The New Jersey Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, a nonprofit association for older adults, changed its name in January to LeadingAge New Jersey (U.S. 1, February 16). A few months before that, however, the agency revamped and redesigned its web presence in anticipation of its re-branding.

The agency, based at 13 Roszel Road, hired its next-door neighbor, Princeton Internet Group (PInG) to bring its website into contemporary times. “The overarching idea was to raise the level of quality and embrace some more contemporary standards,” says Rob Freda, CEO of PInG. “Their old site was a little long in the tooth.”

PInG was brought on in October for the double task of redesigning the NJAHSA website and its successor site, which would not be launched until January, Freda says. The color scheme was one of the first things to change. The layout also needed to change. NJAHSA’s site, Freda says, needed to look less like a template and to be more intuitive for visitors. It also needed new features, such as sections for member services, an improved way to search for elder care facilities, and an expanded section for emergency preparedness.

Particularly when regarding government, nonprofit, and social services it is not atypical for websites to languish, Freda says. Given the speed at which the web grows and changes, it only takes a few years for designs, functions, and programs to become woefully outdated. Freda says he starts a project like the one LeadingAge hired him for by gauging how the client will use certain functions or aspects of the site.

For example, if on a regular basis a client develops a lot of new categories for a site, PInG will set up the site to give the client more direct administrative control over this aspect. This reduces the reliance on the site developer and cuts down on maintenance costs. If, on the other hand, the client does not create many new categories in a year, PInG will keep an eye on things, freeing the client up for other avenues.

With LeadingAge, Freda says, the idea was to move away from the template-based design it had been sporting for years and move into more custom design and control features. The result, a breezy, contemporary site (www.LeadingAgeNJ.org), won a bronze award at the ASTRA event.

A typical problem with outdated-looking websites, Freda says, is that many of the programming languages are out of date too. Script programs such as Java, for example, are subjected to regular upgrades, but if a site does not keep up, it runs the risk of having a version of a program that does not work with new computers. Replacing and upgrading is a bit like replacing vintage car parts, only “unlike classic cars, there’s no such thing as a collector’s website,” Freda says.

Designing and developing a new website often does coincide with the development of new content or image and branding updates. The redone NJAHSA website, however, would have to be ready well in advance of the new name, Freda says. It meant essentially having to do two websites that could roll over into the new one when the time came.

The direction of the re-branding came from the National Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, which sought last year to shift from the governmental-sounding moniker to the more friendly LeadingAge. The New Jersey chapter simply followed the lead, Freda says.

Designing a website with or without a re-branding can take a lot of time, Freda says. Some universal considerations web developers should keep in mind:

#b#1). Goals and Audience#/b#. What do you hope to accomplish with the website? Who does the client want to visit and use the site, and what design, content, and functionality elements should be built into the site to meet their needs?

#b#2). Standards#/b#. What will be the screen resolution? Which browser (and which version of it) will you use? Freda says designers have to consider things like connection speeds as well. “You want to keep the site consistent with current and emerging standards while still supporting older standards to a reasonable extent,” he says.

#b#3). Architecture and Usability#/b#. Organize your content and presentation to make finding pertinent information an intuitive, engaging, and user-friendly experience, Freda says. This includes making sure that you have appropriate calls to action within the site to engender interaction.

#b#4). Maintenance and updates#/b#. Know who will be doing updates, and what content will be most frequently updated, Freda says. “Something like a content management system can allow the website owner to easily update content without requiring a designer or programmer for most types of updates,” Freda says.

“There is a balance to be struck between simplifying and watering down the design to be compatible with certain off-the-shelf CMS packages vs. going with a more customized or hybrid approach that fits your needs more precisely,” he says.

#b#5). Marketing & Promotion#/b#. The website should reflect current corporate communications. It can be as simple as looking at whether the web address is printed on your stationery or as involved as examining how search engine optimization can be improved.

The bedrock of web design these days is the idea that websites are not and will never be static, Freda says. “It’s a living, breathing, ongoing entity.”

Princeton Internet Group Inc. (PInG), 13 Roszel Road, Suite C-222, Princeton 08540-; 609-452-1667; fax, 609-452-0063. Robert Freda, CEO. www.PInGsite.com

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