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Building a Standards-Compliant Website...
...with an internal team at a small company

by Derek K. Miller

This piece was originally published in my online journal on 6 May 2004.

Part 1: Ideas

In early May 2004, I wrote about how I came to work for Navarik, a Vancouver company that makes web-based software for companies in maritime shipping, and how that led me to be more interested in standards-based web design. Today I'm going to start explaining how we went about putting together a new website for Navarik. The process shows how a small team can assemble a site that:

While we had the luxury of a long timeline and no fixed deadline to work on it, the site is still far from perfect—some parts of it don't fully comply with the standards we set, and we left out a lot we wanted to do. But we continue to add things and tweak the site to make it work better, and that's what I think any website should always do.

Who did it

The team is four people, all Navarik employees: me, web design superstar Dave Shea, Navarik President and former shipping agent Bill Dobie, and Nathan Dobie, who is one of Navarik's key long-time employees, a former shipping agent who happens to be Bill's cousin.

Bill, Dave, and I are three of five Mac users in the company. (One developer runs desktop Linux, while the rest use Windows.) Nathan has an IBM ThinkPad, and is the only one of the team without his own weblog—more about that later. We also had great assistance from the rest of Navarik's (very smart) staff, especially in helping us test and finesse the design and content before it went live last Monday, and in telling us what's still missing.

In 2002, I had already helped Navarik build its previous site, which had the great advantage of running its home page as a weblog, using the popular (and inexpensive) Movable Type publishing system. Much of that design came from Ryan McCuaig, who used to work for the company but is now an architect, and who for some mysterious reason deactivated his excellent weblog at sisyphean.org last year.

What we did

Here's what we did to get rolling:

  1. Bill spoke to me in the spring of 2003, when I was still working freelance, about the problems with the old site. In the main, it didn't reflect the business Navarik was now in, and it specifically discussed products that no longer existed, had changed radically, or had not yet been developed.

  2. We met and talked, agreeing that we would keep a weblog-based news page up front, continue to run the Apache web server on Linux hardware, and would otherwise start from scratch with a new design and content to show what Navarik was now, but which could be modified as things changed at the company later.

  3. I created a complex new proposed site structure using the OmniGraffle diagramming tool for Mac OS X. It comprised dozens of pages, covering everything Navarik might want to reveal about itself and do to support its customers online.

  4. I built a skeleton of the site, without any real design or content, that showed how the new structure would work and how pages would link together.

  5. Bill had Dave, who was then also working freelance while holding down another job, to create some lovely mockup designs that would work with the structure I had set up.

  6. We sat back and looked at the scope of the task ahead, and we procrastinated. Dave and I proceeded with our other freelance work, and nothing much else happened through the summer and fall of 2003.

Next, how we got off our butts and did the job, but it still took another four months.

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Page BBEdited on 12-May-04 (originally published 6-May-04)

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