Oct 30 2018
Oct 30

More than 1 million websites worldwide use Drupal to combine great design with power, speed and security that Drupal provides. From large enterprises to NGOs, Drupal is actively helping organizations change the world through their digital experiences. One of these institutions is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In a recent report published by ITIF (an independent, nonpartisan think tank), the official website for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (mass.gov) was named #3 in the nation for its overall web presence.

“This report assesses four criteria: page-load speed, mobile friendliness, security, and accessibility. For page-load speed, we reviewed both desktop page-load speed and mobile page-load speed.” - ITIF

Building a Better Experience for Constituents

The Commonwealth set out to better the digital experience for the constituents of Massachusetts back in 2016 when they began engaging with outside vendors to take on the responsibility of redesigning and developing mass.gov using the open source CMS Drupal 8. The end goal for the Commonwealth was to restructure their site’s content in a way that made it intuitive for people to accomplish their goals.

With the help of Palantir.net, Massachusetts launched the new platform in October 2017 designed to better serve constituent needs in the digital age.

“We’ve redesigned Mass.gov for you, the people of the Commonwealth. We have one goal: to make it easy for you to find what you need.” - Mass.gov homepage

We’re proud of Mass.gov for this amazing achievement, and we’re not surprised. Good web design in government is about ensuring a great experience for constituents of diverse backgrounds and creating an open and accessible government for all users.

The goal of ITIF’s report was to assess state government websites based on seven popular state e-government services. Download the full report to see how your state’s website ranked.

Oct 26 2018
Oct 26

RFF will be measuring the success of the consortium’s website by looking at factors like how the site’s audience grows over time. They hope that the VALUABLES community will use the platform to learn more about the consortium’s activities, access information about the case studies the consortium is completing, and share the tools it is building.

RFF takes an economic lens toward environmental and energy-based issues, highlighting how decisions affect both our environment and our economy. Historically, RFF has played an important role in environmental economics by developing the methods and studies that help policymakers understand the value of things that are hard to value, like clean air and clean water. Now, a few decades later, RFF is working with NASA on this initiative to value information. Work to quantify the societal benefits of Earth observations is important for a number of reasons. For example, it can help demonstrate return on investments in satellites. It can also provide Earth scientists with an effective way to communicate the value of satellite remote sensing work to policymakers and the public.

Oct 24 2018
Oct 24

In order to move the needle on business outcomes, methods must be backed with real, actionable insights and data. For Extension, this meant developing a deep understanding of their users’ behavior and motivations.

First, we defined key audience segments and generated personas and user journeys. Then, we validated the way that each segment interacts with the site through menu testing and in-person usability testing. This user research gave us direct and applicable insights which established the foundation for what kinds of features prospective students need and expect from the site.

Sep 20 2018
Sep 20

In his blog post outlining the roadmap to Drupal 9 published last week, Dries Buytaert states that “if you are on Drupal 8, you just have to keep your Drupal 8 site up-to-date and you'll be ready for Drupal 9.” The maturity of Drupal 8 and its solid upgrade path make this the time to migrate your site to Drupal 8.

We’re excited to announce that the Palantir team released a new Workbench module this month for Drupal 8 called Workbench Tabs. We have used this module to improve editorial usability on nearly all of our Drupal 8 projects, and it has been public on Github for a while now, but now it's available on Drupal.org!

What is Workbench?

Workbench is a suite of modules released by Palantir to help solve common editorial problems in Drupal. The core Workbench module is largely a collection of custom Views that create dashboards for content editors. Its widespread use by organizations in government, higher education, nonprofits, and media is a testament to the module suite, and its capabilities have been helping editorial teams manage workflows and permissions since Drupal 7.

What does Workbench Tabs do?

Workbench Tabs integrates local task tabs and Drupal messages into the Toolbar. What exactly does that mean?

  • Editorial usability is improved by placing the "Edit," "View," "Revisions," and "Delete" tabs in a consistent location
  • Custom themes don't need to place and style the local task tabs
  • Drupal messages will be separated from the content layout

++ to the Palantir team members that made this happen: Patrick, Ashley, Ken, Avi, and Bec.

Want to learn more about Workbench in Drupal 8? Drop us a line through our contact form, or reach out to us on Twitter @Palantir.

Aug 23 2018
Aug 23

MIT Press’ internal database already housed a record of all of their books, including information like when a title was published, cover image files, and more. Because it was already part of their workflow as a publishing house, MIT Press needed to continue maintaining book information using that specific system.

The main challenge they faced was how to pull all of that book data in from their publishing system and expose it on the new website. Their previous workflow involved exporting a large file from the publishing database and then importing that data into the website, but this produced challenges as there was no control over editorial workflow or how information appeared on the site. It also meant updates to titles on the site only happened when they had time to import massive files to their site.

After migrating the site to Drupal 8, Palantir integrated custom Drupal entities with MIT Press’ custom API which provides all of their book data. Nearly all of the information about books and contributors comes from the MIT Press API, even related book titles. The MIT Press marketing team can now use information pulled in through the API to spin up the landing pages and other content that help showcase their collection.

The API integration between the internal publishing system and the Drupal website allows MIT Press content authors to continue using their existing editorial workflows, which frees up precious time for their team to concentrate on higher level strategic objectives.

Aug 13 2018
Aug 13

Federated Search with Drupal, SOLR, and React (AKA the Decoupled Ouroboros)

Join Palantir's Avi Schwab for a discussion at the Drupal Chicago Meetup. He'll be going over a recent Palantir project and how we bring content from disparate sites (D7, D8, Wordpress) into a single index and then serve results out in a consistent manner, allowing users to search across all included properties. Avi will discuss how we got started with React, our process for hooking up to SOLR, and how we used Drupal to tie the whole thing together.

  • Date: Wednesday, July 11, 2018
  • Time: 5:30 - 7:30pm
  • Location: Caxy Interactive, 212 West Van Buren Street, Chicago, IL
Aug 13 2018
Aug 13

Decoupled Drupal was a hot topic at DrupalCon Nashville, and Palantir is very excited to be Silver Sponsors of this year's Decoupled Drupal Days. Keep an eye out for Patrick Weston and Avi Schwab; they'll be attending the event and would love to hear about your recent decoupled projects. 

Federated Search with Drupal, SOLR, and React (AKA the Decoupled Ouroboros)

Avi will be presenting on Friday and giving an overview of a recent Palantir project. He'll explain how we bring content from disparate sites (D7, D8, Wordpress) into a single index and then serve results out in a consistent manner, allowing users to search across all included properties. He'll also go over how we got started with React, our process for hooking up to SOLR, and how we used Drupal to tie the whole thing together. More details can be found on the official site

  • Date: Friday, August 17, 2018
  • Time: 2:45 PM
  • Room: Aten Design Group Lecture Hall
Jul 13 2018
Jul 13

Updated 8/23/2018: This survey is now closed! Thank you for participating. Survey results can be read here

Do you use Drupal? Before working at Palantir, I used Drupal only once: to help a legacy client with their Drupal 6 website. They had a support contract with my company, so if they had an issue or question I would do my best to help them, even though the original team who built the site had moved on to other jobs, and even though my company focused on WordPress sites.

I remember scrutinizing every menu item of the admin section, trying to familiarize myself with the platform while careful not to misclick and mess up something on the client’s site. Some of the terms I could understand—users, taxonomy—but some were new or vague, and not very clear to their meaning such as nodes, views, and blocks. While I was able to help the client at the time, I felt Drupal was too obtuse of a platform for me.

Redesign planned for Drupal

Now that I’m at Palantir, and knowing Drupal is a bigger part of my job, I’m still struck by how user unfriendly the platform can be out-of-the box, especially to a non-developer. While add-on modules like Workbench and Content Moderation can mitigate some of this complexity, installing and configuring those requires specialized knowledge. From talking to current clients, I know that I’m not the only one who feels intimidated by Drupal’s default administrative interface.

The Drupal community is also aware of the high learning curve to Drupal, and is in the process of modernizing the look and feel of the admin experience to make it more intuitive. Given how big the changes are, it’s the perfect time to include the people who work with Drupal every day to make sure Drupal is a system everyone feels comfortable using.

Therefore, I am working with fellow Palantir web strategist Michelle Jackson, Drupal front-end designer Cristina Chumillas, co-founder and front-end lead at Evolving Web Suzanne Dergacheva, project manager Antonella Severo, design consultant Roy Scholten, folks from the Drupal Association and other interested volunteers to conduct research on popular content management systems and web platforms such as Drupal, WordPress, Squarespace, and Joomla in order to learn how best to update Drupal.

Here’s where you come in

We want to make Drupal the best platform for content editors and managers to use everyday. Therefore, if your job involves updating the company blog, swapping out images, tagging content to group related information, or some other way you interact with your website, we want to hear from you.

We put together a quick, 5-10 minute survey that asks about your general familiarity with Drupal. For example, we want to know common tasks you perform on the platform as well as frustrating pain points. This way we can target our redesign efforts to make Drupal work better for you.

In addition to the opportunity to shape the future of Drupal, at the end of the survey you’ll have the opportunity to enter into a drawing for two great prizes: 1 full conference ticket to the (new) DrupalCon Content Marketing track at DrupalCon Seattle 2019 - $695 value (flight and hotel not included), or 1 two-day, online Drupal 8 training session from fellow Drupal agency Evolving Web.

Take the Survey

So what happens next?

This survey is step one of our research efforts. After reviewing the common tasks, we’ll ask folks who had provided their email address if they are willing to participate in card sort exercises to determine the best label for grouping common tasks together. Next we’ll design solutions to address the biggest pain points and ask participants to validate our assumptions through usability tests.

Looking at the long term, we are interested in comparing Drupal with other popular systems such as WordPress and Squarespace. We plan to reach out to people who use those platforms to find out what they find easy or difficult about them, which may inform the direction of the Drupal redesign. No matter which direction our research takes, we want to ensure we’re building a product with you, the content editor, in mind.

