Written by Daniel Hazard
Less wordy, more user-friendly approach taken
The UCC's national website www.ucc.org is getting a face lift — and a tummy tuck, dermabrasion and dye-job to boot.
The site's online "extreme makeover," the culmination of 18 months of behind-the-scenes discussions, diplomatic maneuvers and test designs, will debut on or near Tuesday, June 5.
The exact launch could vary up to 48 hours for some viewers, because it can take that long for a new site to replicate fully across the internet, says Daniel Hazard, the UCC's web manager.
The new version of the website will introduce a less-wordy, more visitor-friendly homepage — a challenging task for a site that's long relied on multiple links, wordy paragraphs and competing content from its primary landing page.
The new look incorporates a lot more breathing room, says Michelle May, one of the site's principal designers and a member of the UCC's web team.
The makeover also more fully embraces the branding of the denomination's Stillspeaking marketing campaign, including its color schemes, a more-youthful appearance and less-churchy language.
"We chose more whimsical navigational categories to appeal to less-institutional users," says May, explaining that denominational insiders tend to prefer agency-like headings but most website users want more straight-forward terminology.
In addition, many categories will be cross-referenced, in anticipation that users may take different paths to reach the same destination.
"We want to make it as easy as possible for people to find what they're looking for," Hazard says.
For the first few weeks after the site launches, a two-minute video tutorial from "The UCC Answer Guy" — starring Hans Holznagel, the UCC's minister for community life — will be available on the homepage to help users become familiar with the new look and functions.
To simplify navigation, mouse-over drop-down menus will allow for more-broad categories with various sub-categories. For example, "The 411" will be an all-encompassing information link that takes you to UCC basic information, beliefs, history, etc. "Church Stuff" is full of resources that pastors or lay leaders will use, but visitors may want to skip over. "Buy it" offers several e-commerce choices, such as The Pilgrim Press or United Church of Christ Resources.
"The Apple [corporate] website actually was our initial inspiration, because it focused on a simpler look and better organization without overwhelming the user," says Hazard. "That's definitely the trend in web design."
The web team explains that, instead of the homepage housing lots of boxy content in side-by-side columns, the homepage will become a church vestibule of sorts, a place that helps introduce the user to the "look and feel" of the church. UCC art director Randy Varcho consulted with the web team throughout the redesign process.
The site's visual masthead will incorporate a flash presentation of the UCC's historic "firsts" to help familiarize newcomers with the UCC's longstanding work for justice and peace. A few static images, which will change regularly, will help promote newer resources and time-sensitive information. A scrolling news ticker will keep viewers up-to-date on the most-pressing headlines.
An important part of the redesign will not be visible by most, but is significant. A new content management system will allow for multiple editors and writers in various ministries to post information and resources as they become available.
"For example, we'll be able to respond to disasters more quickly because the disaster-response staff will be able to make content changes directly on their own," Hazard says. "They won't have to find Dan or Michelle whenever an emergency happens and hope that we're sitting by a computer."
This means department pages will become more dynamic throughout www.ucc.org. The homepage will no longer be the sole place where the most important information resides, Hazard explains. There will be will various centers of ever-changing content, depending on what the user is looking for.
Cross-referenced databases will enable contributors to a hurricane-relief effort, for example, to be sent information about work-camp opportunities down the road.
The changes are part of an overall shift in the way the UCC's national setting thinks about its "electronic protocols," says the Rev. Robert Chase, the UCC's director of communications.
"No longer can organizations simply create attractive websites and sit back and hope that people will flock to them," Chase says. "We knew we needed to take better advantage of 'push' technology to drive information to users. From the beginning, that's been the underlying emphasis that's held this massive undertaking together."
Since the UCC maintains at least 12 distinctive websites, and all of the sites' documents must be reformatted and moved to the UCC's new web hosting company — Get Active / Convio — it will take several months before the web transfer is fully complete. However, the most widely-used documents will be available when the new website launches this month, says Hazard.
"This is a very labor-intensive project," says Chase, "and our web team should be given lots of praise for their careful attention to detail, while continuing to maintain all the functionality of our current sites."
Other notable changes:
Once personal information is entered, future web forms will be pre-populated with your data. No need to start from scratch each time.
The homepage and all interior pages will include prominent links to popular features, such as find-a-church, search, contribute, e-mail-to-a-friend, and the ability to sign up for e-mail updates on various topics.
Find-a-church data will include streets maps as well as satellite-image mapping. (This also means you can view your church from Mars.)
Interior pages will include links to related stories by topic, as well as links to the most-recent items posted in that section. News headlines will appear on every page.
Users can adjust the size of text for better viewing.
Online-giving capabilities will be improved by reducing the number of steps it will take to offer your contribution.
More-sophisticated statistical tools will allow the UCC's web team to do better analysis of how the site is being utilized.