This October will mark my 10th year working at George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School as Director of Design and Web Services. A decade in the web-industry timeline is eternity, but it still feels like yesterday when I took on this position.
In my first three months on the job, I single-handedly re-coded the entire website from scratch. I ripped out all of the HTML markups and CSS presentations and rebuilt everything from scratch. Our site was one of the first higher education websites that went responsive. In retrospect, I am glad I took that approach right from the get-go. In the past nine and a half years, our website has gone through many iterations instead of major redesigns. Because of the solid foundation I built from the beginning, our website stands the test of time.
In the last few weeks, we conducted a handful of user studies, in which we asked current students to share their experience using our website. We gave them a few tasks and asked them to do as we watched their browsers. They found our website easy to navigate and they could find what they needed. They provided us suggestions we can improve, but the feedback had been positive.
As CSS grid has become stable, I wanted to go back to replace complicated floats with grids, but the task seemed overwhelming. In the past five years, I have taken on new roles beyond the web, which included marketing designs and email newsletter. I could not dedicate my time to make the transition. Every time I looked at my SCSS file, I wanted to just throw it away and start from scratch. Unfortunately the site had grown so much in the last decade.
After our latest redesign under the new dean direction, I decided I need to tackle this issue. Now that I have a designer to help me with graphics and a developer to help me with day-to-day requests, I could focus on refactoring the CSS elements as well as cleaning up the HTML markups. Simply replacing float layouts with grid layouts make the CSS file much more cleaner and manageable. In addition to simplifying the CSS elements, I was able to get rid of tons of unused styles.
Although the work was entirely behind the hood, it made me feel great. I had accomplished something that I had wanted to do for quite a while. The overall visuals haven’t changed much, but the details have been hammered out. Because I have invested my time, energy, and effort into our website, I take great pride in my work and I treat it with tender, love, and care as if it is my own baby. I take the responsibility and the ownership of it. I expect my developer to do the same. I wanted him to put his care into it instead of just dashing off to complete the requests. Every piece of markup needs to be clean and no inline styles unless absolutely necessary.
I understand that we have to do things quickly, but doing so carelessly will come back and bite us in the long run. Our website has come a long way. The day of hosting it on a GoDaddy dedicated server is long gone. I am so glad that we had migrated to MODX Cloud with the help of the incredible MODX team. From the server side, our site is now fast, secured, stable, and in good hands. From the frontend side, the HTML markups and CSS presentations are streamlined. The design is still fresh and modern with exceptional typography.
If everything goes well, I will stay with the law school until my retirement. I only have about 20 odd years to go. I don’t know if I will be able to keep up with the web industry in my 60s. That’s a scary thought. Then again, I have not kept up on the latest trend a decade ago. I am still doing fine thus far. I can’t see myself doing anything else besides web design and development, but I never know what the future will hold.