More ways to help

We want to make the new Drupal as intuitive as can be on a global scale, but as a small team of volunteers, there’s only so much we can do on our own. If you develop or design for Drupal, and are interested in our research efforts, there are a number of ways to get involved. First, check out the Admin UI and JavaScript Modernization initiative on Drupal.org. Then, reach out to us on the #admin-ui channel on Slack. We can show you how to copy the survey so you can run your own tests. We’re especially grateful if you’re able to translate it and test users in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

It shouldn’t take specialized knowledge to update and maintain a website on Drupal. With your help, we can make Drupal a more approachable platform for content editors. I can’t wait to hear from you!

May 08 2018
May 08

When we first migrated our website (https://www.palantir.net) from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 in the summer of 2016, it was an exciting time for our marketing team. From an editorial perspective, Drupal 8 is a much easier to use interface than D7, and it instantly allowed us greater flexibility with our content.

However, even though we now had a more flexible site, we still felt like the digital experience for our audience missed a few marks. We quickly established a list of goals for phase two of the redesign, and these goals were related to both the overall digital experience and internal business goals.

The Overall Digital Experience

With the next iteration of our site, we wanted to focus on making the site more intuitive for visitors and also surface content in a way that was most beneficial to them. Would future clients prefer to filter case studies by service category or industry? What were visitors hoping or expecting to find on the homepage? What kind of information about Palantir were potential new hires trying to find?

These questions informed the following goals for the site:

  • To be simple and easy to use by having meaningful (and working) filters, allowing users to filter by industry, and curating collections around topics that most interest our audience.
  • To inspire applicants by demonstrating solid work, showcasing our cultural story, and making it easy to find career information.
  • To tell the story of Palantir with crisper messaging, improved visuals, and better storytelling throughout via weaving client testimonials with staff stories and case studies.
  • To be future forward by creating a visual theme with a timeless solution.

Business Goals

We also had a few items we wanted to address that related to our overall business goals. Our website is an important sales and marketing tool for us, and we wanted to make sure it was doing its job. We needed the new site to:

  • Showcase our work better by making it more prominent, showing more visuals and making our visuals more consistent.
  • Capture leads and bring in more business by making it easy for people to contact us no matter where they are on the site, and by simplifying newsletter sign-up.
  • Elevate the Palantir brand by creating a newly themed site that in itself is a demonstration of our design and development skill, showcasing our work in a superior way, and talking more intelligently — but concisely — about ourselves, our work, and our services.

The Process

Just like we recommend for our clients, we began our process with a Discovery phase. One of our web strategists, Michelle Jackson, completed a competitive analysis to inform next steps. A few of the things she evaluated were:

  • What are our peers doing right?
  • What are the current industry standards?
  • What are agencies that we aspire to emulate doing?

The results from this analysis helped us prioritize our wishlist of future site features. We then handed off this wishlist to the designer on the project, Carl Martens. Carl worked through the design phase which included creating wireframes, moving things into a prototype, and then building out the new theme in partnership with Ken Rickard, who completed all of the development. The design was done using our standard process: we built in a modular way using site components, and then compiled them into a living style guide. Particular attention was paid to typographic details, use of color, and how to most effectively use images.

Another design problem we needed to solve was one common to all companies that list their team members: what do you do when a new employee joins the team, and you don’t have a photo for them that matches the others? Even our photographer (who only does our headshots once per year) said, “all my clients have this problem. Let me know when you figure it out!” We thought of several options on how to fix this, and ended up with the chalkboard solution. It allows us to inject some personality into our page while not distracting from the other headshots by having it be a headshot in a different style or lighting.

Chalkboard with text "Out for a run, Jose"

More details about the technical implementation of the Drupal 8 site can be found in Ken's blog post.

New Features and Integrations

The latest version of www.palantir.net has an abundance of new features that allow us to weave storytelling throughout the site.

Searchable Homepage

Our previous homepage had much of the important content buried beneath the fold. To fix this, we wanted to turn our homepage into a hub where site visitors could search for content that was relevant to them, no matter where that content lived on the site. The new homepage can filter all of our content by both topic and industry, and helps surface the most relevant pieces of content for our audience. The new homepage also features a collapsible side navigation, so you can see more relevant content at one time.

Topic-Based Collection Pages

Tying into the goals of our searchable homepage, we curated new collection pages based on topics we thought our audience would search for most (which include Planning, Business Strategy, Security, Design & UX, Development, Governance, Content Strategy and Accessibility). That way when someone asks, “what do you do for accessibility?” we can send them directly to a curated page that shows blog posts and case studies specific to that topic. These collection pages can be found at the bottom of our services page.

Business Strategy collection

Culture and Careers Content

With the next iteration of the site, we wanted to make sure we were catering to the audience who might be interested in working for us in the future. We achieved this by showcasing all of the great things about working at Palantir, and on these pages we included more images to help show rather than tell that information. Our new Culture and Careers page houses much of the information a potential new Palantiri might look for, including what we think are the key elements of our culture. It also links to our Benefits page which outlines the many perks of working for Palantir, and to our current openings.

Case Studies That Tell a Story

Some of the most important pieces of content on our site are our case studies. It is vital as an agency to be able to showcase our work and capabilities dynamically. The old version of our case studies were extremely text-heavy and did not feature nearly enough visual representation of the process or final product of each project.

The new format of our new case studies are broken into different chunks of content, with the ability to show each bit of information in a way that fits what is being communicated. We can then weave each of these pieces together into one comprehensive, dynamic storyline. By breaking the case studies into smaller, more visual pieces, they are much easier to scan too. We still have to update some of our older case studies, so this is still a work in progress.

Case study content block

Updated Services Page

One would think a services page would be the first page to be refined on a business’ site, but somehow our previous services page was a complete afterthought. Buried in the footer, it was a glorified bulleted list. This page was a high priority for us to fix, because we wanted to make sure potential clients could find information about what services we provide. The new services page is easy to find in the main site navigation, and in addition to the afore-mentioned collections, it also features information about our partnerships.

Hubspot Integration

Hubspot is a new sales and marketing tool for us that we have been implementing since the beginning of the year. It helps us track new project opportunities on the sales side, and it also houses all of our marketing tools. One of the new Hubspot tools that we have implemented on our new site is called a lead flow. Lead flows are abbreviated contact forms that we can choose to display on specific pages, granting our site visitors a quick way to subscribe to our email newsletter.

Always Evolving

In true agile fashion, we had an MVP with the goal of launching by DrupalCon Nashville, but we plan to keep iterating and improving the site in the coming months. So, what do we have planned next?

  • New photos for new staff
  • Video that reiterates the Palantir story
  • A timeline of the history of Palantir
  • Listing of awards and press mentions (Great Place to Work, Clutch.co, etc.)
  • Rewriting and adding more case studies

Accessibility

Of course, we also want to make sure our site is accessible. In addition to baking accessibility into our process along the way, we use a tool provided by our partner, Siteimprove, to scan our site and determine if it meets accessibility standards. Siteimprove is a great tool because it flags both quality assurance items (like misspellings and broken links) as well as accessibility requirements (like those provided by WCAG and AA). We use the reports provided by Siteimprove to continuously clean up our content and ensure an enjoyable digital experience for all users.

Tell Us What You Think

So far we’ve had one client tell us this: “The redesign clearly marks a maturation and growth of Palantir. If progressing towards a more serious, trustworthy, and refined company was the goal, I think you nailed it.” We sure hope so!

We’d love to hear what you think about the new site. Share your thoughts on Twitter (@palantir) or by reaching out through our contact form.

May 07 2018
May 07

Drupal has a long and rich history of supporting and sparking innovation. Drupal 8 in particular represents a fundamental shift in thinking about how websites and other digital experiences are built. With its modular architecture, improved APIs, configuration management, and native web services support, Drupal 8 is well-positioned to help connect people, technology, and information in ways that have never before been possible.

Companies, agencies, and organizations that contribute to the Drupal project and community play a key role in supporting and sustaining a culture of innovation. This contribution can take on many forms, including setting aside time for employees to contribute to the Drupal project and community, sponsoring people to work exclusively on Drupal, and donating money to sponsor Drupal initiatives and events.

Impact of Contribution on Innovation

An ever-growing body of research into open source ecosystems is shedding light into the ways that different forms of contribution have on innovation for firms who contribute as well as the projects that benefit from those contributions. Firms that contribute to Drupal are generally driven by extrinsic motivators, such as the belief that working with the community will help them develop better products, or provide them with increased visibility and status within the community, which in turn helps drive sales and/or recruit talent.

Jonathan Sims, a professor of strategy at Babson College, has spent years studying how firms in the Drupal ecosystem engage with each other and the project to promote open innovation. In a 2016 paper published in the Oxford Journal of Industrial and Corporate Change, he found that while the impacts of contribution on a firm’s productivity are usually marginal, contribution does help expand social ties and can shift strategic posture and promote innovation.

While contributing code is associated with stronger social ties and more incremental innovations, providing help or support to others in the community is associated with a more conservative strategic posture, but more radical innovations. Firms that primarily contribute code to projects like Drupal are more likely to be building on top of someone else’s work and/or collaborating with someone else to solve a shared problem. Providing help on the other hand, is much more context-dependent and is more likely to lead to new questions and possible new insights, thus providing more opportunities for radical innovation within a given domain.

The Virtuous Cycle

Regardless of what form contribution takes, participating in an open source ecosystem like Drupal requires that firms be open and willing to share their knowledge and intellectual property with others. Drupal project lead Dries Buytaert has discussed how companies and organizations like Pfizer and Hubert Burda Media are not only sharing Drupal contributions with their competitors, but also challenging those competitors to contribute back as well. He argues that by working together, these organizations not only gain a competitive edge, but also reap the benefits of accelerated innovation:

“Those that contribute to open source are engaging in a virtuous cycle that benefits their own projects. It is a tide that raises all boats; a model that allows progress to accelerate due to wider exposure and public input.”

