Skip to Main Content

I Just Helped Build a Website In Four Days [status]

Last week, I learned that a group I helped start in college, The Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell (SEG), was a finalist in the White House Campus Champions of Change Challenge. Five years ago, a few friends and I were collecting spare change to make loans on Kiva.org. Now, SEG has lent over $37,000 to people in 44 countries. $13,000 of that money is circulating locally in the greater Grinnell community in the form of emergency no-interest microloans to pay for things like medical expenses, car repairs, and repayment of high-interest loans from payday loan sharks. These local loans are crucial to breaking the cycles of poverty and debt that hinder so many Americans from living comfortable and productive lives.

If you could give SEG your three votes in the competition, I would greatly appreciate it. But now I return to the title of this post…

Screen shot of the old segrinnell.org

The old Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell website

SEG’s website was old. I built it about four years ago and then converted it to WordPress a year later, but it had fallen into disrepair. Content was outdated and inconsistent. The design looked old. Some pieces of the site were just plain broken.

With the potential of thousands of new visitors including media outlets1, SEG needed a new website. And FAST!

The Process

Overall, coordinating the website-building team was a challenge. We had a big group of people working on the site all at once, but through a few phone calls, many email threads, and extensive use of Google Docs, the project came together.

Content

This project was a sprint from start to finish. Luckily, the group put in the necessary time to write good content, carefully consider the structure of the site, and even get new photography. In all, I think at least 10 people put serious amounts of time into generating, editing, and proofing the content. There were at least another 10 or 15 who then looked over the site in the hours before we launched it.

If there hadn’t been so many person-hours spent in this condensed time, the website would be typo-riddled and poor-quality overall. It takes a long time to write good web copy, and I’m impressed with what the group did.

Design

Unlike the content and content entry where there was a large group working together in-person, the design and coding took place in one spot: my living room. It was kind of like my own miniature GiveCamp. Due to lack of time (a reason I site in my article on WordPress theming strategies), we started with a prebuilt template and used child theming to get a pretty nice looking site. Check it out for yourself:

A screenshot of the React Theme

The React Theme from Theme Foundry

Screenshot of segrinnell.org

The new Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell Website

You can probably see traits of the React “Parent” theme, but without too much effort, we were able to create a unique look for the new website that was clearly an improvement over the previous site. Using a parent theme saved time, for instance,  by letting us start with a mobile-ready framework.

This project also made me so thankful for the great plugins in the WordPress plugin repository. We used plugins for forms, site speed improvements, comment management, SEO, and PayPal integration among other things. Those plugins saved me tons of time.

I even wrote a plugin to replace the way React handled “project galleries.” I’m so happy with it that I want to release it into the plugin repository when I have a free day on my hands.

Caveats and Future Necessary Improvements

  • Despite the amount of time spent on content, this site has less than the previous site, and the group will need to continue adding to the site in the coming weeks. We decided that for now, less good content beat more mediocre content. I suspect that is always the case unless you run a content farm or AOL.2
  • Based on a couple of other themes the group liked, I had to mostly make design decisions myself. I think that the overall design turned out nicely, but a lot of details could be improved.
  • Because of the exciting circumstances, I suspect that this site is probably geared a little too much toward featuring the projects that are gaining public recognition. Over time, I expect the site will evolve toward a more balanced breadth of content.

Please Vote, Share, RT, and +1

If you haven’t voted for SEG, please consider it! If or once you have, sharing it with a few friends, coworkers, and family would be greatly appreciated. To make it easier, you can easily Share this Facebook post from MRW Web Design, retweet this tweet or this other tweet from @mrwweb, or share and +1 this Google+ post.

3 Responses

  1. […] Full Article “I Just Helped Build a Website In Four Days,” MRW Web Design Blog […]

  2. Donna says:

    Nice job, Mark.  The new site looks a lot better than the old one, and is cleaner and easier to navigate.

    And it doesn’t hurt that group does some amazing work.

  3. mrwweb says:

    Thanks, Donna! It was an exhausting and fast-paced project, so it’s nice to hear others like the site.

    I’ll be curious to watch how the site evolves and whether it holds up to the test of time.

Collaboration