Originally posted on the Scholars’ Lab blog on January 15, 2019.
We’re happy to announce that our Lab website has a new look and feel, all aimed at making Scholars’ Lab more accessible and the site more useful. The website ScholarsLab.org represents the collective effort of our staff and collaborators, past and present. It’s existed in multiple forms: most recently, as a WordPress site and now, as of this blog post, as a Jekyll-generated static website.
Our previous website was headed by the homepage text “collaborate, iterate, discuss”:
We’re a community lab focused on experimental scholarship. We care most about the impact of scholarship on people, ranking positive human experience as the most important outcome of projects or other work. This means that failure and a journey of many iterations are not just frequent by-products of our work, but essential characteristics. For example, we periodically renew our lab charter to reflect our ongoing growth as scholars and professionals; as it was last updated in 2016, we’ll be renewing its text (and even, perhaps, its form) over the coming year.
Before renewing our charter, though, we worked on synthesizing our many views of what the lab currently is into a coherent, concise mission–visible at the top of our new homepage. Having the website look “newer” wasn’t a priority for us; rather, we used this re-articulated mission to reimagine a site more aligned with our values…
We started thinking about a site renewal back in Summer 2017, with two rough goals: a general rethinking of the site to fit our current work, and a migration of platforms from WordPress to a Jekyll-generated static website. (You can see this article for more on what a jekyll-generated static site is, why you might want to use one, and how.) WordPress is a popular blogging platform with the advantage of a user-friendly administrative dashboard.
Unfortunately, the benefits of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) blog post editors and easy media uploads come with significant costs of web developer time updating the site’s core, plugin, and theme code and keeping the site secure. Moving to a Jekyll-generated static site helped us think through applying minimal computing values to our main online platform. This move means making small content changes to the website (e.g. writing a new blog post) a little harder by requiring some steps we didn’t require before, but… we think these steps:
After much discussion and work, these initial goals yielded a more important goal: reimagining our website to more clearly focus on making the lab accessible to folks who wouldn’t otherwise already know about or feel welcome to join us. We already have some friendly and well-trodden paths to reaching the lab, such as through our work and fellowship CFPs, consultations, events, and open office hours; so we decided to aim the website at reaching folks who weren’t already coming into our space.
Some ways we approached this goal:
The 2017-2018 renewal of this website incorporates text, suggestions, and feedback from everyone on the Scholars’ Lab staff. Additionally, the following folks put in significant extra effort on the site’s design, coding, content, project management, and documentation: Katherine Donnally, Jeremy Boggs, Brandon Walsh, Ronda Grizzle, Laura Miller, Zoe LeBlanc, Ammon Shepherd, Shane Lin, Beth Mitchell, and Amanda Visconti.
We want to especially highlight the leadership and labor of Katherine Donnally (Scholars’ Lab DH Designer 2017-2018) in realizing this site. Katherine’s thinking and work gave the renewal project a coherent focus around making the lab more accessible and supportive of folks who might not otherwise feel part of our community; in addition to design and development work, she created structures and documentation (e.g. goal and progress tracker, code commenting, analysis of the old website, articulation of the purpose of the new site) that were instrumental in both imagining the new site and seeing it to the finish line.