We’ve seen this virtuous cycle play out countless times at Palantir. One example is from several years ago, when we found that out that on many of the projects that we worked on, clients often had a specific set of expectations around content workflow and editorial access based on their experience with other platforms, and that all too often, Drupal didn’t meet those expectations out of the box. In response to this business need, we created and released a suite of modules called Workbench that provided a unified interface and tools to enable authors and editors to focus on managing their content.

While Palantir team members did the initial heavy lifting on the code development for Workbench, over time, other firms (including some of our competitors) started using and extending the system, building on top what we had released. Thanks to the efforts of those involved in the Drupal Workflow Initiative, the moderation functionality of Workbench was added to Drupal core as the Content Moderation module, making the software better for everyone. This in turn makes Drupal a more attractive choice than competing platforms and expands the market for the firms that work with it.

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

In contrast to the external incentives that drive most firms to contribute to open source projects like Drupal, individuals are more likely to be driven by intrinsic motivators to contribute. Not only do they get to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, but participating in the Drupal community is also a good way to form social ties with other like-minded people who want to see their contributions make a difference in the world.

Despite the large number of individual contributors to the Drupal project, a very small number do the majority of the work. Contribution data on Drupal.org reveals that nearly half of the people who contributed code to the project got just one credit, while the top .4% of all contributors (30 people) accounted for over 17% of the total credits.

One likely reason for this imbalance is Drupal’s reputation for having a steep learning curve. User research conducted by Whitney Hess and the Drupal Association in 2014 found that while the project is good at onboarding people at the entry level of engagement, the transition to higher levels is much more challenging and is where many people end up dropping out of the project.

Providing resources and support to help more people move up the contribution ladder helps spread the burden across more shoulders, introducing new perspectives and reducing burnout, particularly within the core developer community. Having more engaged community members also helps mitigate one of the historical hurdles to Drupal adoption, which is the shortage of skilled developer talent.

Firms that work in the Drupal ecosystem can both address the talent shortage problem and support innovation within their own organizations by supporting professional development opportunities that help their employees “level up” existing skills and pass on knowledge to less experienced team members. For many organizations, this is also a much more economical and sustainable way to build and grow a Drupal team than relying exclusively on hiring from a limited and increasingly in-demand pool of existing “rockstar” talent.

Removing Barriers to Contribution

It is vitally important for any open source project to remove barriers to contribution, whether real or perceived, because they undermine both the intrinsic motivations of individual contributors and the extrinsic motivations of companies, agencies, and other organizations. Likewise, it’s important for projects not to place too much emphasis on extrinsic motivators, as that can also undermine intrinsic motivation. In this way, recognizing different kinds of contribution can be a delicate balancing act.

Over the last few years, the Drupal Association and others have worked to help track and acknowledge more forms of contribution on Drupal.org by improvements to user and organizational profile pages, adding the ability for organizations to receive credit for work on projects and issues, and tying case studies directly to organizations as well as individual contributors. Along with paid sponsorships, these improvements enable companies and organizations who contribute to the project and community to receive greater visibility on Drupal.org, which benefits both sales and recruiting efforts.

Other forms of contribution, such as local event and user group sponsorship and organization, writing documentation, and providing mentorship are less easy to measure, but also critically important to the health of the project. In a paper presented at DrupalCon Barcelona in 2015, David Rozas, a sociologist and computer scientist who studies the technical and social aspects of technology, argued that these kinds of “community-oriented” contributions are actually more important to a project’s long-term sustainability than code contributions because they are emotional experiences that serve to strengthen the project’s sense of community.

Firms that are not in a position to contribute code to Drupal can contribute time and/or money toward efforts that help promote the project and community, such as local and regional events or Drupal Association partnership programs and special initiatives. These kinds of contributions can often have a greater impact on innovation than code alone.

Thank You for Your Support!

Drupal boasts one of the largest and most diverse communities of any open source project, which along with a culture that supports and values contribution, has enabled it to become a leading platform for digital innovation. With the support of the companies, organizations, and individuals that use and contribute back to it every day, Drupal is poised to inspire innovation for many years to come.

May 07 2018
May 07

Alex Brandt recently wrote about the new redesign of the new Palantir.net site: what the goals were, what we wanted to improve, and the process by which we approached the project. I want to speak more from a development viewpoint around how we decoupled the new www.palantir.net site in order to create better relationships between content.

A major goal of our 2018 redesign was to feature more content and make it easier for people to surface topics that interest them. The strategic plan and design called for a system that allows people to filter content from the home page and other landing pages (such as our Work page).


Homepage filtering by topicIn the modern web, people expect this filtering to take place without a page refresh. Simply select the filter and the content should update immediately.

This presents an opportunity to explore methods for achieving this effect. In addition, the following features were desired:

  • The ability to feature specific content at the top of the page
  • A process to insert content other than Drupal pages into the list display
  • A way to select what types of content appear on the page
  • A method to restrict the total count of items displayed on the page
  • The ability to add one or two filters to the page; or none at all

From the developer’s point-of-view, we also added:

  • The ability to allow editors to create and configure these dynamic pages without additional programming

The design and development of the new site followed our understanding of what “content” means to different teams. We know that understanding how to implement the design requirements isn’t enough. We had to think through how editors would interact with (and control) the content.

There is a lot of talk around “decoupled” Drupal these days — the practice of using Drupal as an editing environment and then feeding data to a front-end JavaScript application for rendering. Certainly we could have chosen to decouple the entire site. That process, however, brings extra development time and overhead. And in our case, the site isn’t large enough to gain any advantage from rapidly changing the front-end.

So instead we looked at ways to produce a dynamic application within Drupal’s template system. Our technical requirements were pretty standard:

  • A template-driven JavaScript content engine
  • Rendering logic (if/else and simple math)
  • Twig compatibility
  • A single source file that can be served from CDN or an application library

This last requirement is more a personal preference, as I don’t like long, fixed dependency chains during development. I specifically wanted a file I could drop in and use as part of the Drupal front-end.

Based on these requirements and a few basic functionality tests, we settled on the VueJS library. Vue is a well-documented, robust framework that can be run server-side or client-side. It provides DOM-manipulation, templated iteration, and an event-driven interaction API. In short, it was perfect for our needs.

Even better, you can start using it immediately:

<script src="https://cdn.jsdelivr.net/npm/vue"></script> 

At the core of Vue.js is a system that enables us to declaratively render data to the DOM using straightforward template syntax. Vue uses the handlebars syntax -- familiar to Twig users -- to define and print variables set by the application:

<div id="app">
  {{ message }}
</div>

var app = new Vue({
  el: '#app',
  data: {
    message: 'Hello Vue!'
  }
})

When working with Twig, which also uses handlebars to wrap variables, we must wrap VueJS variables in the {% verbatim %} directive like so:

<blockquote class="grid-text__quote">
  {% verbatim %}{{ item.slug }}{% endverbatim %}
</blockquote>

Unless you hardcode variables, Vue pulls all of its data via JSON, which can be provided out-of-the-box by Drupal’s Views module.

To make the application work, we needed to provide the following elements:

  • A JSON feed for content to display, with featured items at the top
  • A JSON feed for each filter to use
  • A JSON feed for insert content

The first elements -- content -- consists of two JSON directives controlled by editors. First, there is a Featured Content field that can be used to select content for the top of the page:

Feature Content list

Editors may choose to only populate this content, and they may choose as many items as they wish. Below this content, we optionally add additional content based on type. Editors may select what types of content to add to the page. For the homepage, we include four content types:

Content Type list

Editors may then select which filters to use, if any are desired. Two options are available, but one can be selected. The filters may be sorted as desired.

Taxonomy Lists

Further, if the editor selects the Filter by Type option, the first filter will be replaced by a Content Type list taken from the selections for the current page. This technique is made easier by the dynamic nature of the VueJS application, which is expecting dynamic content. It has the added bonus of making the work future proof, as editors can add and adjust pages without additional coding.

Case study filtering

Lastly, editors can add “insert” content to the page. These inserts are Drupal Paragraphs -- custom fielded micro-content -- that optionally appear sprinkled through the content.

Inserts

These inserts leverage Vue’s logic handling and template system. Here is a code snippet for the inserts:

  <template v-if="item.parent_id">
    <div v-if="item.type === 'insert_cta'" class="grid-item grid-item--join">
      <a class="grid-link" v-bind:href="https://www.palantir.net/blog/conscious-decoupling-case-palantirnet/item.link_url" v-bind:style="{ backgroundImage: 'url(\'' + background(index, item.image) + '\')' }">
        <div class="grid-link__join">
          <span class="grid-link__join-link">{% verbatim %}{{ item.link_text | decode }}{% endverbatim %}</span>
          <span class="grid-link__join-message">{% verbatim %}{{ item.slug | decode }}{% endverbatim %}</span>
        </div>
      </a>
    </div>
    <div v-else-if="item.type === 'insert_quote'" class="grid-item grid-item--quote">
      <div class="grid-text">
        <div class="grid-text__content">
          <blockquote class="grid-text__quote">
            {% verbatim %}{{ item.slug | decode }}{% endverbatim %}
          </blockquote>
          <footer>
            <cite class="grid-text__author">{% verbatim %}{{ item.author | decode }}{% endverbatim %}
              <span v-if="item.link_url">
                <a v-bind:href="https://www.palantir.net/blog/conscious-decoupling-case-palantirnet/item.link_url">
                {% verbatim %}{{ item.link_text | decode }}{% endverbatim %}
                </a>
              </span>
              <span v-else>
                {% verbatim %}{{ item.link_text | decode }}{% endverbatim %}
              </span>
            </cite>
          </footer>
        </div>
      </div>
    </div>
    <div v-else class="grid-item grid-item--simple">
      <div class="grid-text">
        <div class="grid-text__content">
          <div class="grid-text__simple-text">{% verbatim %}{{ item.slug | decode }}{% endverbatim %}</div>
          <a class="grid-text__simple-link" v-bind:href="https://www.palantir.net/blog/conscious-decoupling-case-palantirnet/item.link_url">{% verbatim %}{{ item.link_text | decode }}{% endverbatim %}</a>
        </div>
      </div>
    </div>
  </template>

The v-if directive at the start tells the application to only render the entire template if the parent_id property is present. Since that property is unique to Paragraphs, this template is skipped when rendering a blog post or case study.

