Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Flippin' the Switch

Tomorrow, our campus webmaster is going to flip the switch for the main NMSU web site and replace the "old and busted" with the "new hotness." We've been working on the site templates for several months now, and we finally have something that all sides can agree on, from all the stakeholders, to the branding people, to the web standards people, to the amateur-through-guru webheads who will be building sites off of our templates. I hope people like it.

My role in all of this consisted of writing the XHTML templates, consulting on accessibility and standards compliance, and providing some of the CSS tips and tricks I've picked up along the way (or researched). I can't take credit or blame for the basic visual layout, but some of the CSS details are my doing. Basically, though, it was a team effort - all of us gave feedback and worked on nearly every aspect of the new look and interaction design. We make a good team.

About two years ago, we started the process of converting our the massive web site for our college over to XHTML/CSS. It took about 14 months to manually slog through the thousands of malformed legacy HTML files and bring them up to standards compliance. Nearly all of them were 1990's markup style, with missing closing tags everywhere, visual markup everywhere, images-as-text, table-based layout, etc. We changed it all to clean, simple XHTML styled with CSS.

Just as we were finishing up, news of the new NMSU brand came along, and we realized we were going to have to redo our web site again to coincide with the new look for NMSU.

Luckily, when we converted our site, we separated the navigation content from the page content, bumped all visual information out to the CSS files, and changed everything to be pushed through a simple template. As a result, this time, instead of 14 months, it's going to take an afternoon to change the entire web site over to the new look. (We're going to try to do it tomorrow, in fact, to coincide with the NMSU changeover.) Even if we hadn't done that, it would have been a relatively simple matter to write an XSLT to transform the XHTML to a new format. It's amazing what a little foresight and adherence to standards can buy you in the web world.

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