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At the beginning of the summer I decided I was going to seriously redesign my website. I have been involved in web design for almost 15 years, although it was always a part-time hobby and never a full-time passion. Most of the sites in the past were for family or local organizations and of course myself. I have had a personal website for quite some time but was never really sure which direction I wanted to take it. Was it going to be a blog? Was it going to show off my achievements or hobbies? Or was it going to allow people to connect with me? All of these questions were floating around in the back of my mind and ultimately I wanted one site that could do it all. I knew that my basic skills would need to be revamped and I would need to spearhead this project with focus and direction in order to achieve my goal. Over the next few posts I will discuss the web development process and hope I can help others who are faced with the same challenges.


My story begins like many others who first discovered the power of a website. I learned how simple it was to us HTML to make basic static pages to display information. These pages could then be manipulated with pictures and javascript to help ease the mundane display of data. Over the last 10 or more years I have done just that to create simple yet functioning websites. I began my experience like many others did using Microsoft Frontpage back in the late 90’s. After that I dabbled in Flash, back when it was owned by Macromedia and not Adobe, but never got too serious about it. It wasn’t until a few years ago that, because of other priorities in my life and I didn’t have the time to keep up with web evolution, I discovered the power of Apple’s iWeb. With iWeb I could easily use templates that looked fairly modern and have the entire website generated with minimal effort. This was exactly what I needed to save time and yet still dabble in the art of web design. The only problem with iWeb was that it really limited creativity and took massive amounts of storage space on my server. This also lead to long page load times (Something I will address in another post). It was clear that iWeb would not serve my needs much longer and that I needed to develop something new. Below is a technique that I encourage others to use. I want to show how separating my ideas can help create a vision for my site, which will then give me direction on where to take dannyeckes.com

Purpose

The first question I had to ask myself when creating my vision was “What is the purpose of this site?”. In other words “Why” do I have a site? Almost every site on the internet has a purpose. Was it to make money, establish a name for myself, or keep up with family and friends? Why was I compelled to make so much about myself so easily accessible to anyone? I think the answer to all these questions is simply “to share”. I want to share my life, interest, opinions, accomplishments, and discoveries with anyone who is willing to take an interest.

Objective

Sharing my life is easy to assign as the purpose of my site, but deciding what I share makes defining my vision more complicated. I have compiled the following list for my main objectives of this site.

  1. Growth is one of the key focuses in my life. I am always picking up new hobbies or interested in new things. My first objective of this site is that it needs to be able to expand and grow along with my life. I will need the site to be easy to update and have little downtime while doing so.
  2. Personal life is something many people don’t want to put online. For myself I have nothing to hide and like having control over my own site. The intent is to share my life with family and friends who might not have other social web accounts. For instance if someone in my family does not have Facebook they can still visit my page and view changes in my life and keep in touch through a blog and other pages.
  3. Professionally I can display an up-to-date resume for employers and clients to view. This can also serve as a more in-depth view into my abilities rather than what might be written in a cover letter and single page resume.
  4. Blogs are useful for having a simple way to periodically leave short messages about particular events or opinions. I would like to be able to post DYI projects, reviews, and useful information I come across that might help others. Also, of course, the ability to rant about certain things.
  5. Photography is a new hobby of mine. I am always wanting to better myself as a photographer. I would need the ability to display my photos and be able to display information about photos. Display this meta data about the photos would not only help other photographers but may also lead to others suggesting I try some different settings.
  6. Analytics is something relatively new to me. It used to be that a “hit” counter was all one had to track website popularity. Then some web hosting companies offered statistics through the cPanel of individual sites that would allow you to view more detailed information. But within the last couple years tracking who comes to your site, how they found you, what they viewed, and how long they spent on your site is a valuable asset. I want to incorporate analytics into this site to gauge the value in certain pages and to get my feet wet with analytics technology.

Constraints

  • My first constraint is my abilities. I am going to have to learn new skills in order to create a website that satisfies all my objectives. There is no simple solution or out of the box approach to creating a site that suits all my needs.
  • My second constraint is time. This summer I want to spend time looking for a job and not glued to the computer screen. Third I am constrained by the limitations of any content management system (CMS) that I use. After looking around it seems there is no single CMS that will do everything I require.
  • My final constraint is my lack of artistic ability. I have never been one to be very visually artistic. So designing a website that looks modern and competitive is really going to be a challenge.

Assumptions

For this site I have to make a few assumptions. These assumptions might not be apparent at this stage of the site building process but I can at the least think of a few which I will share.

  • My first assumption is that my hosting company will provide solid service that can keep up with frequent SQL request and bandwidth.
  • Second I assume that I will be able to find all sources of learning online. I know I will need to learn new skills and I assume I can literally Google everything. Along with this I assume which ever CMS I chose it will have a large support community to answer questions I may come across.
  • Finally I assume that there are CMS’s that can provide the backend support for a type of site that I want to build.

Conclusion

I came up with the following vision from the above process. “DannyEckes.com is an ever-growing website that allows Daniel Eckes to share his life, hobbies, and experience with people all over the world.” Of course my real vision will be written in first-person. I only wrote this in third-person for others to have an idea of how they can shape their vision statement.

After looking over my previously outlined needs and doing some research I decided that I would need two CMS’s for my site. I will need one called Zenphoto for the photo gallery of my site. I will then use WordPress for the blog, content, and general navigation of the site. This means I will need to develop a custom theme to integrate WordPress and Zenphoto. For the analytics I will use a combination of Piwik, an open source locally hosted analytics engine, and Google analytics to track my website traffic.

I will blog the steps involved in creating the site. There seems to be a high demand for this type of tutorial online. Most of the sites I came across were very helpful but at times would jump over concepts leaving many people confused. I would like to try to share my process in a comprehensive way that most people can follow and may solve some problems for others out there.

I hope this has helped not only explain the reason behind my site but also given a great example of how to break down the vision of your website.

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