cookandkaye

scientific and technical website design projects news

Articles on Society websites

UK Society for Biomaterials

The UK Society for Biomaterials (UKSB) is a non-profit organization working to develop novel biomaterials to tackle current clinical needs for medical devices, prosthetics and for regenerative medicine. Their membership interests include medical materials science, biosensors, biomechanics, biocompatibility, tissue engineering, and many other subjects.

The site is fully mobile compatible. It is built in WordPress, to permit the society to add and edit content, and includes a separate membership section, where members can add a brief profile and gallery of work to illustrate their scientific activity.

Screenshot of the UKSB website from a mobile device.

The WordPress installation has a custom Newsletter (see our previous post on society newsletters), and facility for uploading banner images. Banner images are automatically saved at multiple resolutions to optimise site performance – lowe resolution images being served initially, and for mobile devices, to ensure the site responds quickly to visitor requests. Higher resolution banners download after the page has been displayed, and quietly replace the low res. version, giving the appearance of the image snapping into focus. On mobile devices the iinitial low res. version is adequate for the smaller display area, and a high res. version is not downloaded to save the visitor’s bandwidth costs.

Membership payments, including a reminder system, are automated. Payments are made through PayPal.

Member Newsletters

Screenshot of the DARE Newsletter at Mobile screen dimensions.
Most societies make use of Newsletters to keep in contact with membership; to let them know what their society is up to, and advertise up-coming conferences or other events. The mechanics behind getting this information out are varied, but for small and medium-sized groups the Emailed Newsletter is the most cost-efficient. The mechanics of actually getting the Newsletter out, however, are very varied, with a number of excellent online services.

Here, we will look at an entry level option, ALO Newsletter. This is a plugin available for WordPress users that allows you to compose your Newsletter using the tools you are familiar with. I have used ALO Newsletter for a number of years now for Lancashire MCS, so suggesting it as an option to clients was quite natural, and I felt pretty confident that the plugin was both up-to-the-job, and well maintained!

ALO handles the basic mechanics of an Emailed Newsletter very well, offering HTML and text versions, and throttling the mailing process to help prevent your mail server getting shut down as a spam source. This latter process allows you to use the Newsletter on a standard commercial hosting package without too many problems. Finally, ALO offers a report, giving you feedback on how successful your mailshot was, with estimates as to how many people actually read the Newsletter.

Clearly it is quite important to make the Newsletter both attractive, and easily readable! Normally, you would also want the Newsletter to reflect your society’s branding, and this will require the development of a custom template for the Newsletter. Generally a Newsletter works better with a simplified layout (as email clients are not as clever as web browsers overly complicated styling is punished), so development costs can be kept down.

Here we will just look at a coupe of new and updated designs for Newsletters. The main recent change is to design them so that they display well on a mobile device. Here the HTML based newsletter offers massive advantages over say an emailed PDF version of your print or Word Processed Newsletter. Font sizes stay at a legible size, and in a mobile-friendly design the content will re-flow automatically to work with the narrow screen!

The DARE newsletter (top right, shown in mobile view, but links to a full-screen image) is a standard Newsletter design (as is our MCS Newsletter). Visitors to your website can be invited to subscribe to the Newsletter, and the copy in the Newsletter offers offers the usual ‘view in browser’ and unsubscribe links, plus customisation, referring to the subscriber by name. This example was a test put together by Jean at DARE, and is very clean, attractive (and easily read), with short articles offering links for more information on the main website.

Mobile version of the ESB Newsletter.

We have also recently updated the European Society of Biomaterials (ESB) Newsletter (right). This serves the membership of the society, and takes its subscribers directly from the membership database (as a member of the public you cannot subscribe to it). As a consequence we are able to do some clever tricks in the back end.

This Newsletter has sender groups determined by membership type (Academic member, student, industrial member), and by status (whether or not the member has paid the current subscription), and by mailing preference (the member can ask only to receive essential society news concerning their membership). This allows the Society to remind members when their subscriptions are due (without having to badger members who have already paid), as well as do the usual communication jobs required of a Newsletter…

Tissue and Cell Engineering Society

TCES screenshot mobile click for full size..
Our website for the Tissue and Cell Engineering Society is the second site we have built for a learned society (the first being the site for the European Society of Biomechanics, back in 2012). As with the ESB, this site features membership pages allowing new members to join, and existing members to see ‘premium content’ and to pay their subscriptions (through PayPal, the website does not store or process credit card details).

