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Website evolution: A look back at TCE online

August 5, 2015

TCE Blog
Zac Trahan, Statewide Program Director

The new website you’re looking at is the product of a year’s worth of work from the selfless souls who dedicated their time, energy and expertise toward this project. Although we did much of this ourselves, we do owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to the web design and development professionals who contributed their valuable work at “non-profit” rates – without them, it just doesn’t happen. This is the story of how our website has evolved over time and how the current version came to be.

In the beginning

2001 – a website odyssey

Here’s what the TCE website looked like in 2001. Simple, right? It’s interesting to see how website trends have essentially come full-circle back to this kind of clean, simple layout because so many people view them on mobile phones now. With some brighter colors and better pictures, this could almost work today – if we only had one office and we only worked on clean air issues. But as a statewide group working on several campaigns at once, we need room for more content and information.

A year later, our website became a little more visually oriented, but still fairly rudimentary. It remained essentially a collection of links with no real menu or navigation in place.

2002 – work in progress

This is how our website looked when I first started as a canvasser with TCE. When I would meet people at the door who asked whether we had a website they could visit to check out the organization, I wasn’t always excited to tell them about it – the printed materials I had on my clipboard were always more up-to-date and complete. And this is how it stayed for several more years.

2005 – TCE 2.0

TCE 2.0

The first major overhaul finally came in 2005, and while it was a difficult process, the resulting TCE website was as giant improvement. A very talented professional designer, Paul Whitener, helped us re-imagine our logo and lay out the new home page. We had room for more articles and information about several campaigns – we had a new office in DFW as well. It was something we could be proud to show off and happy to direct our supporters to.

This was also when I became more responsible for maintaining the TCE website, posting new articles and making any changes needed. Slowly but surely, I started learning the basics of HTML and other website coding tools. I have no formal training in this area and to this day I am a total amateur, but at least I can handle some simple tasks to keep things running.

2014 – still kickin’

The problem was, this is how our website looked for TEN YEARS – which in internet time may as well be a century. What was once new and fun soon became old-fashioned and counter-productive. We thought and talked about doing another overhaul several time, but we always seemed to busy working on our environmental campaigns to dedicate so much time for a project like this.

We did add a few new touches over time, and we may have kept on “living with it” if not for the iPhone revolution. Today most people view emails and websites on their mobile phones, which this website was never designed to handle. There was no getting around it – we needed to build something new from the ground up.

Where to start….

The first major decision we made was to move our website into WordPress. This is a straightforward, user-friendly Content Management System (CMS) that millions of people and organizations use every day, and its possibilities for customization are endless. This system would allow us to create whatever kind of website we wanted for TCE.

But that level of “blank slate” choice actually got us into trouble immediately. We spent far too much time having TCE staff members toy around with WordPress, attempting to come up with an initial design for the new website. Bad plan.

Jeff’s first draft

When it became clear this was going nowhere fast, the next idea was to have our resident graphics expert – Jeff Jacoby, Austin Staff Director – take a stab at creating a new home page using the same Adobe design software he uses to create our Annual Report each year. Here’s what he came up with. Very nice, yes? This became the foundation to start the project in earnest.

While Jeff has quite the eye and talent for aesthetics, he also has a full-time job in running the Austin canvassing office. He couldn’t do all the graphic design for the entire website. So he reached out to a former TCE field manager and current website design professional, Josh Vincent, to see if he would be willing to help. This turned out to be a huge turning point – Josh took the initial mock-up Jeff had created and quickly churned out a set of beautiful, use-able designs for all the pieces of the website. And he charged us so much less than market value that we basically owe him for life. After a few rounds of feedback and adjustments, here’s what Josh finalized for the new home page. Look familiar?

Final draft from Josh

Under the hood

The last step would be to find a website developer who could write the code to turn this design into a functioning website. Fortunately we didn’t have to go far – Paul Whitener once again agreed to take us on and tackle this project for a low non-profit rate. Over the course of the next few months, Paul customized our WordPress account to turn this vision into a real website. That’s what you’re looking at now.

And in case you’re wondering, I have been primarily responsible for adding the bulk of the content, articles, text and pictures, along with TCE program staff members Melanie Scruggs and Andrew Dobbs. Of course, our fearless leader Robin Schneider acts as the editor in chief as well.

Glad to be done

This entire process certainly included hand-wringing, hair-pulling and face-palming, but the frustrations were well worth it. It’s satisfying to see the final product working so well. We hope you use it over and over to contact your elected officials, petition companies to prevent pollution, learn more about the environmental issues we work on and stay up-to-date as a TCE member. Please don’t hesitate to give us your feedback and ideas as well. The “contact us” links are there for a reason!





Zac Trahan, Statewide Program Director


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