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Website Credits

Rebuilding the BASF Web Site

By Virginia Bisek

 

You and your partner have an important meeting with a new client. Your firm needs this gig. You're late. You know the client is in North Beach , you know the address and you need to get there now or you'll blow the opportunity.

You hop into the car and yell to your partner "Give me the directions, quick!" You should have opted for a taxi, but it's too late to call for one now.

The nightmare begins.

"To get to Market Street , click here!" he yells. "Once you get to Market, click here! If you can't take a left, click here! Wait, you're on Stockton, hit the 'Back' button. Scroll down. Keep scrolling . . . a little more. More, darn it! Good! There it is. Right there. I SAID THERE. Click on Powell Street . It's a straight shot to North Beach!"

 You ask your partner to remove himself from your immediate vicinity or the potential for violence may grow as a factor in this equation.

Okay, an obvious metaphor. However unreal and dramatic, this scenario is all too real for many Web sites.

Many Web sites give lousy directions.

Visitors to your Web site have brutally high expectations. They do not suffer fools very well. They have a task they want to accomplish quickly. If the directions to the information on your Web site are disorienting and confusing, your visitors will become frustrated, and then-disgusted. Current research indicates they will not return for one year. Perhaps longer.

"I knew we had to bring our Web site into the 21 st century," says Dan Burkhardt, "when a new BASF member told me 'wouldn't it be great if BASF had a Web site?' At the time, I didn't have the heart to say that we had one already. Obviously, people weren't pointing others to our Web site. It was frustrating, to say the least."

Dan Burkhardt, deputy director and chief operations officer, knows all too well the history of the BASF Web site.

The site was first launched in 2000 with the help of many BASF employees. The idea was to deliver easy access to the information and resources that BASF has to offer its legal community; a place to network with peers, and gain visibility and a clear path to community involvement through its pro bono projects.

From there it became an organic experience. Kind of like that half-eaten sandwich and pint of milk that you hid in your file cabinet and forgot about. Your modus operandi is to clean up your office at least once a week, but you are forever busy. It's a few weeks later, and suddenly things don't smell so good and you have a huge clean-up job.

"We have a lot of great resources and tools on our site," says Martha Whetstone, executive director and general counsel, "it's just that no one could get to it. The teams here at BASF were working independently of each other when it came to adding content to our site. We communicate much better in our offline processes than we do in our online processes. All of a sudden, we turned around and realized that our site was out of control. We knew we had to clean house."

BASF is not alone. Most firms often overlook what it takes to maintain a successful Web site, and the site begins to grow without focus. The prospect of pulling it all together is daunting.

There was a consensus among BASF board members, too, that the Web site needed a bit o' help. They concurred that a redesign was necessary to bring the site, once again, into the 21 st century. And board members hoped that the new site would prove itself a leader among other bar sites around the country.

To become a leader, provide a solid foundation, and establish processes for maintaining the site now and into the future, things had to change.

 

First Step: Develop an internal core BASF team. With Dan Burkhardt at the helm, Ann Murphy, communications director, and Sayre Happich-BASF's communications manager-a team was formed.

Dan smiled. "As the cliché goes, change is hard. Little did I know just how tough it would be. Having a core Web team provided a clear avenue of communicating with the department heads. This helped us all through the pain and agony over the weeks of development. You knew who to go to if you had questions about the process, and of course, if you had to scream."

"I can't lie. At times it was a tad difficult," said Ann Murphy. "We did a lot of, how shall I phrase it? Cathartic laughing! Having a sense of humor and recognizing our accomplishments at the end of each week were two critical components. I think you could say that that was a part of the process, too."

"Everybody knew what to do," added Sayre Happich, "we got the job done."

Next Step: Hire a design team. After reviewing many proposals, POP Interactive was brought on board. POP came to the table with a great reputation, a solid portfolio and experience in building Web sites for the legal community.

"For the POP design team, it's simple. You need to listen to the client to discover what their priorities are and plot a course of action and deliver. Plus, we've been there before. We know about the road bumps ahead which helps set expectations for everybody," said Deborah Christie, a POP Interactive partner and senior project manager.

Finally: Hire a content manager and writer. In order to revamp each department's content based on current research and best practices, Virginia Bisek was hired to work one-on-one with each department in an iterative process for maximum team input. She also managed the content to ensure a smooth delivery to POP for development.

"Sure, it's hard for everybody," said Virginia . "The attention to detail is staggering. Everybody is involved, everybody has a voice, and everybody has something to say. The great thing was that the entire BASF Web team committed to processes without flinching, and we all made sure to stick to these processes. And it worked."

Yes, it did work. With a strong internal BASF team, the support and involvement from the staff, an experienced design group and an experienced content manager, we accomplished:

 

  • A new look and feel that reflects the San Francisco community
  • A clean user interface that imparts clear directions to content
  • A powerful Calendar of Events at the core of BASF networking; CLE seminars, Special Events, BASF and Barristers Sections and Committees, and more
  • Clear paths to information about BASF pro bono and volunteer projects
  • Reorganization and rewrites to the ADR, CLE, LRIS, Membership and VLSP sections
  • Updated applications using current technology
  • Photo galleries to invite inspiration: "Were you at the event?"

 

"What?" says Dan. "Who said striving to be better would be easy? I don't think any company can predict what discoveries lay ahead when they commit to a redesign. BASF may not have known completely what it was getting into, but it's definitely come out a better organization."

 

This article was originally published in the Summer/Fall 2005 issue of San Francisco Attorney Magazine.

 

Virginia Bisek has been helping organizations both large and small streamline content by applying her content management and writing skills of eight years. Virginia specializes in creating Web friendly content using best practices and current research and can work with internal and external teams or as a standalone component to a redesign. Please contact her at ginger@virginiabisek.com.