In cases of content types, we have a standard output from our JSON feed, so one template covers all use-cases:

  <template v-else>
  <div :class="'grid-item' + getClass(index, item.type, item.image)">
    <a class="grid-link" v-bind:href="https://www.palantir.net/blog/conscious-decoupling-case-palantirnet/item.url" v-bind:title="item.title | decode" v-bind:style="{ backgroundImage: 'url(\'' + background(index, item.image) + '\')' }">
    <div class="grid-link__content">
      <span class="grid-link__label">{% verbatim %}{{ item.type }}{% endverbatim %}</span>
      <h2 class="grid-link__title">{% verbatim %}{{ item.title | decode }}{% endverbatim %}</h2>
      <p v-show="item.summary" class="grid-link__teaser">{% verbatim %}{{ item.summary | decode }}{% endverbatim %}</p>
    </div>
    <div v-if="item.dates || item.location" class="grid-link__meta">
      <span v-if="item.dates" class="grid-link__meta-author">{% verbatim %}{{ item.dates | decode }}{% endverbatim %}</span>
      <span v-if="item.location" class="grid-link__meta-location">{% verbatim %}{{ item.location | decode }}{% endverbatim %}</span>
    </div>
    <div v-if="item.author_display" class="grid-link__meta">
      <span v-if="item.author_image" class="grid-link__meta-thumb"><img v-bind:src="https://www.palantir.net/blog/conscious-decoupling-case-palantirnet/item.author_image|decode" v-bind:alt="item.author_display"></span>
      <span class="grid-link__meta-author">{% verbatim %}By {{ item.author_display }}{% endverbatim %}</span>
    </div>
    <div class="grid-link__view">
      <span class="grid-link__view-link">{% verbatim %}{{ getLinkText(item.type) }}{% endverbatim %}</span>
    </div>
    </a>
  </div>
  </template>

Note the v-bind directive here. Vue cannot parse variables directly in HTML tag properties, so it uses this syntax to interact with the DOM and rewrite the element.

Other nice features include adding method calls like {{ getLinkText(item.type) }} that let Vue perform complex calculations on data elements. We also use Vue’s extensible filter system {{ item.summary | decode }} to perform actions like HTML escaping.

For instance, we pass the index position, content type, and background image (if present) to the getClass() method of our application:

// Get proper class for each cell.
getClass: function(index, type, image) {
  var $class = '';
  if (index == 2 || index == 5 || (index > 12 && index % 5 == 1)) {
    $class = $class + ' grid-item--lg';
  }
  if (type == 'Case Study') {
    $class = $class + ' grid-item--cs grid-item--dark';
  }
  else if (type == 'Collection') {
    $class = $class + ' grid-item--collection';
    if (index % 2 == 1) {
      $class = $class + ' grid-item--dark';
    }
  }
  else {
   $class = $class + ' grid-item--default';
  }
  if (image === undefined || image.length === 0) {
    if (index % 2 == 1) {
      return $class + ' grid-item--dark';
    }
    return $class;
  }
  return $class + ' grid-item--dark';
},

This technique lets us provide the light and dark backgrounds that make the design pop.

Light and dark blocks

The end result is exactly what we need to deliver the experience the audience expects. And we get all that within a sustainable, extensible platform.

Is a decoupled Drupal site right for you? For us, a dynamic (yet not fully decoupled) instance made the most sense to improve the experience for our site users. We’d love to discuss whether or not the same flexibility would be beneficial for your site. Drop us a line via our contact form, or reach out via Twitter (@palantir).

Mar 28 2018
Mar 28

It’s finally almost DrupalCon week, and our team is ready to hit it at full force! Here’s what we have on the books so far - won’t you join us?

Media and Publishing Summit

Kick-off your week with Palantir’s Director of Innovation, Ken Rickard, who will be speaking at this year’s Media and Publishing Summit. The summit will address current challenges faced by the media industry and how Drupal can help. Register in advance to attend.

  • Date: Monday, April 9
  • Time: 11:30am - 5pm

Teamwork and Leadership Workshop

The Drupal Community Working Group and the Drupal Association are offering a Teamwork and Leadership Workshop, and both George DeMet and Tiffany Farriss will be helping facilitate. Space is limited, so register soon to attend.

  • Date: Tuesday, April 10
  • Time: 2:00pm - 5:00pm

Culture and Connection Series

Palantir’s Director of Operations, Colleen Carroll, has been helping foster a special culture at Palantir for the past 11 years. She’ll be hosting a small discussion each afternoon at the Palantir booth to share her perspective on cultivating and scaling culture with a remote-first team.

Palantiri Sessions

Making Inclusion Happen Through Mentoring by Allison Manley and Michelle Jackson

Learn about Palantir’s pilot program to expose new faces to the Drupal community, something we call the “Inclusion Initiative.”

  • Time: Tuesday at 10:45am
  • Room: 101E

Inclusion in Action BoF led by Ryan Price and friends

Continue the inclusion discussion in a BoF led by one of the Inclusion Initiative’s mentors.

  • Time: Tuesday at 2:15pm
  • Room: 203B

Partnering With Non-Profits to Reach Diverse Audiences BoF led by Julia of GenesysWorks

Curious how to start an inclusion program of your own? Check out this BoF led by one of our non-profit partners.

  • Time: Tuesday at 3:45pm
  • Room: 102A

Manage Yourself First by Ken Rickard

Learn about a few self-training tools that you can adopt to help you manage all of the different factors of technical leadership.

  • Time: Wednesday at 10:45am
  • Room: 207D

Community Convos: Camp Organizing by Avi Schwab and friends

Join a discussion on Drupal camp logistics.

  • Time: Wednesday at 12:35pm
  • Room: 101E

Community Convos: Governance Retrospective by George DeMet and friends

The CWG will be leading a retrospective of their process to solicit feedback from the wider community on Drupal governance and facilitating a discussion on how to get more people involved in community governance.

  • Time: Wednesday at 2:15pm
  • Room: 101E

Maintaining a Healthy Work-Life Balance When Working Remotely by Lauren Burroughs, Luke Wertz, and friends

During this moderated panel, the team will discuss some of the common problems with remote work and strategies to be successful when work and home life collide.

  • Time: Wednesday at 3:45pm
  • Room: 101C

Community Convos: Fostering Community Health by George DeMet and friends

This conversation is hosted by the CWG to talk about the Drupal community and the role that the CWG plays in helping to keep it a friendly and welcoming place.

  • Time: Thursday at 10:45am
  • Room: 101E

Trivia Night

Each year Palantir sponsors Thursday night’s Trivia at DrupalCon. We love having the opportunity to end our week on a high note, testing our Drupal knowledge with our community comrades. Come on out to City Winery for some friendly competition, prizes for the winners, and laughs all-around.

  • Time: Thursday, doors open at 8pm
  • Location: City Winery, 609 Lafayette Street

Grab Swag at Booth #503

And of course, don’t forget to stop by our booth (#503) to grab some fresh Palantir swag from Alex and Annie. We’ll have new stickers, new socks, and a special limited edition item that you will just have to come see for yourself.

See you in Music City!

Mar 28 2018
Mar 28

Palantir’s Director of Operations, Colleen Carroll, has been helping foster a special culture at Palantir for the past 11 years. At this year’s DrupalCon, she’ll be hosting a short discussion each afternoon at the Palantir booth to share her perspective on cultivating and scaling culture with a remote-first team.

These discussions will be casual in nature, and attendees are encouraged to ask questions.

Discussion topics will include:

  • Tools we use at Palantir to foster and celebrate culture
  • Colleen’s philosophy of bringing open source into HR
  • How to support effective teams through shared principles and empowerment

We encourage anyone looking to learn more about these topics to grab some lunch, and then join us at the Palantir booth (#503) Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 1:30pm - 2pm.

Mar 21 2018
Mar 21

It’s no secret that diversity in the overall tech world is dismal, with it being overwhelmingly white and male. While we still have room for improvement, Palantir.net is proud to have a diverse staff that is more than 50% women (with gender balance at all levels of the company), and we are also diverse along other dimensions, such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity. One of Palantir’s core principles is that we believe that the best outcomes are realized when people are able to create and collaborate in an open and inclusive environment. While we are only a small company, we believe everyone has a role in helping to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity within the technology industry.

One of the places where we can make a difference is in the Drupal open source community. Palantir team members have been involved for years in efforts to help to make Drupal more welcoming and inclusive for contributors already in the community, but most people outside of Drupal have never heard of Drupal! So we decided to be a bit more proactive in exposing the possibilities of Drupal to a more diverse crowd by reaching out and pulling some talent into our community.

The Idea

At MidCamp 2017, Chris Rooney of DigitalBridge gave a talk that asked the question about how can we as a community bring more diversity in? I approached Chris after his talk and had a simple solution (in theory): DrupalCon Baltimore was just three weeks later . . . why don’t we find an organization with which we can partner and invite some students to attend DrupalCon for the day?

