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Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes...


  06:57:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 938 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Ranting, Non-profit solar

Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes...

“Still don’t know what I was waiting for…”

Well, actually I do.

You see, it is a very daunting undertaking to redo a website that you have grown oh, so, comfortable with over the years (yes, years). When some of our strongest supporters started making veiled hints like, “Good grief, when are you going to revise your ugly old website,” well, you might start to think that maybe there was a problem.  But change is hard. And the old website, it was like family.

But a few months ago we reconciled ourselves to a harsh reality—it was time to make a change, and not a minor facelift but a total redesign, starting from a clean sheet of paper.

Then something fascinating happened. As we started planning for the new website, we really got excited about the possibilities.  A cleaner look and cleaner code.  A modern look and modern functionality. This was not going to be just a “lipstick and rouge” job; this was about taking it down to the foundation, redoing the plumbing and electrical, and re-building to LEED Platinum.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at some before and after images, shall we? (Or you can cut to the chase and do your own exploring as the new website is now live.)

Old home page

Here is the venerable old home page, RIP.

The dominant thing on the page is our logo, which is good for telling you who we are, but you probably knew that since you chose to come here.

There are three columns, a very popular design choice when made years ago, but by contemporary standards, it divides your attention and makes the page look cluttered, constrained and busy.

There are also two different locations for navigation, “important” at the top and less so on the left column.

The source code is a bit of a hodge-podge of browser hacks, JavaScript, Spry widgets and a bunch of other stuff that weighs things down.

New home page

 Now here is the new home page.

The first thing you notice is that we are using the space quite differently.  Gone are the three columns, replaced with a more open, single-column layout.

The logo has been trimmed down and the navigation is streamlined.  There are five main pages to access from the nav bar (the home page can be returned to by clicking on the logo) and below that are in-page links to help visitors find what is of greatest interest to them on any given page.

Beyond that, however, are the much bigger main images that are found on all six of the major pages.  Unlike many sites that have images cycling in a never-ending carousel, we eschewed that after reading research that such devices were conversion killers. Instead, we settled for a single image on all pages except the home page, which is treated differently.  It gets four different openings, served at random.  That gives me the ability to see what strikes the fancy of our visitors and tweak things accordingly.  The font is larger and in a new, embedded typeface with the dominant color a rich green.

The code is HTML5/CSS3 and all of it validates against W3C.  We have pulled out lots of clutter and used jQuery throughout, hopefully to good effect. We have also introduced D3 to the site which has allowed us to do some fun things which you will discover as you explore the site.

old sign-up formThis is the old sign-up form—every web-based lead that we ever got required someone to fill out this form.  There were lots of fields, divided into two sections (required and optional) and while it would have been nice to have all of that data, no one ever filled it all out—and the research suggests that the more fields you have, the fewer people will bother to fill out the form at all.

The form also has a somewhat inelegant “click to send” button and limited intelligence in preventing spammers from submitting the form with garbage data.  (Odd thing that; it isn’t as if it did them any good to submit a form full of junk as no one ever saw it but me. Still, dealing with spammers is a pain…)

new sign-up form

 Here’s the new form.

Actually, this form is part of the Residential solar page—there is another one on the Commercial page and a generic one accessible from every other page. 

If you enter your zip code at the top of the page, it takes you directly to this form and it looks up your zip, figures out if your zip is in our service area, and if so, populates the form with your city and puts the name of the utility in the heading.

We’ve really pared back the number of fields. Every field is required (except for the optional comments) and the button to submit the form is grayed out until you pass our validity checks.  While you can get past the validity checks by turning off JavaScript, if you do that, you can never submit the form! Take that, spammers!

Over on the left is a widget that lets you adjust a slider  up and down to select you monthly electric bill (and get a topical message in return).

Finally, at the bottom we’ve added links to secondary pages on the site, along with a variety of social media related links and our copyright notice.

I could go on, but I would much rather you “turn to face the strain,” go exploring and see what you think.  And of course, I would love to hear your reactions in the comments.  But be kind… this is family now!

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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