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RA Today soft launch

By John ~ Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The quick version

Today we launched an expriment. It’s early days, the design needs a lot of work but we’re testing/measuring a concept. It’s one little piece of a much bigger puzzle.

http://rationalist.org.uk/today

P.S. Please do take 10 minutes to fill out the feedback questionnaire when you are done.

The longer explanation

Some months ago we were approached by the folks at the Rationalist Association about a project to rethink their website. Right from the off I have been and am inspired, excited and a little bit scared by this project. In the first instance because there is content, lots of content, lots of really great content that people care about, a lot, and that really is the heart of the matter.

Out with the old in with the new?

Before I dive into all that though a quick visit to the current site http://newhumanist.org.uk/. It would be far too easy, and incredibly arrogant of me, to dimiss what stands there today as completely out of date, to be thrown out and to never be looked at again. When you know the back story, as I do, you begin to understand that you don’t simply throw something like this out and start again. You also start to see the thinking that’s already gone into the site and how easy it would be to throw the baby out with the bath water, to do real long lasting damage with your fancy pants designer aspirations. If you are a HTML type, take a look under the hood, you’ll see there’s some pretty clean code there too, it’s had some love and that’s going to be very valuable too.

In short, what we are proposing is evolution not revolution.

New team, new project management

One other detour before we get back to the heart of the matter. I think it’s important to remember how difficult it is for people who’ve never worked together before to simply start functioning as an effective group who can deliver what’s required, as if by magic. From our perspective, as contracted designers, we couldn’t be more fortunate to have started with the solid base of what can only be described as damn good clients but even then there is the practical day-to-day running of a project which has a handful of extremely busy people at the coal face, some of them part-time. We are few and have no dedicated project manager chasing us down every day. Lean is an understatement!

For that reason, and because we’ve seen it succeed so many times before, we proposed an Agile approach to the project, using Pivotal Tracker as our main tool (that and 100s of post-it notes).

I’m probably more excited and motivated, at this point, about how this process has evolved on this project than I am about about the modular scale calculator we wrote (for the next phase of the project) in SCSS. We made something, we put it on the internet!.

I could chunder on all day about the project management aspect, suffice to say, it’s an important part of this story given our ambitions for the next steps.

The heart of this particular matter

It’s about the content, it’s that simple and it’s that complicated. There’s a lot of it and it covers a broad range of subjects, there’s some really excellent reading to be found and some great photographs and illustrations too, at the moment the current site isn’t quite doing enough to help people find that content. Our challenge is to find ways to expose it and this first release is one piece of that evolving plan. We also have to acknowledge that the world has moved quickly forward since the site was originally built and we simply can’t afford to ignore the important role of mobile devices.

We have limited time and limited resources so we need to release early and often, measure the results and respond as quickly as we can to the findings. This is why we are not opting for a big reveal.

What next?

We have a lot to do and very little time to do it in. We’ve been ambitious in our aims to say the least. I think the work the RA are doing is important and I’m also amazed that a team so small produces the work they do, as well as quickly responding to my constant nagging requests. It’s important for us that we get stuff out there and get feedback as soon as we can to make sure we are doing the right thing.

With that in mind what I’d like to happen next is for you to use what we’ve launched and take the time to fill out the feedback survey with anything you think would help make the concept better and yes, if you are an expert on user surveys feedback on that too!

I can’t end without acknowledging I have given no credit for inspiration taken and ideas stolen, however shakily implemented at this point, but I will be sure to make that list later on in the project. We’ve looked at lots and if I was to sum this up now, it’d be a bit Evening Edition, a little bit Twitter.

And with that please enjoy our first attempt at getting the content out there into the world in a different way http://rationalist.org.uk/today

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