Due to some serendipity on our end with her being between projects, my colleague Michelle Jackson — a Strategist with a background in youth education who also happens to live in Baltimore — was able to help me find 5 students from the Baltimore chapter of NPower to join us at DrupalCon. With three weeks and much help from within the Drupal community with providing extra tickets, a room at the conference, and their time in speaking with our group, our five students had a quick introduction to Drupal class in the morning led by Ryan Price and Digital Bridge, followed by lunch with various members of the community, and lastly time in the afternoon to attend sessions and walk the exhibit hall.

After DrupalCon Baltimore was over, we asked ourselves how we could expand on this initiative, and what that would look like. Do we keep just offering one day of exposure? Do we try more formal Drupal training? What are the logistics involved? What are the obstacles?

There were limitations to doing just one day of exposure at DrupalCon: with only a few hours, we couldn’t give more than a basic intro to Drupal, so we focused more on an overview of open source and career paths into Drupal and the web. It was enough to get the students interested, but felt too abrupt: after all, the students went from having never heard about Drupal, to being thrown into a DrupalCon conference with all of its jargon and high-level sessions. We decided to expand the program into a longer-term one that began with basic training, building a project slowly over a few months, thus allowing them to attend DrupalCon with more context and to possibly find an internship at its conclusion.

Other logistics we had to consider: we couldn’t assume that all students had laptops or access to internet, the amount of time Palantir staff had to devote to training each week (let alone planning), scheduling times to meet, and costs involved with getting students to conferences.

Our Inclusion Initiative

Now one year later, we have our first pilot class of students who just this past weekend joined us at MidCamp in Chicago, and will be joining us at DrupalCon in Nashville! Our program looks something like this:

  • We expanded from five students in 2017 to eleven for 2018. Two students dropped out of the program due to interfering outside forces, so by MidCamp we had nine students heading into DrupalCon.
  • We partnered with NPower in Baltimore again, since three of the original students were still interested in learning about Drupal. We also brought in Genesys Works from Chicago for the other students. As Palantir is a Chicago-based firm, it made sense to have some of the talent be local to us.
  • We partnered with FigLeaf in Baltimore to provide weekly training. Dave Gallerizzo met with students remotely via Adobe Connect to teach an hour-long class to our students.
  • Each student picked a personal project to build. These included an NBA fan site, a mariachi site, one for a church, one for music, and one for an upcoming video game release.
  • Starting with a kickoff on January 6th, 2018, we began the weekly classes. Palantir gave a refurbished laptop to each student, we set everyone up on a Slack channel, and started our first Drupal class.
  • We also found mentors within the Drupal community to donate an hour of their time every week to work with our students during, “lab hours,” and invited them to the Slack channel. Students now had one hour/week of class, plus one hour/week of lab hours with a mentor.
  • The students met in-person at MidCamp in Chicago so they could review their work, attend sessions, and meet others in the community.
  • Looking forward, the students will continue working on their projects until we all meet again at DrupalCon Nashville to review their projects.
  • After DrupalCon, Palantir will assist with resume creation and helping students get internships within Drupal.

So here we are, just after MidCamp, and so far so good. The students were able to meet each other, show progress on their work, see a number of sessions, meet the community, get hosted on Pantheon sandboxes, and are ready to keep going towards Nashville!

While we did a lot of things right, our program isn’t yet perfect. While the students enjoy the flexibility of the recordings and being able to check in with mentors as needed, they’ve also let us know that they’d prefer more overall structure to the expectations for each week. They also said they would have appreciated more of a breakdown of the types of work on which they could focus (security, front-end development, design, strategy, etc.) so they could anticipate which sessions fit their interests. Great feedback for us as we move this forward.

“I’ve learned a lot to help me on what I’m working on with my project. By DrupalCon, I should have extensive information on all the ways to use Drupal.” - Blake James, NPower student

What did it cost?

This wasn’t free, of course. Here’s an outline of the general costs.

The Hard Costs

Palantir spent about $8,000 in travel costs between flights, hotels, and meals.

The Larger In-kind Donations

  • FigLeaf training classes and materials, totaling about $11,000
  • Palantir provided a refurbished laptop to each student, valued at about $3,200 total
  • Mentors and Palantiri donated time in mentoring students weekly (about 1 hour/week)
  • Palantiri donated time in organizing the program
  • Free subscriptions from Drupalize.me and Jetbrains (PHP Storm)
  • Ticket donations for MidCamp and DrupalCon from organizers and community members

It Takes a Village

This didn’t happen in a vacuum, and took the help of many people to make it happen. A HUGE thanks to the following, who contributed in ways both large and small. 

Mentors

  • Damien McKenna: Mediacurrent
  • Dave Terry: Mediacurrent
  • Melissa Bent: Mediacurrent
  • Chris Zeitlow: MindGrub
  • Michelle Jackson: Palantir.net
  • Ryan Price: Palantir.net
  • Jes Constantine: Palantir.net
  • Hannah Rosenburg: Digital Bridge
  • Ryan Peters: Digital Bridge
  • Tara King
  • Sherry Sonnier-Johnson: Sealed Air
  • Rob Powell: Mass.gov

Organizers

  • Allison Manley: Palantir.net
  • Michelle Jackson: Palantir.net
  • Ryan Price: Palantir.net
  • Megh Plunkett: Palantir.net
  • Lauren Burroughs: Palantir.net
  • Michael Dickey: Palantir.net
  • April Peck: Palantir.net
  • Colleen Carroll: Palantir.net
  • George DeMet: Palantir.net
  • Annie Schow: Palantir.net
  • Chris Rooney: Digital Bridge
  • Dave Gallerizzo: FigLeaf
  • Julia Logan: Genesys Works
  • Cathy Morgan: NPower

Additional Support

  • Drupalize.me
  • MidCamp volunteers
  • Drupal Association
  • Steve Persch
  • Dwayne McDaniel
  • Pantheon
  • Acquia
  • PHP Storm
  • Digital Bridge Solutions
  • Amanda Gonser
  • Tim Plunkett
  • David Hwang
  • Jason Yee
  • Andrea Soper
  • Ashleigh Thevenet/Bluespark

What Can You Do?

This is only one idea to address the diversity problem. We certainly encourage you to find other ways that work better for you. But we also encourage other digital agencies to follow our playbook and proactively look for talent to develop and bring into Drupal and other open source projects. The talent is out there, but we can’t sit back waiting and hoping they will find us. We have to invite them in to the opportunities. Both NPower and Genesys Works have several local chapters nation-wide, and our contacts at both organizations would be happy to work with you to find the right talent.

I also hope that the students themselves decide that Drupal is appealing to them, and that they can get some internships within the community. Get ready . . . they are polishing their resumes to hand out at DrupalCon! If you’re attending, please consider meeting with them in Nashville to talk about hiring opportunities. If you’re not attending and are interested in hiring one of these students, please contact me ([email protected]) so I can connect you with a motivated intern who is ready to learn more about Drupal.

Students at the NPower office in BaltimoreStudents meeting up in Chicago.Students eating at Portillo'sThe group having dinner at Portillo's during MidCamp.
Mar 06 2018
Mar 06

With its public announcement of the incoming class of directors, the Drupal Association (DA) officially marked the end of my nine years of service to the Board. Considering that I’ve only just celebrated my 11th “Drupalversary”, it was certainly a bittersweet moment for me as that board has been a huge part of my Drupal life for so long.

When I look back at my tenure, I’m gobsmacked at how far we’ve come as an organization. When I joined the board in 2009, our board meetings were either at DrupalCon or in IRC (only), there was no budget, every expenditure required a board vote, and the board served as de-facto staff elected to fulfill a specific function.

Those were scrappy days, when we punched above our weight, buoyed by a communal sense of responsibility and connected by our passion for Drupal. It seemed like everyone you knew, everyone in “The Community” contributed what they could, as much as they could. The barriers to entry were low. It was easy to get involved and find your place and your voice. That bonhomie combined with the mission and reward of building something bigger than yourself, bigger even than your own company, was exhilarating.

As a project and as an organization, those early efforts paid off and we grew pretty fast, far beyond what any group of motivated volunteers could support and sustain long-term. It was clear that for Drupal to reach its potential, we needed to hire staff and forge a path forward that professionalized both the DA and its channels: DrupalCon and Drupal.org.

While there is still much work ahead for the DA, it is leaps and bounds ahead of where it started. The DA has matured into a $5 million non-profit with audited financial reports and forecasts, a staff, and an articulated mission, vision and values. Far from its days as an organization founded to be a bank account so that the servers wouldn’t melt down, the Drupal Association now unites a community to build and promote the Drupal project.

The challenge and magnitude of this mission is inspiring, just as the promise of Drupal continues to inspire many of us who contribute to the project. However, it’s also important to recognize that as the project has grown and matured over the years, the members of our community and their corresponding motivations have also expanded.

“The Community”

Drupal is deeply rooted in “The Community.” Over the years, the DA board spent a fair amount of time seeking to understand who the community is and what the organization’s role is within it. While that answer is (and indeed should be) ever-evolving, one important realization I’ve made is that what we call “community” is actually an amalgam of lots of sub-communities.

At Drupal’s core, there is its contributor community: those who write and review code and documentation. As we’ve grown, this group has expanded in role to include leading, managing, and mentoring others who do so as well. Depending on how long someone has been working in Drupal, this community may be the universe they think of when it comes to Drupal, but there are many more:

  • Local communities and communities of interest, who do an invaluable job organizing and hosting meetups and camps, welcoming and onboarding new people into the project.
  • The Drupal business ecosystem, which is often recognized for contributing financial, code, and logistical support, but they are also on the forefront selling and marketing Drupal and expanding its reach into new sectors and organizations and creating an essential feedback loop with users.
  • Customers, who drive the demand for innovative features and talent, creating jobs, thorny technical challenges and momentum.
  • End users, who outnumber the rest of the communities combined and use Drupal day-to-day in their jobs. Their experience influences adoption and retention. Their needs and their ideas spur innovation.
  • Educators, who are training and inspiring the next generation of Drupal talent. A successful Drupal needs to represent the perspectives, contributions, and resources of all of its communities.

