This past weekend was a busy and productive weekend for me. I participated in my first Dallas Give Camp. What is Dallas Give Camp you might ask? Dallas Give Camp is an annual event where professionals ranging from UX designers, business analysts, project owners, developers and other technology-related professionals come together with non-profit organizations to design or redesign the organizations website.
Dallas Give Camp’s Mission:
“We support our communities by bringing together motivated volunteers to dedicate their professional expertise, deep insights, and individual talents to further the missions of local charitable organizations through the applied use of knowledge sharing, technology solutions, and innovative design.”
It’s a jam-packed weekend starting Friday evening at 5 p.m. and ended Sunday evening at around 4 p.m. Yes, you do get to go home and sleep. It’s not one of those all-nighter type hackathons (Thank goodness. I am too old for those. Ha!) But I was there, fully-invested for each hour and minute.
What was my assignment?
I was the UX designer helping redesign the Dallas Goethe Center’s website. I’ll refer to the organization as DGC for short. The DGC is a local organization that promotes German language learning and culture in North Texas. They have two primary audiences: students and parents of students who want to learn to speak German, and members who participate in the cultural events.
What was my role?
As the UX designer, I worked with the team of developers to come up with a technology solution. I also worked with stakeholders to surface DGC’s problems, pain points and needs to understand what they wanted out of the new website. Also, I helped make sure that the project was moving forward, all pages and components were being built, and the content was being added to the pages.
What was the problem?
Their current website platform was on Drupal, and they wanted a platform that was easier to work with. That new platform was WordPress, which is what Dallas Give Camp encourages all teams to work on. Drupal was difficult for DGC’s Drupal-challenged volunteers and staff to update. It was also technologically limited, restricting features like easy “customer shopping” and website customization. The Divi theme on WordPress would help with org overcome these challenges.
How did I get started?
As with any good UX designer, I wanted a better understanding of the problem. The week before Give Camp, I talked with three members of the DGC staff to get their perspective of the website. We talked about reasons why customers come to the site, their pain points and goals for the new website. I wanted to do this initial research to get different perspectives on how the website could be improved.
What was my challenge?
I was very new to the Divi theme and have very little experience with WordPress. My experience is pretty much just posting stories to this lovely blog. Nothing too fancy. So I am not in the regular practice of building out pages or components within WordPress. I needed a tutorial quickly on how to work in the Divi theme, where to find things and how I can get up and running asap. I will say, I am really spoiled in working within WYSIWYG programs like Sketch.
How did I collaborate?
I worked with developers to understand our technology constraints. The devs also helped me understand Divi themes, WordPress and basic CSS. Thank goodness I had a basic knowledge of code. It did help me customize things a bit – once I found out where to do that within the Divi theme interface. I also worked with several stakeholders from the DGC who were our on-site subject-matter experts. It was wonderful to have them on site, right there to answer any questions we might have at any moment. The best part is the staff members from DGC were at Give Camp from the start of the day until late in the night. They were just as committed and involved as we were.
We started Friday evening, with a hearty dinner to get us ready for the first night of the event. We met the team, broke down the problems and prioritized the major issues we needed to solve. We talked about what aspects of the website needed to be improved, what new pages we needed to create and we were introduced to WordPress and the Divi them. But the end of Friday evening, at 10:30 p.m., we had a pretty good plan of the site map, what pages we needed to build and what elements would go on those pages.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we all rolled in around 9 a.m. ready to build out the site. I wrote the site map on the whiteboard so that we could verify that we had all of the content included. I also started sketching out some basic wireframes to further validate that all content was accounted for. Then it was time for me to get to work.
Like I mentioned earlier, I was pretty inexperienced with WordPress, and had no previous knowledge of the Divi theme. So I was pretty slow to jump right in and churning out components. That is what I wanted to do. I am so used to just being able to build things at a pretty hefty speed in Sketch. But this proved to be much more challenging than expected. I wanted to get pages build and templates ready ahead of the team so that they could just plug and play.
A number of pages had 3 cards, in a box, of content to lead the page. I wanted this component to be built and ready to go so that it would be consistent across all instances. But it took the developer and I over an hour to get it built to (near) the specifications I had in mind. Yes we got it built, but it ate up a lot of time. Yikes! Now we were approaching early afternoon and time was pressing against us. We had a lot of pages to build. We had to get components like boxes, buttons, purchasing options and other website elements on the page. We had to get all of the content on those pages. The content was all really, really long, so we needed to edit that content down to digestible chunks. Then we needed to apply some design style to improve the design beyond the basic offering.
Well, shit started hitting the fan in the early evening. We were very behind. We still needed pages built, components added, content added and interactions tested. We started to panic. Well, I did. We did not know who was working on what. We were not really sure what was and was not finished. It was a mild case of chaos.
We called in some help. A floating developer came in and assessed the situation. We had not been using Trello. Hence, we did not know who was assigned to what part of the project and how that was progressing. So we got all the remaining work on the board. That way we got a bit more organized and figured out who was responsible for what. By 10:30 at night, we were running on fumes. We finally got all the pages created, components on them, and basic content on most of them. We had not adjusted the style from the out of the box offering. And we had not even begun to test items like links, shopping cart functionality or other interactions. But that was OK. We still had a few hours on Sunday to do our best to make it to the finish line. At least now the fire was contained.
Bright and early again. It was a calm atmosphere, coming to terms with the fact that not all of our to-do list was going to be complete. Content was on the pages, but it still needed to be edited. Style was not going to be modified, but it was pretty good looking for now. Links and buttons were going to be tested. The shopping cart experience was working. We were very close to a functioning website. The stakeholders were very pleased with the progress we had made in just one weekend and were very excited to launch. We were 90 percent to complete success. And 90 percent is not only good enough, it’s pretty damn good.
We wrapped up the day updating the Trello board with tasks that still needed to be completed after Give Camp. We all gathered again for all of the Give Csamp teams to share their stories and display their much-earned success. We had built a website in just one weekend and it was pretty kick-ass.
What did I learn?
I need to get ahead of the game: I should have worked on the design solution earlier and started constructing wireframes, mockups and structure.
I need to learn the technology: I should have looked in to Divi a bit more. I should have learned the capabilities before hand and thought about how I wanted to tackle some of the design challenges.
I need to track the progress: We were assigned a Trello board well before kickoff, but we quickly abandoned it in the midst of the chaos. But there’s a reason why they gave us access to Trello, and we should use it. Tracking our progress on Trello got us back on line and better organized.
I can do it: I can pick up new technology. I can work with a new team. I can get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. I can establish a good comradery with a team and help us get to a common goal. I can do it!
Would I do it again?
Hell yeah! Maybe not for another year. But yes I would do it. It was fun to work on something different and get fully emerged in the website design process. It was great to have stakeholders on hand who were willing to get their hands dirty and pitch in to get things done. It was exhausting to put in so many hours straight. But it was exhilarating to jive through and get it done. Most importantly, it felt really great to contribute my skills as a UX designer in a positive way and to give back to the community in some way. Working with Dallas Give Camp and the Dallas Goethe Center was professionally and personally rewarding for sure. Sign me up for next year – after I get a bit of a nap.