The New AHA Website: Highlights from the Redesign of Historians.org
This fall, the AHA welcomed a new, modern website, formally launching an ambitious redesign that included a new look and feel, a robust content management system, clear new navigation, new commenting functionality, and a few other bells and whistles.
Why redesign the site? First of all, it was time. The last major redesign of the site was in 2004. At the time, our biggest worry was securing a domain name (which eventually became historians.org), signaling the "next big thing for historians" as one staff member proudly reported in Perspectives at the time. The web has grown exponentially since 2004, however, and so have the expectations of our users. Like most websites, our site, while content-rich, has not stood the test of time for ease of use. Users often remarked they had trouble finding the information they needed. The homepage was crowded with information and links, overwhelming users who found it difficult to locate even the most basic features, most notably the search box. When the time came for us to redesign the site, we realized we had to rethink the front and back-end from the ground up.
The first thing you'll notice is that our homepage has received a radical makeover. We cleaned up the cluttered left and right rails, added an image carousel, an AHA Today feed so you can see what's new on the blog, an easy-to-acceses navigation bar (for quick links to the homepage, myAHA, and more), a new robust search engine for better keyword searching, and a more attractive Calendar of Events application (can a calendar be attractive? If so, I proudly declare ours the best.)
Inside the site, the new design has transformed every page. Readers of the online edition of Perspectives on History will notice a number of changes to our article pages. Each page offers a tag cloud; a list of related articles, web pages, or blog posts; an author tag to easily see other works by that author; and a better, cleaner overall navigation. Even more, we have installed Disqus, a new commenting application that allows readers to comment and share each article more easily, using a variety of social media or e-mail clients. Together, these changes allow us to present articles in a more readable format, while also inviting readers to join the conversation.
Perhaps more important than the new design and fancy apps is how much better the site is organized. We have taken a long hard look at how we have been organizing and "shelving" our content, and with the guidance of an external content strategist and feedback from our members, we have created a new information architecture (think of it as a book index, but in web form). We are confident that users will finally be able to discover the wealth of teaching and professional resources, articles, and other gems that the AHA has inadvertently managed to hide for so long. Along with a significantly more powerful search engine, we have made considerable progress in bringing to light the AHA's digital offerings while making it easier for users to find them.
Another reason why we wanted to upgrade our site now was the increasing move toward mobile technologies. One of the virtues (and challenges) of beginning a web project is that we must carefully balance the requirements of today with the needs and wants of potential users in the future. Our data shows that our audience is growing more and more dependent on mobile and tablet devices, and our site needs to be able to function effectively on both a desktop or laptop browser and on a much smaller mobile screen. Our new design is "responsive," meaning that it will scale to multiple mobile screen sizes. So now, along with the AHA's annual meeting app, the AHR e-pub, and the mobile-friendly AHA Today blog, the main AHA site can be used on the go, wherever our members are.
Although the AHA site's new look may feel different at first, we are confident you'll find your way around quickly-and discover the rich content that's been there all along. If the site is still a work in progress and a few applications didn't get quite enough time to settle in before launch, we hope users will be patient as we work out the few odds and ends. We hope our readers will have lots of useful feedback, and we thank you in advance for sticking with us through our digital evolution.
—Vanessa Varin is the AHA's assistant editor, web and social media.
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