The Past, Present, and Future Role of the DA

This is where the Drupal Association comes in. As it has matured, the Drupal Association has begun to operate as a convener, a connector and a platform. The DA is a strategic partner for Drupal and its communities, identifying and matching various needs and opportunities together. It facilitates interactions, relationships and collaborations that help those of us within Drupal grow as a project, as companies, teams and organizations and as people.

Especially since its incorporation as a US-based nonprofit, the DA has worked to expand Drupal’s reach by building relationships with all the people who contribute to Drupal’s success. It has invested in forging new relationships with decision-makers such as CMOs, CIOs and CTOs and influencers while maintaining the support expected by established contributors and organizers. The Association has been listening to feedback and thinking strategically about the trends they are seeing within our own ecosystem and beyond.

There are gaps in governance and opportunities for growth beyond Europe and North America. Drupal has begun to scale project infrastructure and process. There is also some upcoming focus on leadership development and culture that is has been long in development and is very exciting. Drupal is growing and changing and the Drupal Association is growing and adapting to meet new challenges.

Change is not always easy, but here’s what I know: successful change management always comes down to people and that’s what gives me hope. Every single person at the DA, especially Megan Sanicki and her amazing team, operates with a deep care for the people in Drupal and a fierce commitment to the project. The DA is curious about new opportunities and trends, committed to learning and open to evolving however it can best and most uniquely serve Drupal.

Coming from the DA’s humble and very practical beginnings, there is so much to celebrate and yet still so much to learn and do as they tackle opportunities ahead. That work isn’t finished. It never is. The best part is that the DA doesn’t have to do any of this alone (nor could it). Drupal’s history has taught us to trust that we get help when we ask. The people of Drupal are generous with their time, talent and treasure and the DA is in very good hands.

It has been very hard to step away. Being a part of the Drupal Association leadership for so long has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career and, to be honest, I would have gladly served again were it allowed. I already miss the work and my colleagues.

Thank you to everyone in the Drupal Association, past and present. Thank you especially to Dries for creating something so special and choosing to share it with the world. I will be forever grateful to have been able to contribute my talents in service to such a fantastic community with some truly amazing people. I wish all the best to Adam, Baddy, Ingo, Michel, Audra and George as they start their adventure. I look forward to seeing what amazing things the Drupal Association does next!

image credit: Dries Buytaert, https://dri.es/album/drupalcon-san-francisco-2010/

Mar 05 2018
Mar 05

MidCamp week is upon us! We love supporting this event because it always features well-curated Drupal-related content, and it’s a great way for us to connect with familiar faces in our local Drupal community. It’s also great for those currently involved in Drupal wanting to expand on their skillset, or for newbies just curious to learn more about Drupal.

Game Night Social

As is tradition, Palantir will be sponsoring Friday night’s Game Night Social. Grab a ticket to MidCamp, and join us for some friendly competition and tasty eats provided by Jarabe.

  • Time: Friday from 6pm – 9pm
  • Location: Onsite at DePaul, in the second floor common area

Palantiri Sessions

Trying to decide which sessions to attend? Why not check out one of ours!

You can follow along with MidCamp news on their Twitter (@midwestcamp) or using hashtag #MidCamp. We’ll see you later this week!

Feb 02 2018
Feb 02

2018 marks my 10th year at Palantir and the inaugural ++ Day gives me a great chance to reflect. For those of you who haven’t read George’s post yet:

++ has its origins in the C programming language, where it’s used as an operator to add one to the value of a particular variable. Over time, it’s become known as an informal shorthand for building and improving on past success.

I started working at Palantir after contributing to the Drupal project and launching some of the first newspaper industry websites on Drupal. And it’s in my experiences with Drupal – as a software project and a community – where the ++ ethos has had lasting influence.

My first contribution to the Drupal project was back at DrupalCon Vancouver in 2006. (So long ago, that it was actually called the Open Source CMS and Blogging Tools Summit, retroactively named as a DrupalCON later.) I was in a small group that was looking at the usability of the administrative interface in Drupal 4.7, which was in beta. At the time, all administrative actions were in one long list; a list that was getting ever-longer and harder to use.

That group included Dries Buytaert, the Drupal project founder, Earl Miles, who authored Views and (later) Panels, and Nedjo Rogers, an early and prolific contributor. Earl and I were new to the project, and I chose to be part of that group because we weren’t doing any programming: we were doing a card sort:

Card sorting is a method used to help design or evaluate the information architecture of a site. In a card sorting session, participants organize topics into categories that make sense to them and they may also help you label these groups. -- from Usability.gov

Now, at the time, I had been working with Drupal for almost two years but writing very little code. When I first started to evaluate CMS products, I couldn’t even write a PHP function (though I could write a stand-alone PHP script). So I joined the working group that seemed appropriate to my background, only to learn that the rest of the team were much more advanced programmers.

But a great thing happened. It didn’t matter. We were there to try to define a solution, not to code one. It was my first in-person open source event, and it changed the direction of my career.

I recall advocating for a User group of tasks to cover all the items related to user accounts: User management, registration settings, roles and permissions. (In Drupal 7 and 8, these items are under the People section of the interface.) The group liked the idea and it was implemented with the next beta release. And that was when I realized that I could contribute to making the software better, even though I wasn’t confident as a “developer.”

That confidence would come later, as working at Palantir allowed me the time and projects to focus and improve, iterating over code and concepts from Drupal 5 onward. (As I write this, I am working on the Drupal 8 version of a module I originally wrote in Drupal 5.)

More importantly, I learned a few other valuable lessons from that original working group in Vancouver, all of which reinforce the theme of ++ Day:

  • Make your work inviting to new people by giving them clear ways to contribute.
  • Engage in thoughtful, collaborative problem solving.
  • Recognize the value of what has come before while seeking to improve.
  • Change can come from unexpected places; be open to those opportunities.

I’m fortunate that I get to do what I like to do and make a career of it. I’m even more fortunate that I work on a team that reflects these values on a daily basis.

Happy ++ Day everyone!

Jan 22 2018
Jan 22

As we’ve discussed before, understanding the content on your website is a critical element in the project plan. Today, we’d like to step back a bit and talk about how different teams in an organization might think about content.

First, let’s define our common teams by function:

  • The Editorial team produces and maintains content for the site.
  • The Marketing team sets strategy and metrics around successful audience engagement and interactions.
  • The UX Design team creates the strategy, visual and interactive components that comprise the site’s features.
  • The Development team builds and supports the site so that it fulfills the needs defined by the other three teams.

Note that these teams may all be organized within a single department (commonly marketing) or spread across the organization. Our concern here is not with organizational structure but rather with the perspective and concerns that are inherent in each team.

When teams start work on a new site or a site redesign, the most common mistake is for these four teams to work in silos, as if their individual tasks are unrelated to each other. In this case, a number of issues may arise:

  • A design may include elements that place extra burden on the editorial team.
  • An editorial workflow may require the development of custom code.
  • A marketing plan may ignore the limited editorial and design resources available to achieve its goals.
  • Organizations that have a history of heavily relying on non-digital media for marketing and promotions may have to figure out how to incorporate and plan for the digital work into the existing workflow.
  • A CMS implementation may not be able to produce certain essential design features, or budget and timeline prevents features from being designed a certain way.

Working together, teams can work through these types of issues before they become problems. To do so, it’s vital to get everyone speaking the same language around your content. We like to look at five specific factors when helping teams define their content strategy:

  • Audience defines the users and their needs and answers “who is this for?”
  • Purpose asks the question “what end result are we hoping to achieve?”
  • Workflow deals with the mechanics of content production, approval, publication, and presentation.
  • Transformation explores issues of translation and personalization, so that we define how the content might be modified in distinct contexts.
  • Structure defines the input and storage of the content and how it will be delivered to various publication media. The structure is directly affected by the needs outlined by the three previous items.

Each of these elements has a direct effect on each of our project teams. To understand how, Let’s take a look at Dr. Gillinov’s bio page at Cleveland Clinic to see how these questions bring focus to our project goals.

Physician bio page at Cleveland Clinic site

There are many elements that make up this comprehensive profile page and they all require each team member mentioned above to consider the following:

  1. Where does the data/content come from?
  2. What pieces of data/content is the editor responsible for?
  3. What does this page look like if it has all of the possible content types vs. physicians who have very little information?

For the purposes of this discussion, however, let’s focus on the top portion of the page addressing the data/content that makes up Dr. Gillinov’s basic information as it will help us illustrate our points.The first thing we look for here is the number of elements within the design pattern and how they might be produced. At first count, there are 11:

Physician bio page at Cleveland Clinic site

Let’s see how those elements break down.

  1. Picture – an uploaded image of the person.
  2. Video Link – a link to an external video service
  3. Rating – 1-5 stars based on patient feedback
  4. Rating Count – the number of patient ratings
  5. Comment Count – the number of patient comments
  6. Name – the name and honorifics for this person
  7. Department – the assigned internal department
  8. Primary Location – the main office location for this person
  9. Type of Doctor – indicates pediatrician, adult physician, or both
  10. Languages – a list of languages spoken
  11. Surgeon – indicates that this person is a licensed surgeon

Audience

There are multiple types of users that would view this page: potential patients, existing patients, families of patients, and medical professionals. Their needs are different based on who they are and where they are in their care journey.

Purpose

The primary purpose of this specific component is to provide basic information to the audience. The information presented helps them understand the services and availability of this doctor. The use of a picture and a video are designed to build trust by establishing a human connection in addition to the facts presented.

The inclusion of patient ratings serves as an impartial arbiter of the quality of services provided, while the department and location information helps people understand where they can go to receive treatment.

