Client: The Tabernacle
Project: Front-end web design & development
The Tabernacle is a church in Danville, VA with a weekday radio program that airs on local stations. Recently, they also began a weekly television show. As part of this expansion, they decided to launch a new website where people could find their content online and stream it on demand. The website would carry the same brand as the radio and TV program: Firm Foundation.
I worked with the great folks over at Innovative Faith Resources and SharpTop Software to create a responsive site to fit their needs. The Tabernacle and the whole team on our side were a dream to work with, and we got this project through from concept to deployment relatively quickly.
One of the great things about the Firm Foundation project was that the intent of the site was so laser-specific. We needed to deliver media. That was it. Having this kind of clarity right from the start made a lot of the design decisions wonderfully simple, especially since the world of web and software design is usually marked by a constant battle to wrangle with new feature additions and scope creep.
One of the toughest things to get right in web design is helping people navigate to content effortlessly. Over the years I've discovered that there are two basic paradigms that most content navigation works on. I'll call them the searching and browsing paradigms.
In the searching paradigm, a person visits a website looking for specific information. They already know what they want; they just need to find it . . . with as little friction as possible. It's as if the website is a tour guide and a visitor comes to the site, points to a spot on a map and says, "I want to go here."
In the browsing paradigm, people are visiting a website looking for something as-yet undefined. Usually they have a general category they are looking for (the day's news, or the newest cat videos, for example), but they are relying on the website to fill in the gaps and provide that specificity. It's as though the same visitor comes to our site-as-tour-guide and says, "Show me the best places in the city!" or, perhaps more specific, "Find me the best place to eat dinner tonight."
Most websites have to have some mixture of the two, of course, though they must usually be weighted heavily towards the search paradigm. The web is a demanding world where people want information quickly. Even entertainment sites like YouTube, which generally favor the browsing paradigm more than most, must serve visitors looking for something specific ("Not any cat video, mind you, the one with the yellow dog in the tutu . . .").
We chose to build the Firm Foundation website in Wordpress. There are a lot of wonderful things that Wordpress brought for The Tabernacle, from keeping the project in-budget to providing a powerful, ready-to-use category and archiving system to manage their content right out of the box.
One thing that Wordpress does not do especially well, however, is search. This created a problem for us, since a large part of the Firm Foundation website's purpose would be to serve visitors who came looking for a particular broadcast that they had heard on the radio or seen on TV. We needed to provide them with a good way to quickly find what they were looking for.
That's where the power of Wordpress tags came in to save the day. I used a wonderful little plugin called Chosen to build a search that ran on tags instead of user-entered keywords. The tags could be anything, from topic to Scripture reference, to date.
The magic of this search was twofold. First, Chosen provided a search box with a drop down menu. When visitors began typing in the search box, Chosen automatically filtered the tags and displayed matches. This allowed visitors to see, in real time, whether or not their search keyword would provide any results (based on wether or not any tags existed for that keyword). It also helped by showing them what kinds of other tags were in use, implicitly educating them about how to use the search feature.
Second, Chosen allows users to string together multiple keywords. This meant that users could take more than one tag and, on the fly, build a custom search to suit their needs. Looking for a broadcast from the book of Genesis that aired in January of 2015 and included the topic of money? Simply string together tags for "Genesis," "January 2015," and "Money." Voila! The search will return all the radio broadcasts from that month that included that topic.
Thanks to Chosen, visitors can avoid having to comb through pages and pages of search results or clicking dozens of boxes in an advanced search filter feature. It's also easy for the content editors at The Tabernacle to maintain, since all they have to worry about is including the proper tags when they publish a new post.
It's by no means fool-proof, of course. We did this as economically as possible for our clients, which meant that we couldn't spend as much time polishing and tweaking as we might have otherwise. Still, the tag-based search allowed us to offer Firm Foundation visitors a head-start on finding what they were looking for.
All things considered, I'm pretty happy about that.