If you live in Winnipeg, you know about The Forks, where the Red and Assiniboine rivers merge on their way to Hudson Bay. Without question, The Forks is one of those jewels of Winnipeg that visitors remember long after they have left. From the waterfront dining, to the walk ways, the buzz of activity to the Market, The Forks has something for everyone.
The Versions Before
Before we jump into a technical post about what improvements we have made to theforks.com, we need to look a little at the evolution of the site. Usually by the second or third iteration of a site, most clients have a good idea of what their visitors are looking for. The Forks North Portage Partnership (theforks.com parent company) understands their visitors, but also has the unique challenge of having to represent:
- The Forks Calendar of Events - because there is always something going on
- Information about The Forks, such as merchants, dining, locations for parking and the history
- Information about their other properties, such as Imax, The Forks Foundation and the Forks North Portage Partnership
Focus on the Content
With version 4, our design partners at Fusion put the focus on the two things that people want to see, relevant content and beautiful imagery. At Visual Lizard, we are big fans of keeping things simple. This version of theforks.com does just that. Pages are easy to scan at a glance, images are prominent, but hidden away until you want to focus on them, and the navigation is simple.
Calendar of Events
The Forks understood very early on that the Calendar of Events at theforks.com was one of the primary information points for over half of their visitors. It needed to be upfront and easy to scan at a glance. Mission accomplished!
Merchants and Dining
People visiting theforks.com are also interested in dining there when they arrive. With this version of the site, we have made the Shopping and Dining sections very easy to scan. The administration team has full control over what is displayed for each merchant, they can link to merchant websites and also provide photos.
All web sites need some sort of Information Architecture in order to exist. With this version of theforks.com, the site navigation is presented in two, clear navigation blocks at the top of the interface. The primary navigation now focuses exclusively on the content associated with The Forks. Colours have been carried over from the previous design and are used to provide visual cues for the visitor. All of the additional navigation can be found at the top of the header or in the footer. Nice and clean.
The Experience Layer
With version 4 of theforks.com, we finally got to say good-bye Internet Explorer 6. This allowed us to use some nice little CSS3 transformations in the corners and shadows. We also added several elements that are using jQuery to enhance their presentation, such as the image animations on the homepage and the photo galleries. For visitors in Internet Explorer 7 and 8, they still see the site and all the content, but they loose some of the CSS3 touches. This is acceptable degradation of the site.
Content Management System
Theforks.com has been running on our Catalyst CMS for several versions now. With this version of the site we have done the following:
- upgraded all systems to our latest Catalyst 4 system
- built some new tools for managing the calendar of events, dining, shopping and the bibliography
- attached a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to the site for serving up all the static media elements, such as the background imagery. One of the primary advantages to using a CDN is that it allows your visitors to pull content from servers that are geographically as close as possible to their location. Another side benefit is that your browser gains additional connections above the default 2.
- have multiple URLs managed through Catalyst for their admin team.
- some awesome caching techniques to store views, models and modules, as well as clearing them when changes are made within the CMS.
- perhaps a small, front end easter egg. This one is just for us, but good luck finding it if you go hunting
Happy to Help
Visual Lizard has been working with The Forks on their web site for almost a decade. When we were asked to help with version 4 of their site, we were ecstatic. We think version 4 is the best one yet!