At my brief tenure as the web designer/front end developer at the Illinois College of Optometry, I was given the opportunity of doing a full redesign of their website.

Next to my design of http://www.cafescribe.com, this was the biggest project I had ever worked on with a lot of moving parts.

The two major objectives of the project were to a)move it from an ancient Joomla 1.5 platform to WordPress so the content manager could easily update it and b) to make it responsive.

I looked at it as an opportunity to start applying some of the UI/UX theories and techniques I had been reading about, and learning in my User Centered Design class. I also tried to modernize and clean up the design from its previous incarnation, creating visual hierarchy, and fixing one of the biggest pain points, the small type, and the lack of a search bar on all pages.

While very modern in look, feel and layout, I would not say this is purely Flat Design, but very inspired by it, using modern web fonts, large blocks of color. It avoids some of the trappings of the modern Flat movement like parallax scrolling or heavy icon usage.

  

It was a very big learning experience for me.

I had never used WordPress before so it was a quick crash course on it. I learned how to use its backend, all the various plug ins and even got into doing some child themes work.

As I stated above I got to apply some UI/UX techniques I had not done before on other web pages:

Design/Competitive Analysis – I looked at about every Optometry School in North America’s website to see what they were doing, how they handled navigation, information architecture, page layout, what they were doing wrong, and what they were doing right.

I also looked outside of higher education, and went through the popular design showcase websites like

Hand drawn wireframes before taking them into Adobe Illustrator for quick iterations

Usability Testing (well it was kind of half assed, but I did record the audio sessions from two students while asking them to perform tasks on the website and think out loud. You need at least 5 for a good Usability study, and to be video recorded, but it was a start)

But perhaps the biggest lesson here was the art of letting go. Especially when you design for a client using a CMS so they can make their own updates or has another developer work on it, a web designer loses control of their “baby” the second they hand the project over. Websites are ephemeral things, with maybe 3-4 years shelf life. Unlike print, you have do have a physical copy to hold on and preserve. Web design can seem like it’s out there in the ether.

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