After a few months delay, the city should have its new Web site up and running by early May.

When the original Web site was redesigned in 2003, department staff representatives took the lead, which caused navigation and design to vary from site to site. That’s why the police, fire and parks department’s pages looked and operated differently.

The city had begun the process in February 2006 with research into what various departments needed out of the site, and the original contractor came up with model design drafts by October of that year.

“We were at a point where the Web site was our key communications tool and we were at a point where we were getting about 60,000 hits a month,” said Teresa Warren, Allen public and media relations officer and Web site project coordinator. “We realized that there issues in navigational and operational consistency.”

But challenges with design process, navigational flaws, and some interactive components pushed back the intended launch date of October 2007 and a new contractor was sought, Warren said.

Warren researched companies recommended by the Texas Association of Municipal Information Officers and by December 2007 had contracted with Ariamedia of Addison to complete the job. “They specialize in producing Internet, branding and technology solutions for the public sector. They have worked with local government entities since their inception including work with the Town of Addison and the city of Southlake,” Warren said. The company was also named one of the largest web design and technology companies in the DFW area by Dallas Business Journal.

At the city council workshop Tuesday night, Warren showed the city leaders and city staff a preview of the new site and how her staff plans on promoting it. During the next month or so, commercials on Allen City Television will spotlight the new site. The tongue-in-cheek spots will feature city employees smiling and “cooing” as though it was a new baby.

Robert Ricker, Ariamedia senior account executive, spoke to the council, explaining the company’s philosophy in working with municipalities.

“We typically start with a process of discovery. In the city of Allen’s case, that discovery was looking at what the previous vendor had provided for you and working with Teresa and her team to see what some of those roadblocks and frustrations were,” he said. “We got a lot of discovery.”

Ricker said the new site will focus more on usability and alleviate concerns of clutter, inconsistency and confusion for browsers.

Warren said all the city’s departments will have similar designs to their pages with minor changes in color scheme, use of graphics, side menu navigation and quick links specific to each. The $40,000 redesign will also follow Section 508 guidelines for being accessible to those with physical impairments. For instance, people with poor eyesight will be able to use readers on all text on the screen.

Banners near the top of the screen will feature the city logo along with an image relevant to the department, a list of text button options on the left side, main text boxes in the center and a few display boxes on the right for items such as video links for specific pages. At the very top will be four tabs with drop down menus for the main topics for visitors: Visiting Us, Living Here, Doing Business and Accessing City Hall. A Google search box for the site will be on the top right.

A few of the other features will include a networked calendar in which departments can post items and users will be able to view specific department listings or a master calendar with all postings, e-news sign up by department that will be e-mailed with updates (users can modify or unsubscribe as well), and interactive forms for departments for users that will send summary e-mails to staff and to the user.

In the future, additional services such as paying water bills online and registration for parks and recreation classes will be possible, Warren said.

Source: http://www.allenamerican.com