Building a Community: Prepare for Departure

Building a Community is a new column documenting a pending redesign of The Quad. It is meant to encourage the involvement of The Quad‘s readers and staff in the future shape of the website.

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I’ve been at The Quad four years. It’s almost time for me to graduate—in other words, I’ll be leaving soon. However, before that can happen, I need to know that it will continue to operate with strength and flexibility—even if the site has no software staff. So: I’m embarking on one final redesign of the website.

I joined The Quad in Fall 2010, as a freshman. Working with Gabe Stein, Lauren Hockenson, and Evan Caughey, I helped redesign the homepage and, later, the identity. Two years later, in the summer between sophomore and junior year, Evan and I worked on a fresh brand. That winter, I worked on a new theme for the magazine. All these changes have built up over that time, layer by layer, and there’s a whole bunch of baggage weighing down the site. It loads more files than it needs to, and some content is static HTML (death for a WordPress site), is unoptimized for mobile, and is dependent on me for most changes. It’s these shortcomings that I want to solve.

To reiterate, here are the goals:

  • Build a new, mobile-first theme
  • Optimize the site for WordPress, developing frames for content that is mutable from the wp-admin
  • Make it easy for writers with minimal web experience to make beautiful and functional articles

Along the way, I’m also going to refining both the Quad’s graphic identity and the site’s styling to meet these goals of flexibility and strength. Here, the main question will be: how do we preserve the mission of The Quad as the uniter of disparate communities spread across a school as huge as BU? How do we encourage dialogue and establish The Quad as the centroid of campus, the easiest way to broadcast information?

Here’s what I do know: the design will be mobile-first, lightweight libraries like Chart.js and Bigfoot.js will allow writers to enrich their writing, easily, and I’ll design most of the page elements to be modular widgets. Here’s what I don’t know: a lot of advanced WordPress development, and a lot of the fine details. So I’ll be learning and deciding here, in public, both for the criticism and benefit of whoever might read it. Also, the obligation to update might keep me from getting distracted and shelving the project. The decision to write about the design process was motivated by reading Brent Simmon’s Vesper Sync Diary, where he openly discusses the problems, options, and solutions he finds for developing a specific piece of complicated software. This technique is basically a decision journal, which promises to “show you how your views change over time, when you tend to make better decisions, and how serious the deliberations were,” as long as the writing keeps up. But, ultimately, what I’m working on is intended to be—and wants to be—a community space, so it feels dishonest to make these decisions alone.

Anyway, enough talking about it, it’s time to get started.

Allan Lasser

Allan Lasser

Allan Lasser is a CAS senior double majoring in Computer Science and American Studies. He publishes The Quad, but that doesn't mean you can send him angry/solicitous emails.

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