When I received this project, the design portion of the web site was already done. My job was to make it easily editable by the ACE Hardware staff--so easy that a person with no knowledge of web coding could update the site. To accomplish this, I had two different options: I could either revamp the site so that it would use a common Content Management System such as Joomla, Drupal or Wordpress, or I could write a custom lightweight content management system for the site.
Having had prior experience with various content management systems, my complaint in this case was that they would be more complex than necessary for the needs of my client. This site needed something that was really easy, intuitive, and straight-forward. Something that a staff member could figure out without any training whatsoever. With this in mind, I made the choice to develop a custom content management system for the site.
The first step was to identify what updates the ACE staff would need to make. I sat down with an ACE Hardware employee and discussed these needs, and page by page we examined the site. Text would need to be updateable, images would need to be changeable, and the staff listed on the site would need to be editable--yet all of this would need to be done without giving the user the ability to change the layout of the website.
After some planning, I set out to complete the coding portion. All programming was completed with PHP and MySQL and enhanced by interface features that used AJAX.
While the coding comprised much of the development time, the UI design itself was a challenge as well. Even the most powerful technology is useless if it is too difficult to operate--so I had to make sure that this was easy. And remember, my clients were users who may have little to no technology experience, so ease of use was particularly critical in this case.
Thankfully, the decision to have the design fairly "locked-down" allowed me to exclude a lot of "layout" controls that would have made the UI much more complex. As much as possible I tried to stick to only the very basic controls, thinking the entire time "If I was the user, what controls would I want, and how would I expect them to appear."
The result was a system that used a "click to change" format that users would easily understand. Each element of the site is editable in a way that is both descriptive and intuitive. In situations where "click to change" controls would have been unnecessarily complex, concise onscreen directions were provided to guide the users input. Each piece fit together to ensure that the user would have the best and most confident experience possible. And best of all, it fit their needs to a "T".