By Anna Lothson
The village of Oak Park's website has long outlived its usefulness, but soon it will have a new look — equipped with drop-down menus and more accessible links to basic services.
The village board approved a contract not the exceed $75,000 last August with the Evanston-based company, Breakthrough Technologies, and Monday night the board reviewed a presentation that showed mock-up images of the future site. Breakthrough presented a bid for $70,967.
The overall objective of the redesign is to create a more user-friendly homepage, which is more interactive, allows direct communication with village staff and makes online payments an easier task.
Five key goals were identified for the project: "Be visually pleasing, while offering engaging content with simple organization and intuitive navigation; allow citizens with limited computer experience to quickly and easily find what they seek; use a content management system that allows staff to easily maintain and extend website, but not be dependent on one vendor; be compatible with existing applications that may not be immediately updated, such as some online services; and have the ability to provide users what they want as well as address the administrative need to push out and highlight specific information."
Initially, according to the presentation, the new site will include links to other taxing bodies like the current site, but the new technology will allow opportunities to share information and resources with other local governments.
David Powers, Oak Park's communication director, explained that the current website is both difficult to navigate from an outsider's perspective and to manage from an administrative standpoint.
The last website took about three years to fully develop every feature seen on the site, Powers said, but it launched after three months. It was anticipated to cost $19,000 and it ended up costing about $43,000 more. That was in the early 2000s. Today, too many files on the site have made it difficult to use, he noted.
Trustee Ray Johnson asked if there would be resident-driven tests of the new site to generate feedback in terms of layout. Powers said the layout is set but the functions are all changeable, based on more input. He added that department managers have been involved in sharing what content is most important for their customers. Content can always be moved around based on how the website is designed, Powers emphasized.
Village President David Pope suggested the site be a place to promote Oak Park and not just for residents. He said it can be both a go-to for residents and visitors who want to know all things Oak Park.
"That way, it's about how all users use Oak Park," Pope said. "That includes not just residents. It includes business owners, it includes visitors; it includes other people."
Overall, trustees had an array of questions about usability and making sure the website it easy to navigate for all types and ages of users. Generally, upgrades were received positively by the board, but they asked for more feedback. The site is still under testing and staff will come back to the board for approval when more progress has been made.
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