Earlier this year I wrote a blog post sharing the Innovation Themes we set for the year. We use themes to help guide our exploration and the work we do on behalf of our clients. We'll soon be announcing our 2017 themes (check back in January), but thought it would be great to look back and see where we moved the ball forward in 2016.

1.       Mobile Is the Future of Everything

We’ve been building nothing but responsive sites and mobile optimized e-mails since 2012. However, today, simply having a responsive site is not enough to ensure you have a smart mobile strategy. In 2016 we ramped up our mobile game in a lot of different ways. We released a new version of the Clean Swell App for Ocean Conservancy, designed an app-like social campaign called #BirdsTellUs and a Facebook Canvas mobile ad for National Audubon Society. We helped several clients include a text messaging strategy into their communications, including ground-breaking work integrating real-time text engagement with SEIU field canvasses & fun text experiences like a text Scavenger Hunt for thetruth.com. Several redesigns took a mobile-first approach to design, we hosted a webinar discussion on the impact of Pokemon Go, we explored a variety of App frameworks like Cordova, Ionic and PhoneGap and we began investigating how to help clients take advantage mobile pay options. That was just the tip of the iceberg for Mobile in 2016 and we're just getting started. We are currently building apps for GetAheadofStroke.org and thetruth.com, working on mobile campaigns for several clients and planning a mobile app webinar.

2.       Good Performance is a Good UX

We think of 'good UX' as designing great experiences in the interface. No matter how great the design though, if the performance is lacking then experiences degrade significantly. For 2016, we helped to ensure great performance for our clients by optimizing code and leveraging frameworks, increasing monitoring and analysis, and implementing more automated testing. In building out the TIDES system for the Ocean Conservancy, which reports on data coming from around the world via their CleanSwell mobile app, we leveraged proven frameworks such as Symfony and JS Node/MongoDB. Performance monitoring using New Relic and was been rolled out for the Commonwealth Fund. For the American College of Cardiology, following a benchmark study on mid-to-large size nonprofit site performance, we completed analysis and related fixes and optimizations across several digital properties. We also implemented automated regression testing to quickly test more use cases, and help ensure builds do not break existing features for thetruth.com, Oncolink and the Harvard Business School.

3.       UX & Design Beyond Page

As the content and design for modern digital experiences no longer lives in just a webpage viewed on your desktop computer.  We needed to modify our approach to start thinking beyond the page.  Our approach—derived from atomic design principals—is to identify the basic building blocks for the UI and build a set of design patterns and components for use throughout the experience.  These fall into four scalable and graduated level of complexity: Basics, Components, Templates to finally Pages. Basics are the smallest structures of a user interface.  Buttons, form fields, and links are examples of the design patterns  one would find at this level. For our pattern-based design system the basics are derived from the bootstrap framework. Components contain the user interface patterns that fall on the moderately complex side of the spectrum. Some systems will refer to these as nodes or blocks.  Components are placed within the templates to yield final pages. Pages are the interfaces that, when working together, allow users to accomplish a task or solve a problem.   When we think of wireframes and design comps Pages are traditionally what comes to mind. Nearly all of our work now leverages our component library, and recent sites like habitatforhumanity.org were designed and shared with the client entirely as a set of components.

4.       Drupal 8 is Here

As you can see on this chart from Drupal.org, 2016 looks like the transition year for Drupal from 7 to 8. Sites running Drupal 7 flat-lined, while sites running Drupal 8 tripled. Drupal 7 is still the dominant version, but thanks to improved support by the community and our significant internal investments, Drupal 8 is now the default choice for our new projects. We started 2016 asking ourselves "is this project something we could build in Drupal 8?" and finished the year asking ourselves "is there a reason this project has to be built in Drupal 7?" It's a subtle, but important shift, and our time developing our Drupal 8 Starter Kit, playing a role in DrupalCon & DrupalGovCon, hosting a webinar on Drupal 8 this summer and launching two Drupal 8 sites (www.workingamerica.org & www.lodestar.org) helped get us there. Our work in Drupal 8 will only increase in 2017 as several redesigns in Drupal 8 are currently underway and we're working on Drupal 8 modules for the community as well.

Mark Leta & Steve MacKley contributed to this blog post.



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