Workflow

For this example, the important question is “Which part of this page is editorial and which part is automated?” Here, the ratings pull in from a secondary system, which the editors do not control. The video is merely a link reference, but is editorial data. And while some of the doctor information might be pulled from an external system, here we assume that it can be edited for display on the web.

There is also an unlisted assumption here – call it feature #12 – about whether or not this doctor has active privileges at the hospital. Our editorial workflow needs to account for when an individual physician changes jobs, retires, or moves away.

Transformations

We use the term “transformations” here as a bit of a catch-all to describe how the data might need to change in different contexts. A common context shift is language.

When considering a multilingual website, we need to evaluate each element of the page for the desirability and feasibility of its translation.

Take the Video field for instance: Translating the link text for a video is trivial, but does the video itself need to be recorded in multiple languages (or at least subtitled)? Does it make sense to show a Spanish translation of the video link if the video is only in English?

The other most common transformation is personalization, wherein content elements are transformed based on our understanding of who the reader is and what they care about.

The key factor to consider about personalization is that it can create exponentially more work for the editorial team. Consider that for each element that desires personalization, we must create one new version for each variation. Let’s say that we want to segment our audience experience by three data points:

  • Returning patient (yes / no)
  • Local resident (yes / no)
  • Age cohort (child / adult / senior)

Now our one piece of content needs 2 x 2 x 3 = 12 variants, plus the original. For clarity, here’s how that looks mapped out: 

Table of variations

If we add in cases where one of the answers is not known, then the math becomes 3 x 3 x 4 = 36 plus the original variant.

As you can imagine, keeping track of those options can become a heavy editorial burden quite quickly if we were to personalize multiple elements on a page.

Structure

The above questions help inform how this page is structured on the back end. Additionally, we have to consider:

  • What fields do we need to capture and report this data?
  • What format should the data be displayed in?
  • What services (other than the website) might consume this data?
  • In what other contexts might this data be shown?

This last question gives an easy example of the type of decision that your programmers may need to make. To fully understand, let’s look for a minute at the contexts of a search result.

Physician search results

Here, the results are alphabetized by the physician’s last name. If we were to enter the physician’s name as it appears in English, “A. Mark Gillinov, MD”, a computer cannot natively sort by last name. We should also consider whether the honorific “MD” should influence sort order, and whether to sort by first and last name in the case of multiple matches to a common surname.

That generally leads to a separation of the sort field into a 14th field concept: Sort name. In our example the sort name is likely to be “Gillinov Mark A.” The remaining question is whether editors should provide that detail or if it should be automatically inferred by a custom element in the CMS.

Additionally, look at the elements that contain links:

  • Video
  • Ratings
  • Department
  • Primary Location

The target of these links needs to be captured, and the logic for that link generation accounted for in the CMS architecture. Further, can these elements be automatically derived from existing data (like the doctor’s name) or are they “hidden” metadata points that need to be added?

In most cases, the mapping for these elements is based on metadata:

  • Video – requires a unique URL for a YouTube video.
  • Ratings – requires a physician ID number provided by the ratings service.
  • Department –  selected from a list of Department pages controlled by the CMS.
  • Primary Location – selected from a list of Location pages controlled by the CMS and containing mapping metadata.

And to add one more element to the structure question: Which of these page elements allow for multiple selection? Can a doctor be part of two departments? Have three primary locations?

Making the Complex Simple

These kinds of workflow complexities in your data are absolutely essential to capture as early in the design process as possible. What if we find that “Languages spoken” is very important to patients, but not currently available in our information set? That requires additional editorial work – and likely a staff-wide survey – that could take weeks to complete simply due to the coordination involved. It is also worth mentioning the impact on initial design choices as well. For example, do we need to consider fonts that have text alternates for language glyphs? Does the design still hold up (spacing, line length, relationship to imagery etc) when there is twice as much French text as English?

Since we’re working directly with Marketing to define our audience and purpose of each page, we should understand how each element of the design improves the overall user experience. That knowledge allows the entire team to make informed decisions about the level of effort to produce and maintain each content element.

All members of the team should have a familiarity and respect for the concerns of other members of the team. When developing and planning content, it is imperative to involve all four teams as early in the process as possible. To bring your content into focus, always ask the following questions about any design or content element shown in a wireframe or mockup:

  • What content or data will be needed to produce this element?
  • Does this content or data already exist in a usable format?
  • What format will this data be entered and stored in?
  • Will this element be editorially curated or automatically produced?
    • If automated, do we have business logic to support that automation?
    • If curated, do we have the staff time to support that creation and maintenance?

Building a robust content model and workflow is a team effort. The functionality of the CMS and the designs they are capable of producing is what brings the Editorial, Marketing, Digital and IT teams together. Giving them the visibility into each other's work streams allows them to collaborate. This collaboration also gives the various team members collective ownership over the content experiences within their organizations.

Jan 08 2018
Jan 08

Our Client

Home to more than 6.8 million people, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the most populous state in New England. Like everywhere in the U.S., those 6.8 million people rely on their state government to provide them with services and support, which includes providing the information they need to perform vital tasks required by law. Whether those tasks include renewing a driver’s license, applying for food assistance, or registering a new business, constituents need to be able to find relevant information efficiently. Mass.gov is the flagship website for the Commonwealth, and its main goal is to provide online support to its constituents.

The Challenge

The challenge facing the Commonwealth was two-fold, one part a challenge for the constituents of Massachusetts, and one part a technology problem for the government dedicated to serving those people. The Commonwealth’s website reflected its internal organizational structure instead of organizing content in a way that made sense to its users. The old site also was on an antiquated, proprietary content management system that had not been able to address changing needs over time and was about to be decommissioned.

The Solution

Complex problems are best solved by having smart and talented people think and work passionately. It was a privilege for Palantir to be part of a team that included designers and strategists from another vendor, along with data scientists, content authors, and developers from the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Technology Services and Security (EOTSS). This multi-party engagement saw many opinions and thoughts brought to light and explored, as the various groups coalesced into a single, functional team.

The team knew all of Mass.gov’s information needed to be pulled together into a constituent-focused model, so the team took a data-driven approach that began with using proxy indicators (search being one of them) to determine what top tasks users were trying to complete online. This allowed Palantir to build a framework to serve content related to those tasks. By figuring out what people were trying to accomplish on the site (such as renewing a driver’s licence or reserving a campsite in a state park), the Mass.gov team would then be able to write helpful content about those items.

In a nutshell, the main goals were to:

  • Identify high-value content
  • Write related high-value content
  • Structure that content in a way that was intuitive to constituents

The minimum viable product was a proof of concept focused on 10 of the most common tasks performed on Mass.gov. A scalable framework was then built for any pages after those initial 10. By taking this approach, Palantir was able to help prove value in the tools chosen for this project quickly, which helped EOTSS validate that the tasks highlighted were useful to the constituents. It also validated that the process of entering content was scalable for Mass.gov’s editorial team.

After the first 10 pages, the team worked with the rest of Mass.gov’s content based on the concept that 20% of the site’s content addresses 80% of constituents needs. The team identified the top 20% of content by traffic (and deleted a large amount of unnecessary or redundant content), and then started optimizing the new Drupal 8 platform. Placing focus on constituents first throughout the entire build helped frame conversations and decisions for Palantir’s development team. From the way layouts were considered to feedback mechanisms, focusing outcomes on “what is best for the constituents” gave everyone on the team a common place from which to start any conversation.

Flexibility in Drupal 8

Undertaking a large overhaul of a public service is no easy feat. From 2003 to 2012 alone, only 6.4% of federal IT projects with $10m in labor costs were successful; a whopping 93.7% failed.

In choosing Drupal as the framework for the new Mass.gov site, the Commonwealth was able to execute its vision with an extremely versatile tool. Unlike its previous CMS, building on Drupal meant the ability to pivot easily and adapt to changing needs. As more feedback was received from stakeholders and constituents during the first year of the engagement, the needs of the project changed a lot. Drupal also provided a stable platform of established tools, eliminating the need to build important features from scratch, thus helping to minimize costs in quickly getting to a working version of the site.

“We’ve redesigned Mass.gov for you, the people of the Commonwealth. We have one goal: to make it easy for you to find what you need.” — Mass.gov homepage

The Results

For Mass.gov, the big win is for the constituents of Massachusetts. Bay Staters now have a website designed specifically to help them accomplish their goals. The new Mass.gov site is an accessible, mobile-friendly, platform for the future that cuts down on the time users spend wandering through the site, trying to find what they need.

We want to make your project a success.

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Oct 09 2017
Oct 09

The #D8isGr8 blog series will focus on why we love Drupal 8 and how it provides solutions for our clients. This post in the series comes from Luke Wertz, Solution Architect.

We often work on projects with clients who are juggling strict timelines and multiple stakeholders. From the time a vendor is selected, to contract signing and project kick-off meetings, it can sometimes be a whole month before our production team is able to really dig into a new project.

The thing I love about Drupal 8 is that it gives us the ability to skip parts of the prototyping phase and get into rapid proof of concept work very quickly. We can quickly demonstrate to our clients the problem space they’re working in and a potential solution. Drupal 8 allows us to get there quickly without writing a lot of code, which means our client product owners are able to show progress to their stakeholders sooner.

This proof of concept work is enabled by the functionality that is now baked into Drupal 8 core. In previous versions of Drupal, Views was a contrib module. A lot of how Views functions in Drupal 8 is the same as before, but that extra step of having to install, deploy, and configure it has been removed.

The ability to show value to a client early and quickly is reflective of Palantir’s move to Agile development. We are a data-driven company, and we like to use quantitative methods to prove our value to our clients. Drupal 8 helps us to iterate rapidly: have an idea, quickly show how it might work, test it, and prove it.

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Oct 02 2017
Oct 02

Oh Drupal 8, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… As a content editor on a small team, I welcome every chance I get to publish something easier, quicker, and more effectively. My first experience publishing content in Drupal was in Drupal 7, and without having previous HTML experience, it was a time-consuming endeavor. Although there are many reasons why I love publishing content in Drupal 8, I’ll narrow it down to my top three.

