best practice. A work of art, electro-prefecto.
A few months later you review the site in passing. It’s a complete mess, all the layout is using fonts, tables and there are pictures that are just resized 2 meg inserts. Plus what’s with this animated gif banner it now has. It’s the classic showcase gone wrong.
Finding an overall solution to this type of problem, as you know, isn’t that easy. Like most of the web industry issues, it just doesn’t have a one size fits all solution. However there are a range of measures you can take that will help reduce the pain. Now the main limiting factor on all these solutions is the client’s budget (like that’s a new aspect, eh).
Get Content Early
Seems like a bit of a no brainer, but knowing all the major content layout requirements before you finish the UI design is major boon. That way you can allow for those special cases. It’s the old 80/20 on these things, with the special cases requiring the most effort. It can be argued when this level of UI for specific information types gathering should be done and by whom, at the low resolution of the design with the Information Architect and User Interaction Designer, or later with Front End Developer/Designer. One thing is for sure don’t provide for this and the client will just stylise the best they can. Mind you it’s impossible to allow for everything.
Involve the Client
Remember it’s not your website, it’s the clients. So involve them, get them putting content into the CMS way before you have even wrapped a design around it. This allows for two things. The client gets to play with the CMS, and you get to see the content as it comes in and allow for it in the content design (see above). Now it’s a good idea to still determine what that content is going to be so the proposed UI can take maximum advantage of it, and don’t get too many surprises.
Now you are going to have to training the client in the use of your CMS and maybe a little bit more than just the technical basics. I’m not suggesting you get uber technical or the like with the under lying HTML. But things like the basics of what is a semantic layout (ranking headers). Basic layout methods for the relevant information types, like when to use tables, lists, definition lists, blockquote, images and the like. In a way you are just tying to educate for the general best practices for information and report layout.
Considering providing a style guide can help, sometimes. Some places will use it like a bible for the layout of the web site, others will just ignore it, your should get to know the client well enough to make this choice.
Trim Back the CMS
Given all the education in the world, it may pay to trim back the functionality of your CMS rich text editor (RTE). Taking out the font size and color changers that insert font tags. And then allow for the use of class selects if you can.
I know this is asking for the impossible, but parsing and cleaning up a word document cut and pasted in the RTE wouldn’t come a miss either, even to the extend of removing font tags, extra classes and the like.
Web Standards, Break Them, Sometimes
Of course if you go down the route of allowing clients to style via using classes, I will assume that you have very meaningful class names that can be easily understood for what they do by the client. Using classes like “image-aligned-right”, “text-indent-left-one-tab” or “large-highlighed-text” Now this may not be the ideal in terms of best practice, but it’s a rule you have to break if you want clients to use classes and CSS style layouts, sometimes we have the break a few eggs.
In most cases people will be used to the word processing rendering model; where there are only limited number of general information types and everything else is laid out via a table. Doing this predates the web. That’s right, MS-Word and Word Prefect have a lot to answer for (showing my age now). Hence with these types of ingrained information display models it becomes hard to break the mold.
So why bother, just ensure they have a sense of pride and know what looks good and not. At the end of the day you can’t control it. And frankly does it really matter if they get it wrong and use tables for layout within the CMS or use font tags. This is better than misplaced header tags. Maybe over time you can educate the client into using a best practice. But at present it’s just easier for a client to use what we would consider bad practice to layout the information, live with it, you are not to blame.
So what do you do to avoid the digital disaster, if anything? Are there any other special things you do to ensure the client maintains to the site as you both initially envisioned?