The British Language Centre

Web site design

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Project notes

Project type

Bi-lingual website for a privately-run language school in Italy specialising in teaching English to Italians.

Web address

www.thebritish.it

Requirements

The web site that the school originally had was, to put it kindly, ugly. The task therefore, was to create a site that provided all the information that prospective students would need whilst making it engaging enough to tempt them into signing up for a course. It also needed to be easy for the staff to update themselves, without having any HTML skills.

Challenges

The school’s management did not want to spend much on a redesign, since money was tight. That was clearly going to have an impact on the approach for a site that needed to have full editing facilities built in for non-HTML-savvy editors. That and designing pages built in Italian — a language that we at Shark Attack don’t currently read or write (sorry to be such a cliché of Britishness).

Solution

The budget being what it was, we suggested using a pre-designed template bought from the internet as the starting point for the design, amended as necessary to fit the projects needs. This cut out quite a bit of visual development work, although the choice of template need to be made carefully in order to fit the site content.

The editing solution was trickier. We presented two options to the client:

The first was to use a cheap, script-based in-browser editor that lets the site editor click on chunks of content and edit them directly in the page. We’d used such a system with good results on a previous project with minimal budget, although they can, in our experience, occasionally prove to be a bit flakey.

The alternative, which was the option that we recommended, was to spend a little bit of money on installing a decent content management system. Even though the site’s content was relatively simple, the main benefit of a database-based CMS is its robustness.

In the end, although we made the case for the (slightly) costlier database-powered option, the client decided to go with the script-based editor.

CMS upgrade

After a year or so of making upgrades, it became apparent that the script-based in-browser editing system that the client had originally opted for was less than 100% reliable. Because the system used scripts to re-write the code of the web page, thereby blurring the division between structure and content, careless editing by the school’s staff ran the risk of it leaving the site with malformed HTML resulting in mis-rendered pages. This was not the fault of the staff (except in as much as they had chosen a bargain basement editing option in the first place) as the editing system did not provide users with as much hand-holding as it might.

As a result, the school management accepted my suggestion to convert the site to using the ExpressionEngine (EE) CMS. EE is a proper content management system, separating dynamic content stored in a database from page structure, stored in templates. Now edits would be made in the EE control panel and could not mess up the page structure laid out in the various page templates.

Much better.

Client reaction

This client has kindly submitted a testimonial. See what Steven Marsland has to say about Shark Attack on the testimonials page

Images

Images

Click an image to open a larger version in its own window.

Example page

site screenshot You can see from the navigation menu on the left hand side how the site is divided into English language and Italian language pages. This meant that we had to set up an easy, automated way in the content editing system for the editors to be able to apply English or Italian language tags to any phrases that differed from the particular page’s ‘main’ language.

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