This is part 7 in a series on the redesign of fetchsoftworks.com; the series starts at Part 1: My Original Sin.
What Have We Done?
Now that the new website is up, I can sit back and appreciate the number of improvements. The design and typography are no longer embarrassing; they’re actually quite attractive. Every page has a search box, that in turn quickly searches every page, making our content immediately findable in a way it never was before. The new message board lets you post comments, monitor followups by email and/or RSS, and go back and edit your comments; all without forcing you to pick and remember a username and password. Underneath this all is a solid foundation of standard-based XHTML markup and CSS style, so that we could change the color of the entire site by editing a couple files. This last one is of interest mostly to us, but the rest are aimed at the site’s visitors, the customers we are trying to serve.
Those are the big things. But I love the little things just as much, perhaps because they are little:
- The s-t ligature on Fetch pages
- The little dog in the horizontal rule
- The way the shipping address fields collapse when you click the “Shipping Address is the same as Billing Address” checkbox
- The way the upgrade form figures out whether you are entitled to a free license, or how much the upgrade will cost, and just does the right thing
- The message board captcha that not only presents an obstacle to spambots, but also teases them a bit in the process
- No matter what URL you type to get to the site —
http://fetch.net— your browser will show the canonical URL,
The URLs (with a few exceptions) aren’t ugly things like
Instead, they’re clear, extension-less, beautiful things like
- The way a different testimonial appears each day you visit the Fetch product page (did anyone ever bother to read the whole list of them on the old site?)
- The silly Star Wars joke (no link, I’ll let you find that one yourself) that came out of a long discussion on finding a better way to write “For more help see Online Help”
We have a long wishlist of things we still want to change or improve. You might think it’s wrong to have one form for purchasing with a credit card, and a similar-but-slightly-different form for purchasing with a check or PO. We do too! But for the first time in the company’s history, we have good place to work from.
So Who Are We Anyway?
I started with the idea that we could redesign our website in 6 months. It took over two years. We learned a lot of PHP, XHTML and CSS in that time, and we also learned about ourselves. We learned anew that we are picky, at least about the project that is in front of us. We could go 8 years with an ugly mess of a website, but once we were working on it we couldn’t let a URL end with “.php”. We put in untold hours of customization and testing to save our users the 30 seconds it takes to pick a message board username and password. Once we get started, we can’t seem to help ourselves, even if it means neglecting other possible priorities.
I think we also learned that we have more to say than we’ve been in the habit of saying. Our old site could go months between updates, not because we were on vacation — code was being written, customers were being supported, the message board was buzzing — but because we weren’t in the habit of telling the world what we were up to, and did not have an attractive platform to speak from. The new site takes care of the second count, and pushes us on the first. By putting our news and blog content on the home page we are daring ourselves to keep them fresh. We aren’t a company that talks about ourselves or our products much, but maybe we can be. We are about to find out.
Credits and Thanks
Our thanks to Robin Olson, who first talked to us about our visual identity, and to Leah McManus who helped us get started. Thanks also to Joe Finocchario, and the Happy Cog Philadelphia crew — Greg Hoy, Robert Jolly, Chris Cashdollar, Dan Mall, Heather Shaw, Jenn Lukas, and Dave DeRuchie. My personal thanks to my colleagues Ben Artin and Scott McGuire, for reviewing (and improving) these posts, and for all the thought and care and effort they put into the redesign.