A Drupal Story, Part 2


In the first post in this series, I explained some of the history of the Alton College web site; a little about our experiences with developing and maintaining a web presence, and how we internded to move forward with the Drupal platform.

Following this began an intense process of evaluation of the current site structure. Or outgoing site had grown very organically with content being channeled to our developer of the time. Surprisingly, this worked reasonably well for a long time. However, once the volume of content reached a certain level, it was evident that we would soon be left with a cumbersome and confusing site.

From the outset, our marketing team have been key to the redevelopment process, contributing valuable design skills and ensuring that the site accurately communicates our message, as laid out in our branding guidelines and corporate strategy.

In order to understand the structure of our outgoing site, we had to map the content – a manual process, since the implementation included no site mapping features. We turned to the web for help and used bubbl.us, a free mind mapping tool to create simple illustration of our content. We we careful not to over-complicate this process by including every last detail, but instead included only significant content. A key feture here was the abity to share our maps among contributors – our marketing team being the most significant of these. Once everything was included in our maps, it was easy to re-model the structure to fit the design brief and to incorporate new content requirements that were emerging from peripheral discussions that were taking place.

We approached a key stage at this point. As the likely structure of our site begwn to emerge, so too did the need to identify a suitable theme for our drupal installation. Drupal uses pre-built themes of varying complexity. Out of the box, themes are relatively straightforward and easy to customise. Look around the Drupal community though, and you will find advanced examples that enable some really exciting things to be delivered.

But let’s not get too carried away by the opportunities provided by themes just yet – there are design considerations to make. Our marketing team and design consultants had produced a layout that would enable two layers of navigation alongside a flexible area of body content, and our chosen theme must accommodate this and other elements of the design brief. I’ll talk more about content arrangement in a future post.

The final choice? Acquia Marina a theme produced by TopNotchThemes. Acquia Marina enabled us to work with some flexible content ‘zones’ and accommodate our navigation requirements – albeit with a little work to achieve this. We coupled the basic theme with the ThemeKey module, which allows for the application of a specific style (or just colour, in our case) based on your location in the web site. We’ve used a number of modules throughout the site to extend functionality – more about these later in the series.

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