The home page for the George C. Marshall Foundation website

George C. Marshall Foundation
Website Celebrating the Life and Influence of Gen. George C. Marshall

We find a common problem with many of the websites that we are hired to redesign is the lack of focus with which they approach their information. The viewer is presented with too many choices from the home page and often times becomes confused about the hierarchy of the site. Two sections that appear to be parallel might actually contain very different amounts of information and have vastly differing degrees of importance. The original George C. Marshall Foundation website was a good example of this kind of disorganization. In approaching a redesign like this, we carefully assess the information that a site contains. Our first step, before we even get to what most people would think of as the actual graphic design, is to structure the data into logical groups. We have to take into consideration the different audiences for the material and try to understand how various factors might affect their individual experiences. Our goal is to create a site that is clear and easy to navigate. By sorting the materials on the Marshall Foundation site into five major categories, we were able to restructure their existing information into a much more accessible site.

Another issue that is ever-present in web design is compatibility. There is virtually no way to guarantee that every operating system and browser version is seeing the site in the same way. Though web standards are generally accepted throughout the design and browser developer communities there are still exceptions to the rules and relying on aftermarket tools such as Flash only complicates the matter. We designed the Marshall site to fully utilize the power and flexibility of cascading style sheets. This means we could streamline the site by making pages less code-heavy but still add some interesting features such as the George C. Marshall timeline. The timeline contains a wealth of information about George C. Marshall and the various stages of his life and career. As the user hovers over a period of interest a photo and block of text appear to describe his activities during that time. The user can decide which years they are most interested in and click through to an expanded story to read a more. Many design firms would have been tempted to use Flash for the timeline feature but we were able to accomplish the same results in a way that is far more reliable. By using cascading style sheets, we can be assured that the timeline will work for the vast majority of the viewers who approach the site. Unlike a third-party tool like Flash, our method also degrades gracefully. If a users browser doesn’t support the tools necessary for some of the Timeline’s fancier features, they are still able to access the information without any annoying messages about missing plug-ins.

A Growing Digital Library

The George C. Marshall Museum has a collection that contains thousands of maps, posters, letters and other documents from World War I, World War II and other periods of George Marshall’s life. One of the Foundation’s goals is to digitize the Museum’s holdings and make them publicly available using the World Wide Web. While a few of these documents were uploaded in the original site redesign, it was a small fraction of what is available at the Museum. The second major piece of work we did for the Foundation was the addition of almost 500 posters to the website. Spanning two World Wars, five countries and a dozen different topics, the posters needed to be organized in a way that allowed visitors to find what they were looking for without being overwhelmed. By using the scripting language PHP, we were able to build a dynamic library which presents a user with simple choices and allows them to dig down deeper to get at specific posters. With the posters sorted first by time period and then by country of origin and topic, visitors can easily view specific groups of posters and locate the ones that might interest them. Utilizing the thorough nature of modern search engines, we were also able to build the pages in such a way that they are readily searchable using a external search engine like Google. Since the page for each poster is generated dynamically by the server, we also provided the Foundation with a simple tool that allows them to edit various information for each poster, adding information as they discover it or providing keywords for searches. We look forward to continuing to work with the Foundation as it digitizes materials in their library.

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