The site is quite distinctive; using banner images provided by TCES members, capitalising on the visual nature of the subject. The banners, in consequence, include some stunning images taken using modern microscopy and tissue visualisation techniques. The design is based on ‘mobile-first’ principles, using hide-and-reveal menus at all screen resolutions (home page screenshot at mobile size shown above left).

The ‘mobile-first’ design approach focuses on the issues facing mobile-only users, usually the majority of visitors. It stands in direct contrast to the ‘designer first’ option, followed by a fudge to convert the panoramic display into a small container as an after-thought!

The site is built in WordPress, allowing the board to add content as required. Membership management functions are available within the WordPress administration system, offering a one-stop-shop for managing the Society’s online presence. Features track new applications, memberships in arrears, and allow an administrator to update a member’s record as required. They also provide an overview of payments made through the website.

Most modern sites should be secured using HTTPS, this is going to become increasingly important as people become more protective of their online privacy.

Completion of the site coincided with our host (A2) offering free HTTPS certificates, so we were able to secure the site at no additional cost (over the standard hosting fee) to the Society. Many visitors (notably Firefox users) will now be warned explicitly by their browser if they attempt to enter details into a form on an unsecured page. Even if you are not using Firefox, however, you should be aware that anything you submit through an unsecured form might be intercepted by third parties.

High Polymer Research Group update

Screenshot of the high polymer website on a wide screen device.

The High Polymer Research Group (HPRG) has been running polymer science and technology conferences annually since 1960. Over this time polymer science has changed dramatically, from Flory’s Nobel address to the group in 1972 on polymer conformation, to functional materials and nanoparticles in this year’s conference.

We had the pleasure of re-designing the High Polymer Research Group website in 2007, and have subsequently managed the site for the trustees. A lot has happened in the WWW since 2007, with the development of CSS3 and HTML5, and the increasing stability of Javascript as a client side scripting language. The adoption of these web technologies has been driven by the move from desktop to mobile browser platforms, necessitating the adoption of ‘adaptive website design’ – web designs that allow the same content to be displayed across a wide range of display types and sizes (see, for example Websites for smart phones take centre stage (2013)).

The High Polymer conference site has a simple advertising role to members, it needs to be robust, and good for a few years service! We therefore looked at organic styling changes to the existing site, rather than following the latest design trends (which will likely look quite passe this time next year) while working in mobile-device compatibility.

Navigation designed with the user in mind

From the array of site enhancements now available, we selecting simple features that would assist the visitor in getting about on the page, and navigating the site as a whole. The fixed top banner provides context sensitive links to the top of the page and the home page, and opens the full screen width menu for mobile devices, if it detects a narrow screen device.

Flexibility – adapting the site to each year’s theme

The new site banner is designed to be replaced to match each year’s theme, while permitting old program listings to retain this identity. Banners based on the conference location were added to old conferences on the site (which did not have individual banners). This will allow the site to change a little each year, and help avoid it becoming ‘stale’.

Crisper graphics

The final change was to re-master logos and line art in SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) format. This has been around for a few years now, and all current browsers can now support it (we offer PNG’s as fall backs if you are still running IE7 or 8!). The SVG format, being a vector file, rather than a pixelating bitmap, adds crispness to each graphic. Its use ensures that visitors with newer ‘retina’ or similar high resolution displays see cleanly defined logos with no blur or distortion. SVG has been a long time coming, but looks set now to displace Adobe’s ‘Flash’ platform where high resolution coupled to a small file size is required.

New CBTE website

CBTE new design 2010.

We’ve just finished the first major changes to the CBTE website since it was launched in 2005. The old site was still a pretty good, but it was apparent that the Centre needed the ability to update and add their own copy to cut overheads.

To do this we’ve built a new site in WordPress. WordPress is probably the simplest-to-use content management system available, so it should enable staff to develop the site, keeping it up to date with its members’ research, and post useful information about seminars and so on.

While WordPress is an excellent tool for getting material online, it is not a full CMS. The CBTE, however, has a very extensive research portfolio, which needed to be moved into the new site. To cope with this requirement, we developed a simple plugin to produce sensible multi-layered menu structure for the site. The menu structure can cope with sites of a couple of hundred pages, in an easily navigable fashion, providing ample scope for the CBTE’s research.

The Centre for Biotechnology and Tissue Engineering at the University of Sheffield.