Town plans more user-, mobile-friendly website

A group of Charlotters is rolling up their sleeves to create a more user-friendly town website. The project, still in its early stages, is set to finish by July 1, with a beta version launching a few weeks before then.

The website can be a useful tool to find information on trail maps, selectboard agendas, meeting minutes and more. But it can be hard for residents to wade through: The homepage features a tab for each of the website’s 25 subsections, many of which branch out into two or three additional dropdown menus, creating a maze for users to navigate.

“It’s not at all intuitive or visually engaging, it’s very cluttered with text and it just really doesn’t conform to contemporary standards in terms of ease of use across multiple platforms,” said town planner Larry Lewack.

Image by Firmbee from Pixabay
Image by Firmbee from Pixabay

Lewack organized a kickoff meeting for the project March 14 to get people excited and recruit help. Groups with a presence on the website — such as Charlotte Library and Charlotte Recreation — were invited to the meeting to help get the ball rolling.

“I don’t want to be the sole architect of the new design,” Lewack said. “I want it to be something that’s co-created among all the people who have an interest in making sure that we have a more functional and usable website.”

Charlotte uses a web-hosting platform called Catalis. According to its website, the company “is one of the leading public sector software companies for government and constituents across North America.”

Catalis, responsible for the design and upkeep of the current town website, reconfigured its template in the last couple of years for all clients. The new framework is already in widespread use in other towns.

Now the planners need to reorganize and import the site’s material into the new format.

About a half-dozen volunteers emerged from the initial meeting introducing the project a couple of weeks ago to form a design team. The group will meet every couple of weeks until the launch date, Lewack said, to make decisions about layout and content so that the website can be as accessible as possible.

Lewack said the goal is to better serve existing customers and also help non-residents learn more about the town without getting lost and sidetracked.

The new format is more graphically engaging and mobile-friendly, with rotating pictures and information organized to reflect relevance and demand.

“About two-thirds of all people who are using websites are accessing it through a mobile device like mobile phone or tablet,” said Lewack. “And given that, it’s really important that websites be completely portable across platforms and that they make sense and can be read and used.”

(Community News Service works in a partnership with The Charlotte News and other local media outlets to provide opportunities to University of Vermont students.)