Hard to believe, but true! After more than a year of hard work, dozens of discussions, meetings, versions and unkeeped deadlines, we’ve finished the design of the new OpenMRS website.
Designing the website was a long trip and unfortunately we still have some steps to take. The old version of the website is still the primary one and that means we need to work more to make it public. The optimistic plan assumes publication of the new website before the end of the current month, because we need to show it to the head, the community and then switch it. If everything goes well, in August we will see a fresh, new website alive!
If you’re curious how this project has changed and evolved throughout the months, we invite you to read the rest of this article!
The curse of an outdated website
Have you ever visited an outdated website that maybe used to be nice and functional a few years ago, but now is just annoying? It can get pretty frustrating when a website doesn’t fit your screen, it loads really long and is easy to get lost on. Oh, and these old stock photos with random people! Horrible.
Time flies, things change and the same goes for trends. Websites built a few years ago are now outdated and hard to use. Nowadays sites are built in a modern way, using the newest technology and trends. It’s not as hard as it seems to build and prepare a website that is well-looking, friendly to clients, and has an easy-to-use menu. But you have to know how to set up such a website, where you can do it, etc., and that’s the hardest part of it all.
And here is a point where we start with our little story.
The curse of an outdated, unattractive website is what happened to one of our partners, OpenMRS. Their website was old and very messy. It contained a lot of unnecessary stuff and duplicate sections. The page hasn’t been updated for a long time and its whole structure has required to be rebuilded. And we’ve decided to take up the challenge!
In 2019 it was decided that OpenMRS needs a new website design. They have made an announcement, asking the community members for help with this project. Eventually, SolDevelo Foundation received an offer to build the new website. It was a great opportunity for us to do something really useful for the community, and at the same time to gain some experience.
OpenMRS’ Website Revitalization Squad
Website Revitalization Squad used to meet every Monday to discuss progress in work and talk about next steps. The group was open for anybody who wanted to meet with us and lend us a helping hand.
We started our work by discussing content on the website and mapping what exactly we have there. We also described personas who visit our website or who we want to encourage to visit it. Here is an update after one of the first meetings.
The timeline of our works
Building and designing OpenMRS’ new website was a long process full of obstacles that challenged us time and time again. Here is a short summary of the stages of work that we went through:
We were supposed to work in a small team of several people and publish a new website together within six months. The plan was to rewrite the content – the text, headings and content for each page to make them shorter, more concise and not contain unnecessary information. Unfortunately, our plan was quickly verified. It was impossible to prepare the content for the website within that time, let alone the entire website. We managed to prepare the website architecture, reviewed the layout of the pages on the old website and reorganized this content on the new website.
According to the original plan, we were to publish a new website in July. In fact, we were miles behind with our work. In June, we worked on personas – these are groups of people visiting our website who are categorized according to certain criteria (e.g. interests, place of residence, age or the purpose with which they visit the website). We distinguished 4 main groups: donors, supporting organizations (such as SolDevelo), contributors (like developers) and ministers (i.e. members of the government). Later, we described each of these groups in detail in order to best match the website to their needs.
When we had done that, we also started collecting opinions from community members, our own experiences and trends that are “on the market”. All this to create a board of our “I like” and “I don’t like”, which will be used in choosing the template for the website. The most valuable experience turned out to be browsing the websites and listing by each person what they like about a particular page and what they don’t.
Unfortunately, at the end of the year, the work on the website slowed down considerably, and I got the impression that we would never build this website. Tired of waiting, procrastinating, and the lack of visible progress, Jakub and I decided to build an OpenMRS website on the Foundation’s domain. The plan was to create and build an almost ready to publish website and then move it to the target server. The plan was great because I could work on that website in my free time, implement all the things which we talked about with the Team and with Jennifer, and show them the results.
At the beginning of January this year, we had a website mock-up for OpenMRS. We decided to announce on the community forum that we were not idle during the holidays, and we significantly accelerated the work. After all, before Christmas, the decision which template we use was still not made, let alone about other details on the site. There was still a lot of work to do, but it was the first big step towards the publication of the new website.
For a few months after we disclosed our work (I don’t know if everyone at OpenMRS was satisfied with it), we used the website on the Foundation’s domain. This was due to the problems we encountered before moving the page to the destination. The beta site was not completely prepared for a new instance, it had old WordPress, out-of-date files on the server and a lot of problems, including not working export/import, which in the end resulted in a delay of almost a month. We worked on technical matters (it took a long time and many emails before we got access and could start working). Cintia went out of her way to help us and make sure we could move the page, and Burke helped with problems when neither of them knew the answer anymore. Thanks to the hard work of many people, the new OpenMRS website was almost on the target site, it was at least one and the same domain. After moving the website from the Foundation’s domain to beta.openmrs.org, the work took off. I spent most of my time on this project to make sure we could publish the page as soon as possible. And it worked!
We can officially announce that the new OpenMRS website is being released. Fortunately, its transfer was faster and easier than the beta, and we could watch a beautifully presented new website after just one weekend. I am extremely proud of us, the team we are creating with Jennifer and Grace, the fact that it has been going on for a year and a half and the work is still going on (and there’s no end in sight). It is also a great success for the Foundation, as it was mainly us who built the new website, took care of its design and functionality. We are glad that the publication is behind us because now we can focus on improving the website, adding new functionalities and developing it.
But seriously… Why did it take a year?
The answer for that question is not so obvious and easy to answer. OpenMRS is an open-source organization. It means that people who work there are volunteers, so they work for OpenMRS only in their free time, after work and other duties. Naturally, the organization works slower than a typical company.
What complicated the situation even further is the fact that the community is quite big, and they want to be open, fair and welcoming to everybody. They take under consideration opinions from hundreds of people. But designing a website is not only trusting our tastes and what people think is nice and what is not. It’s also a good taste of a designer, but mostly adopting trends, the newest practices and everything that makes a website more customer friendly and easy to navigate.
Before we started designing the website we had to choose the template (theme) which we use to build our website. I took that task and chose 3 or 4 themes which WordPress offered for free. One of them was Zakra (the template was called Professional). That one comes with Elementor – it’s a plugin that you can download from WordPress, even if you are using a different template. What I like about Elementor is that it allows you to build your website using demos, ready-to-use blocks and already created sections, just to make your job easier and faster. If you have a Pro version of Elementor, you can build menus, use pro schemes and options, and many more which is really great! I love that plugin and I’m going to use it in my future projects as well. So if you want to build your page on your own it’s a very good option for you.
But, to be honest, the key milestone was the day when I decided to build the website on my own, not waiting for the community. I had a few free days during the winter holidays when I could sit and just start doing that. Jakub set up a subdomain for the OpenMRS website and I could start working on it.
And between us, if I had not started working on the website then, we would probably still be discussing templates and what we like and don’t like, wasting our time. So remember to discuss, but what’s more important, work and do your job!
The website is almost ready for publication. It needs a last revision, decision of OpenMRS head and voila! We can publish it. If our calendars allow us, Jennifer and I will meet with the office this week and the decision will be positive. So keep track, stay tuned and wait for our beautiful website!
You can check out a thread that tracks our progress: here.