The craft of upgrading a client's web presence
By design, a museum is oriented to the past, safeguarding historical artifacts for succeeding generations. For over half a century, the Hayward Area Historical Society (HAHS) has faithfully carried out this role.
But if a museum hopes to remain relevant as a civic institution for succeeding generations, it must also react nimbly to the changing habits of its audience. Today, the habits of viewing, attending, and relating to institutions like museums are constantly being reshaped by the Web.
The staff of the HAHS is a dynamic, young team that recognizes this reality. They know that to stay ahead of the trends and to adapt to a target audience that is getting younger, they need a new web presence. They have asked Consulting Within Reach to completely redesign the site and give them the necessary tools to keep pace.
In addition to updating their overall look and feel, CWR will empower the museum staff with the ability to update information by themselves, keeping the site fresh and interesting. Teachers checking out field trip options will encounter easy registration tools. The museum’s store will be given e-commerce tools that will be integrated with its changing inventory. And perhaps most importantly, museum staff will be able to more easily manage the display of collections online, reflecting the industry trend towards "virtual museums."
CWR will design the site and all these tools with what the industry calls “a highly extensible architecture.” This means that the foundation of the site will be laid down with industry best practices and coding such that quickly adding new features in the future will be easy.
"Extensibility" is an often neglected trait in the wildly unregulated industry of web development. Less qualified developers may deliver a product that looks fine on the outside to the initial user, but is “messy” at the level of fundamental code. “Messy coding" and "non-extensible web architecture" are analogous to an old home with jerry rigged and amateur electrical work done earlier: everything may work fine until you need to remodel, and only then do you realize that the wiring scheme is indecipherable and you have to rip it all out and start over.
HAHS's current website was designed with low extensibility and this led to their need for a brand new site. While we're glad for the work, we are also determined not to repeat this reality. We take pride in writing "clean" code that a future developer - even if it's not CWR - can build upon easily.
Because the web environment changes so rapidly, we believe extensibility is critical. We will give HAHS an outstanding set of web tools for their needs today. But we also are convinced that HAHS, like most clients, cannot predict what new needs will arise a couple of years down the road. So almost more important than any one function built today is the more fundamental capacity to quickly add and change features tomorrow.
Otherwise, a museum’s own website can quickly become a relic of the past.
This is just one example among others of how CWR practices web development with the larger picture of your organization in mind. Contact us for help in building your organization for effectiveness both immediately and in the years to come.
Update 10/1/08: Check out the new HAHS site that we built for our client!