The wonder of websites: Meet the new SolarAid
Late last year I sat at a table with colleagues to discuss how we might expand SolarAid’s online presence. At the time we were growing incredibly quickly on Facebook and Twitter, yet the website was feeling dated. It was going to be my job to manage a brand-new, bells and whistles online home! This was a new challenge - I sat myself upon a metaphorical bean bag and donned my ‘very real’ thinking cap. Perching with paper and pen, I began to write…
[My initial sketches for both Home and Join In pages…]
First off, I knew we didn’t want to spend vast amounts of money. Secondly, that we sought to reflect our perception of ‘SolarAid’ to the people and to celebrate our work (and by ‘our work’ I mean yours, mine, Brave’s in Malawi, a solar company’s in London, or perhaps Farahani’s in Tanzania). We wanted a site to inspire and to help us spread the word. For that to happen we would need lots of great content, so that like-minded folks who want to help (you) can… we hope!
So, we would need great stories. But with great content comes… great nothingness if you have no way to communicate it. Therefore, it was imperative that we create a format which would allow us all to share photos, movies, and blogs with friends.
Over the next few months I found myself in an increasingly self-absorbed visual wonderland, attempting to get my head around SolarAid’s online presence; what it was and what it could be. I imagined social media as a river running through space and time, with platforms such as Twitter or Facebook as islands, expanding and contracting to push and release content on to your mobile device, desktop, laptop or tablet. Then I woke up and thought practically. Our website would need to allow content to flow seamlessly through it – to push stories out to our online friends whilst absorbing stories from those who share our interests. That was my starting point. Next was the how.
[My designs looked a little better when using software rather than ‘handware’.]
It was only in the New Year that I was able to really get going. I chatted with friends first, figuring out who knew who, and then who knew what. I found some great contacts and held one or two consultancy sessions. Two guys in particular seemed inspired by the direction we wanted to take the site. So I listened… a lot. I wanted to create a presence that a designer or developer, or social media guru would be excited by. I didn’t want a site that a traditional charity would promote - because we’re not, well, traditional. Find out why here.
[My popplet map. A great tool for brainstorming too.]
So I got busy with my pad and pen again – I drew wireframes… then I threw them away and tried again (I did this a few times). Next, I approached a designer and showed him what I’d created. He consulted. I went back to the drawing board and refined. The drawing board was Photoshop, then finally a lovely programme called Balsamiq. You should try it.
Meanwhile, I was drawing a site-map using Popplet. But without a tablet I found myself saving dodgy jpeg files and printing six-page maps. It was a pain. I tweeted my annoyance, muttered to myself, and carried on.
Eventually, the site was ready for design. We wanted a designer who would fit our ethos and who was inspired by our need to be cutting-edge and future proof. He or she would also need the flair and skill to take things one step further. We found one, and my scrappy designs began to flourish.
[Epic wireframe shot.]
Fast forward several weeks and with the colour scheme more or less finalised, I took the new look home page to the head honchos who gave the go ahead for the site build. There was a leap of faith here. The page looked okay, but it lacked some personality and had limited copy – it was difficult to know what it could be without seeing what I and the designer could in our over-active imaginations. So, thank you Steve and Richard!
The Development team (builders) we found have been absolutely fantastic as well. Better Brief are a small but growing team who were prepared to work with us, always with patience and with a willing ear. They made our designs a reality and what the site is today.
Many sunrises later and our site is online! www.solar-aid.org will keep its ‘beta status’ until all our features are implemented, but in a way the site will be forever beta, since we designed it to be scalable.
So, we provide content – but we need yours too, because having up-to-date news and features are the key to the site’s success and the biggest challenge we face. Well, aside from eradicating kerosene from the entire continent of Africa by 2020. I hope you are able to share the experience with us and help us along too. So go ahead… share!
Follow me: @ralph_greenland