Hands on Publications: web development for a small comms company

Web development for Hands On Publications

The cobbler’s kids have no shoes. An apt and accurate old saying. Hands On Publications is in the communications business. But they have no time or budget to communicate about themselves. Which is a shame, because they do great work. They mostly let others do the communicating for them. However they needed some web development done. Namely a new site.

So they asked me to put one together for them. Quickly. And with a limited budget. Which I did. An elegant, single page structure with minimal bunf and mobile friendliness. They can maintain it themselves but it doesn’t put them on a content creation treadmill.

The site uses WordPress and an affordable, freemium theme, which had enough options to allow me to make it do what they wanted without looking too much like the digial equivalent of Malvina Reynolds’ Little Boxes.

Being designers — and especially good at print design — they were fairly fussy about how things appeared. But being designers they were also really good at coralling feedback, explaining their concerns and using screen captures, arrows and circles to show what they meant. Also they picked all the images,  sized them and supplied them in the right format. All the things I dream of in a client.

They did that work which meant (a) I didn’t have to, so their costs were lower and (b) they let me do what I do, rather than calling for prescriptive solutions that turn me into an expensive pair of hands on a keyboard.

We have this notion that web development needs to be an expensive, drawn out process. It doesn’t have to be. If you keep the scope under control, and do your homework as a client you can go a long way toward getting the website you want without blowing your budget.

Have a look.

PDF strategy in a can: getting to an accessible website

PDF Strategy: Put all your PDFs in the trash

Put all your PDFs in the trash
Self-serve PDF strategy

The onset of the legal deadline for organizational and business websites to be WCAG 2.0 A-compliant has produced a flurry of activity around internet accessibility. Having a PDF strategy is part of the solution.

Because in my experience, what’s killing them – and costing them – most are their PDFs. (And slideshows, but that’s for another post).

Website producers in organizations where creating content is a print first, or print-only affair have to confront the results of years of using PDFs as a kludge for getting content onto their site.

You can make PDFs accessible. But the tools are awful, and it’s time consuming. Especially if all the work is done after the fact. Any time you thought you were saving by tossing that PDF onto the bottom of that page evaporates when you undertake to make it accessible and searchable.

Companies and organizations that are trying to make their front-facing websites comply with the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) learn that, in addition to retrofitting their PDFs, they have to come up with a PDF strategy.

As a public service, here’s what I call a proper PDF strategy.

  1. No PDFs shall be posted to the website.
  2. See rule number 2.
  3. Any PDF currently on the website will be removed and replaced with an HTML version at the earliest opportunity.
  4. If for some reason you were undeterred by rules 1 and 2, it is conceivable that content could be posted in PDF format if the document is:
    • only intended for print purposes: e.g.: directional signage for a conference, or some other public display etc.;
    • so long, complicated or its production values are so high that conversion to HTML would exceed the content’s lifespan or be otherwise too complicated to be worth the effort.
    • evidence of some kind – the primary source for a research project, an ATIP request, a love letter from a rock star or the like
    • has been:
      • OCRed,
      • edited to add meaningful metadata,
      • tagged in the original application (human-revised auto-tagging after the fact is permissible but will earn you extra stink-eye)
      • formatted and configured to print on the sorts of printers your visitors likely possess (e.g.: no printer spreads crop marks, separations, shrink-to-fit letter-sized paper, 300ppi 54lpi resolution/halftone screen etc)

Union Research

Union Research Screen Cap

Union Research Screen CapTwo people I know who do policy research for trade unions were looking for a place to share news, data and analysis on topics of interest to them and their colleagues. They were looking for a simple inexpensive solution that they could maintain off the sides of their desks.

Putting together a site on wordpress.com seemed a cheap, elegant and contemporary solution but the prospect of building the site seemed daunting enough that it was threatening the project as a whole.

So they asked me to help them design, theme and architect the site.

And voilà. The main challenge with this site was using the free version of WordPress on wordpress.com. It puts some pretty serious limitations on what’s available to site builders, so one must be a bit creative to make the application do what the clients want.