Accessibility First: FuturesInitiative.org Redesign
As I conclude my third and final year as a Futures Initiative fellow, it is a pleasure to launch the second redesign of the FI website in my time here. It’s a process that started in the fall of 2018, and was a fundamental change to the site architecture and navigation. The redesign was initiated by my experience last summer working in the Student Affairs office at the Graduate Center, testing out assistive technology, creating simplified user guides for staff providing support for students, and making recommendations about policies and working with IT. As I struggled through learning JAWS and VoiceOver, I used the Futures Initiative site to test the tools and realized that the site I had just helped to redesign was not only cumbersome to navigate, but some of the WordPress theme’s “built-in” accessibility features like alt tags for slider images didn’t work at all. I remedied this by immediately changing the slider to static images, but the site as a whole needed a lot of work. I was also learning more about designing for people with cognitive disabilities and realized that the dropdown menus—which had become ever-growing repositories for any new information—were difficult to understand and too densely populated.
Even though we had just implemented a new theme to modernize the look of the site, I begrudgingly admitted that we needed to rethink the website from scratch. I wanted to eliminate the dropdown menus and introduce more navigation options to the homepage for a simpler user experience. With the help of Katina Rogers, Siqi Tu, and Gustavo Jiménez, we sketched out a rough wireframe that could use a 3-column grid to show our broad program areas. There were multiple rounds of brainstorming between the four of us, and multiple rounds of feedback from the FI team on design and language, simplifying the message and navigation a little bit more in each meeting.
As we went through design and concept iterations, we also spent a lot of time creating content in reverse. In other words, creating a homepage with a handful of images and icons was relatively easy, but organizing the underlying content into a cohesive navigation system took more time. After all, our existing menu structure was the primary way for us to navigate and find all of the information on the website, so we had to make sure that we weren’t leaving out any important information in the process.
As we worked our way through the menu, we found duplicate content, and pages that could be combined for less clicking and easier navigation. We discovered that we could use more of the built-in WordPress features like categories to display a body of work that has accumulated over the past five years (research, events, and writing) in a format that invites browsing and user engagement.
While a website can never be truly finished (they are essentially living organisms that change and grow), we are quite pleased with the current iteration. I learned so much through the process and making accessibility a top priority was key to what we accomplished. I hope it will continue to serve Futures Initiative and the network of over 1,000 CUNY students and faculty who use the site. Thank you to everyone on the FI team who has contributed ideas, feedback, and critiques.
Please submit any suggestions or bug reports to firstname.lastname@example.org.