Ode to my web designer(s)

One of the really fun parts of my work over the last few years has been getting to work with web designers to build the 25 Stories from the Central Valley website.  In 2008, Derek Hunziker from the John Muir Institute for the Environment at UC Davis built the current site, and over the last few months I’ve been working with his replacement Tyler LaGue to add more content and revamp the site’s look and organization.

Derek built me a beautiful site that I loved.  I had a blast dreaming up ideas and seeing him bring them to life, only better.  The only problem was that it was really hard to update.  When we launched the site, clicking on one of the key menu items brought up the optimistic message “Coming soon!”  Three years later, the message still hasn’t changed.  : (

In the meantime, I met Aspiration’s tech guru Allen Gunn at the Greenaction holiday party last year.  He immediately diagnosed the problem as having created a custom-built website that locks me into relying on a programmer to make changes instead of a pre-fab one designed for people like me to be able to manage.  That meant that any small correction or addition I wanted to make had to wait to be addressed until I could fundraise more money to hire another programmer to make the changes.  That conversation launched my experiment with WordPress and this blog.  I had a great time browsing among the many looks available and and setting it up to appeal to my aesthetics.  It’s a much more whimsical, personal site than the 25 Stories site, and the look reflects that.

Now, Tyler is rebuilding the 25 Stories website to reflect the best of both worlds.  It’s a WordPress site that I’ll be able to update on my own, but he is using his programming magic to make it do more than I could.  We’ll finally do away with the “Coming soon!” message and replace it with an interactive collage  that features excerpts from my interviews with women environmental justice leaders of the San Joaquin Valley.  We’ll also have a slide show of the project’s playback theater performances by Kairos Theater Ensemble, and a media feed that collects and archives coverage of San Joaquin Valley environmental justice advocacy.

The whole process has been a blast, and a great way to balance out the other kinds of work I do.  I get to dream up what I want, bounce ideas around with Tyler, and then see how he magics them into existence. It’s richly creative and entirely satisfying.  Plus, how many times in your life do you get to hear someone say, “Whatever you want, we can make it happen.” ?!?  Stay tuned for the final product!

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