Case Study: LitvakSIG Redesign
LitvakSIG.org has been online since 1998 and has registered over 1.3 million site visits. Considering that the world’s first website was published only in 1991, LitvakSIG.org has been around for light-years. It was an honor for us to be selected as a company who got to re-design and re-build the website from the ground up.
LitvakSIG was (and, of course, is) a terrific source for anyone interested in their Litvak heritage and genealogy. Yet as a website, it was not in great shape at the time when we received logins and the Board’s blessing to perform a thorough inventory.
The old website.
The re-designed website.
Due to multiple additions and patches, Joomla framework was crumbling. Website administrators had trouble accessing many of the pages. The content management system (CMS) wasn’t functioning as intended. Contributors had a hard time finding entire sections of the website in the backend and the search function was either inaccurate or non-operational. Finally, the donations processing system, although set up by a reputable vendor, was not working.
On the front-end, the menu items were poorly grouped and there were no subpages per se. In addition, homepage design was not user-friendly and definitely very outdated.
Since LitvakSIG is a non-profit catering to Litvaks world-wide, the Board’s concern was that the new website may become “too modern” and, therefore, inaccessible to some elderly users. The Board members in charge of the website rebuilding initiative also expressed a wish that we keep the organization’s mission-“ to discover and preserve Litvak heritage”-in mind when creating the new design. In other words, the new website must be contemporary and user-friendly, yet it has to reflect the organization’s mission and its character.
Even though we agreed on a classic layout, it didn’t mean that the website had to be boring or look outdated. Since “classic” usually means boxed layout, we decided to make the website stand out more and reinforce the organization’s commitment to genealogy and research by using a Lithuania’s map as a background. In our opinion, this decision greatly improved the look and feel of the website.
Since the new logo incorporated the Star of David rendered in the colors of the Lithuanian flag (yellow, green, red), we decided to introduce the same bold color palette throughout the website.
For the most part, we avoided red for its association with danger. However, various shades of green and yellow can be seen in different elements of the website, including the header, main navigation, and footer.
Choosing a bolder, louder color palette made the classic layout less boring and gave the website its unique character. If someone has visited a few genealogy websites prior to landing on the litvasig.org, hopefully, they are going to remember it and won’t confuse it with any other online entity.
The general consensus was that a more modern, tall slider would overshadow the website’s emphasis on providing quick access to resources. Constantly changing slides were especially considered to be a distraction. Instead, our design team incorporated a photo collage that consists of dynamically loaded photos. Those are actual archival images depicting Litvak life in Antebellum Lithuania available on the Images section.
In addition, black-and-white photos seemed to provide a more balanced look, since the website contained plenty of bold colors.
One of our biggest tasks was the main navigation menu. The Board did a great job revamping the menu items and categorizing all the links and resources. This allowed us to move the main navigation from the left-hand side to the top, just under the header. Since the main purpose of the website is to provide its visitors easy access to various resources, including archival records and ongoing research, we wanted to make sure that the navigation menu became the centerpiece of the website.
You can compare the old left-hand side menu written in tiny font with the new one below. The new menu is three levels deep and allows visitors to access various resources easily and efficiently.
Once we had the design and the structure of the new website confirmed, the biggest job awaited us: coding. It’s not a secret that we’re not big fans of frameworks. Our distrust of frameworks was only reinforced by the poor technical state of the LitvakSIG website, so we ditched Joomla in favor of a custom-built system.
The new LitvakSIG.org features responsive design, custom Content Management System (CMS), payment integration with Authorize.net and a multitude of custom-built modules. The website runs on a Virtual Private Server, which greatly increased its load time.
One of the best features of the custom-built CMS is its integration with the new website navigation. Just like the front-end navigation organizes resources for the website visitors, the backend CMS organizes all the controls for the administrators.
LitvakSIG has a lot of content and media, so it wouldn’t be accurate if we called the CMS “simple”. It’s definitely complex, and yet it organizes all the content into modules and pages and does make maintaining the website a lot easier. It also provides a bird’s-eye view of the entire page hierarchy with a built-in drag-and-drop capability.
Going all-custom fixed recurring issues and little annoying inadequacies that are very common with many frameworks (especially Joomla). Surprise, surprise… the payment processing system and the Authorize.net Verified Merchant Seal that were deemed broken, started working again!
In addition, we built and integrated a shopping cart system capable of accepting multiple donations in one transaction. This was a very important feature for LitvakSIG, since in addition to annual dues they have various ongoing research projects and special causes that need support. However, since their previous system lacked the shopping cart feature, they had to resort to multiple transactions and lots of checking, re-checking and cross-referencing in order to make sure the funds were received and distributed according to the wishes of the donor.
To sum up, LitvakSIG has a long and strong online presence. Their website was first launched in 1998 and was patched multiple times, but never re-built to conform to the current industry standards. In collaboration with Kartogram, we have re-designed and re-built the website making it more accessible, more aesthetically pleasing and more functional.
Thanks again to the LitvakSIG Board for the opportunity to work on this extraordinary project!