Redesigning California’s Website with Dreamweaver CC to Save Taxpayers Money
Redesigning a government website is mammoth task: how do you present large amounts of information in an easy-to-access, easy-to-navigate way, while at the same time ensuring taxpayers’ dollars are used efficiently? For Sacramento’s Symsoft Solutions the answer was to “future proof the website,” and save taxpayers from having to pay for costly redesigns in the future.
“In the past, whenever governments would see the latest version of the template, it was a major effort for them to transfer their websites into the new framework,” said Mark Aplet, web developer at Symsoft Solutions. He says this was case with ca.gov, the State of California’s website for everything from applying for a business license to finding a school for your children.
A Difficult Process In The Past
Every time the State redesigned its website, ca.gov would have to be re-coded from the ground up.
Aplet says this isn’t uncommon. It can take a year for an organization to transition from the previous year’s website template to the latest one. The structure, naming conventions, and content were often very different between the two versions. There was a lot to develop and test with each migration.
“Every new template brought with it an all-new set of code, and that’s what Version 4 aimed to solve. We wanted to make it possible to update from last year’s theme to this year’s theme without reinventing the wheel,” he said.
Future Proofing ca.gov
Symsoft used Adobe Dreamweaver to develop a “shell” template (called Version 4), featuring a whole host of semantic components and features.
“Most importantly, the use of semantic templates makes the site platform-agnostic, making it much easier to update and redesign in the future,” said Aplet, adding it’s not a new idea, but is very effective.
“Years ago, Dave Shea created a project called CSS Zen Garden where the community was able to completely restyle the website without ever touching the underlying HTML. Template v4 aims to do something similar,” he said.
By focusing on semantic layouts and components, future theme changes would largely come in the form of CSS and JS changes. HTML changes would only be needed to add new features.
“It takes the upgrade process from an expensive endeavor down to maybe a few days or a couple of months. HTML changes would be very minimal: only when a new component is introduced” said Aplet.
Dreamweaver CC has a lot Baked-In
Aplet’s been a fan of Dreamweaver since 1998 (version 2.0), and he says using Dreamweaver CC was the obvious choice for his team’s IDE: many state departments use Dreamweaver already, so part of the deliverable was to include Dreamweaver templates that are ready to use.
“Dreamweaver has a fantastic templating system that is really easy to use,” said Aplet. “When you compare features, Dreamweaver has a lot baked in: including a lot of features that would require plugins otherwise….Pound for pound Dreamweaver holds it’s own against other IDEs.”
“Being able to auto-complete large sections of code with essentially two keystrokes and a tab is awesome,” referring to Emmet, intelligent code completion, and snippets. “Dreamweaver naturally has intelligent code completion built in and that means a lot less time spent typing.”
Tips for Keeping Government Clients and Taxpayers Happy
Symsoft is experienced in designing web solutions for government clients; Aplet says they follow the same key principles across the board:
- The user should never feel there is a technology between them and the government. As soon as a user starts thinking about the technology behind a site, it’s an indication there’s a problem with the UI or user experience.
- Keep disabled users in mind. A lack of support for screen readers, for example, will leave a user who’s visually impaired lost. A disabled user should be able to hop on a website and find their way around: the technology should help them, and should never become a barrier.
- Have a plan, and scrutinize it heavily. Figure out which components, which technology stack you need to use. When you’re talking about taxpayer-funded projects, every decision must be made with reason and purpose.
- Design a solution with the government’s staffing capabilities in mind post-delivery. In the case of template v4, that meant thinking about many different CMS implementations, and the use of static templates. Also, not everyone maintaining a website is a seasoned web developer. Clear instructions, copy+paste code snippets could be key to the long term viability of a solution.
Dreamweaver CC: A Powerful Tool for Governments
Many people think government agencies have huge budgets and even bigger teams to manage their websites, but Aplet says that’s not really the case.
“They have people who are not web developers creating and maintaining their website. So having very simple tooling that anyone can use is a real big benefit, especially to some of these smaller agencies who don’t have dedicated web development staff,” he said.
“Dreamweaver is a powerful tool in that respect. They use Dreamweaver because it’s easy and simple. So the Dreamweaver templates we provide to those agencies become really beneficial.”