It’s a rare quiet moment in the middle of a busy day, in the middle of a busy week, in the middle of a busy year. Candyce and I are hosting a week of Edge summer camp for junior high kids here at Covecrest in Tiger, GA. Norah and Candyce fell asleep a few minutes ago here in our cabin so I thought I’d take a moment to reflect through a blog.

This past weekend I was in Palm Beach, Florida…then to Atlanta, Georgia…then to Tiger. After our time here at camp, it’s to Hiawassee to see my parents. Then down to Atlanta to catch a flight to Carlsbad to spend time with Candyce’s family. Part of me wonders if I could ever live up here in the mountains of North Georgia again. The weather is nice, the mountains are beautiful, and there are plenty of things to do in the outdoors. I’m not seriously thinking about moving any time soon, but I am beginning to realize that my happiness is found anywhere that I take my little family.

A couple weeks ago, we launched the site live in front of a crowd of 620 at the Life Teen Training Convention at the Double Tree Resort early in June. I did my best to introduce the site with the same time-honored skills as Steve Jobs without looking like I was copying him.

I want to share some notable upgrades to the new site:

  1. WordPress. It’s a solid foundation for any dynamic website. WordPress makes it easy to publish and organize content so that users can find what they’re looking for; it’s a simple expectation of a website, but it’s difficult to accomplish. I’m told that other stuff is just is good if not better, but I’m having too much fun succeeding with WordPress to bother looking into the other guy’s stuff.
  2. Simple Graphics. On the previous version of the site, I over-designed the header, navigation, footer, and background because most of our original content was dull text. The site needed punchy graphics or it would not have been worth visiting a second time. After several years of expanding into new types of content, the site’s graphics began to compete with the content. Too much was going on. I believe that the new look gives just enough punch to make the site interesting to look at but it still doesn’t distract you from the content of the site: blogs, videos, podcasts, and photos.
  3. Primary Navigation with Megapanels. Through the design and development of the site, we found that several big-time websites had simplified their navigation by creating “drop down” menus that were huge: Lowes, HGTV, Food Network, Ikea. The best navigation that really drew my curiosity went beyond classic drop down menus to design “mini-sites” on each panel with cool graphics and catchy copy. I think we did this and more with our megapanels.
  4. Seasonal Navigation. This is a big deal. We’ve always had seasonal content that meets users where they’re at during the year, but we’ve never had seasonal navigation. For instance, nobody is thinking about registering for summer camp in the fall and winter, so why did are we crowding the website links to those sections? I couldn’t tell you. But we’ve learned from our mistakes and now the site is simple and useful year-round.
  5. Innovative Navigation. We decided to take all of the “sections for grownups” and eliminate them from the site altogether: Contact Us, Summer Camps, Edge, Donate, and Conferences. Now they’re found through a single link at the top of the page: “Grown-ups: find what you’re looking for here.”
  6. Many Many Faces. There are 1000s of faces of teens, dozens of faces of contributing writers, and no author has their own button. This means that the site represents more the larger movement of Life Teen and not the “columns” of a small group of writers.

There’s a lot more I could write, but Norah is tossing around on the couch which means I don’t have much more time to write. So I’ll finish with this…

I designed the last version of in 2002 and early 2003 and, after much trepidation, it finally launched in early 2005. Over the last five years, we launched other websites that strengthened the organization. All the while good old was always fresh with content, but the site as a whole was losing its cool points.

Looking back, a big reason the site was losing it’s coolness was because I did the very thing I swore I’d never do—creating buttons on the homepage to please everyone. It was good to keep people happy within our organization, but it came at a cost. The site became cluttered with things teens didn’t care about and eventually many of them just stopped coming back.

My hope with the new site is that more people will come back because they feel like the site adds richness to their lives. I am enjoying being away from the office, but I know that when I get back into town it will be fun to meet with my team and start dreaming about the content for the rest of the year.