1.) WYSIWYG FTW!

This little bar is my best friend:

screenshot of wysiwyg tool bar

A quick WYSIWYG editor (CKEditor) is now standard in Drupal 8 core, which means there’s no need to look up the HTML every time I want to include a link, stylize a heading, or insert an image. The amount of time I save when publishing is awesome, but it also prevents me from using sloppy code that could become an issue later down the line if we migrate content.

2.) Keeping Things Accessible with Alt Text

Drupal 8 now flags when you need alternative text (alt text), and it doesn’t allow you to publish a post without providing these descriptions. We always strive to make our corner of the web equally accessible for all users, and this is a safeguard to make sure we continue doing so. You can read more about why alt text is important in our recent post on accessibility.

field for alt text promptThis red asterisk prompt displays every time you insert an image.

3.) Customization

Just like most institutions, our website is one of the most important marketing tools for our agency. Not only does it provide us with a place to share knowledge with our audience, it provides different ways for our audience to engage with us.

One of the easiest ways we are able to connect with our clients, partners, and community is by creating customizable call-to-action buttons to display in various places on our site. These buttons allow our site visitors to sign up for our newsletter, schedule a time to chat with us, register for a webinar, or any other action we hope they take. By having the ability to customize each button (opposed to only having a generic contact us button), we can make sure the call-to-action buttons fits the content where they are displayed. Drupal 8 makes these buttons easy to create (once we set up our desired fields).

CTA button fieldsDifferent options for customizing CTA buttons.

Easy Publishing in Drupal 8

All of these features in Drupal 8 allow me to share tailored content with our audience, without becoming bogged down by the technology. And because I know you were wondering, the time it took me to take this blog post from google doc to published? 3 minutes, 17 seconds.

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Sep 22 2017
Sep 22

The first post in our series comes from Ken Rickard, Director of Professional Services.

I’ve been working with Drupal since version 4.5, starting in late 2004, working as an end user, product manager, developer, team lead, core contributor, sales engineer, and sales manager. Since its release in 2015, Palantir.net has been using Drupal 8 to provide solutions for ourselves and our clients.

In that time, we’ve started to identify the long-term benefits that really make Drupal 8 shine. While many of these benefits appear to be developer-centric, the story that they tell is how the platform helps organizations of all sizes to invest in sustained innovation.

From a business perspective, we can focus on three fundamental changes in Drupal 8.

The Release Cycle

Drupal 8 adopted a more standard semantic versioning that indicates the major version, API release, and feature release status of Drupal core. As of this writing, core stands at 8.3.7, and the 8.4.0 release is in beta testing.

Along with semantic versioning came a commitment to regular release cycles -- planned for every six months -- and a commitment to maintain backwards-compatibility. These changes make core releases more predictable, both for resourcing and implementation. We know when the next version is coming, what new features are included, and how any changes will affect our existing sites and code.

This predictability brings Drupal more in line with traditional software releases, and provides a huge benefit to contributors and customers alike.

Backwards Compatibility

With the new release cycle, the project finally has a proactive plan for dealing with backwards compatibility issues. Instead of major upgrades between versions, Drupal is prepared to offer incremental changes that foster long-term stability without sacrificing innovation.

We know in advance what elements have been marked as deprecated and when they are scheduled for removal. (Hint: largely when Drupal 9 development begins in earnest.)

Component Architecture

Perhaps even more than the first two features, the shift to using a library-based approach to code -- where essential components are integrated from external libraries -- gives organizations even more control over their innovations. Drupal now uses Composer and other modern PHP development practices, so we can decouple our code -- both front-end and back-end -- from Drupal specifics.

Since we can move large sections of Drupal code into standalone libraries, we can spend less time working through specifics of a Drupal implementation and focus instead on the technical and business problems that the software needs to solve.

Sustaining Innovation Through Open Source

Taken together, these three elements are powerful. Combined with the GPL open source license that allows anyone to use, improve, and share their code, we have an overall platform devoted to innovation. From a business standpoint, the long-term value of investment in Drupal 8 will be measured in years. Since the software is free to use, companies can invest in their teams and create an environment of sustained success through innovation.

We want to make your project a success.

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Sep 08 2017
Sep 08

Welcome to the latest episode of On the Air with Palantir, a long-form (ad-hoc) podcast by Palantir.net where we go in-depth on topics related to the business of web design and development. In this episode, Allison Manley is joined by Juan Daniel Flores of Rootstack, and Juan dives into the Drupal world of Latin and Central America.

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Transcript

Allison Manley [AM]: Hi, everyone. Welcome to On the Air With Palantir, a podcast by Palantir.net where we go in-depth on topics related to web design and development. I'm Allison Manley, Sales and Marketing manager. Today, my guest is Juan Daniel Flores of Rootstack. Juan spent some time with me a few months back telling me about all the exciting things happening with Drupal in Latin America. Here we are at DrupalCon Baltimore 2017-

Juan D. Flores [JDF]: That's right.

AM: ... in the convention center at the corner of Pratt and Charles Street. I am sitting with ...

JDF: Juan Flores from Rootstack from Panama.

AM: From Panama. You came all the way from Panama.

JDF: Yes, sunny, tropical Panama. Yeah. The temperature is quite a good a change for me.

AM: Is it?

JDF: I was born in Colombia, in Bogota, actually. The temperature is more or less like this. I really miss the cool temperature, because in Panama, sometimes it gets really, really hot.

AM: Well, we're welcome to give you a nice, rainy break, so ...

JDF: Yeah, I appreciate it.

AM: Is this your first Drupal Con?

JDF: Yeah, this is my first personal, my first Drupal Con in the States, but we have been attending Drupal Con like, since five years ago. We are three partners, and they do most of the traveling.

AM: Okay. Excellent. How long have you been involved in Drupal?

JDF: We have been involved with Drupal like from seven years ago right after college. We graduated, and we got our degrees, and we started the company. We started with Drupal right away. We learned about Drupal, actually, by a friend in the college. It was like we saw the tool. We saw all the things that you could do, and we were like hooked up, like, "We have to do this. We have to use this." It's been quite a long time.

AM: Wow. That's great. Were you self-taught or ...

JDF: Totally self-taught. In the university, they teach you certain things, but to be, to thrive in this world, you really have to be very proficient in learning by yourself. You have to be active. You have to be checking what's going in the world. Thanks to our desire to know more, we picked it up and here we are seven years later.

AM: And here you are. Glad to have you. You call yourselves the Drupaleros, sort of jokingly.

JDF: Yeah, that's the term we use for Drupal. That's in Spanish. It's a term that we use in general.

AM: Universally.

JDF: Yeah. Universal.

AM: So that's not just the Panamanian-

JDF: Exactly. Exactly.

AM: Okay. I feel like there's a presentation next year for just the Spanish-speaking Drupaleros. I feel like there's some sort of presentation you should make around that and what's happening in Latin and Central America.

JDF: That will be interesting. Even though like I feel that we're a little bit late to the party, in terms of doing stuff, there has been a lot of work that has been done by Latin developers. For example, there's Jesus Olivas, which is ... Well, and the team from We Know It, that they have been working hard with the Drupal console project, which is picking up, really, a great amount of fans. He gave a talk yesterday. He's from Mexico. There's another guy. His name is Omers. He's also from Mexico. The other guys, Anso and Kenya are from Costa Rica.

AM: How many would you say there are total between Latin and Central America, you know, that you keep in touch with on a regular basis working in Drupal?

JDF: It's hard to tell to know a certain number because, unfortunately, the community there is like a little bit shy. But I can say that, for example, if I can measure events that we have gone to, for example, the DrupalCon in Costa Rica, or the DrupalCon Central America that we did a couple years ago, I would say we could see around 400, but it's hard to ... They show up for events. There are a lot of people that show at events. It's the the building the community that's hard.

AM: How did you start out? Tell me about the beginnings of your business, then.

JDF: We were in college. One of the partners approach to us. He told us like, "Hey, I think we should do this. We should make a company for our own." We are good, each one, in our own stuff. For example, one of the partners is very good at business development, organizing. The other one is very good at developing. He's a very strong skill set. I'm more like the creative one in terms of design, in terms of implementing the science. We're sort like a match in terms of our skills. We started that in 2010, and we slowly grew. We recruited guys fresh out of college from our own university. Then, we started to build the team. One of the things that I have heard here is that it's hard to find Drupal developers. Which if it's hard for you, it's harder for us. It's been years of finding good people that we think that can be a good fit and training them. I think there's a value in that, in home-growing the developers. Because if they aren't there, you have to make them.

AM: Right. How big are you now?

JDF: We are 25.

AM: Oh, so you went from 3 to 25 in just seven years.

JDF: Yeah.

AM: Wow.

JDF: We have 18 developers. Then marketing sales, designers, so yeah. We hope to keep growing, and yeah. Basically, the objective is to be bigger, to go for more services. Even though we started as a Drupal shop, now we're doing more stuff. We're doing automations. We're doing mobile development. We're doing interesting projects in terms of challenges. For example, last year we did a project for a company here. Basically, we did a mobile app in Ionic that you could turn on, turn off, set the temperature of your spa machine. They sell spa machines that have a wifi antennae. You could be in your office, and you say, "Oh, I'm going home." You start the spa. You set the temperature. When you get there, there it is.

AM: That's excellent.

JDF: Yeah.

AM: That's quite a range of services that you do provide already, even if you feel like you want to add more.

JDF: Yeah, yeah. It is to find projects that are challenging and interesting. That's the what we're looking for.

AM: What would you say is your main client base or what vertical?

JDF: Basically, companies that split in two, in terms of half the company works with agencies here in the States providing Drupal services, so back-end, front-end development, and the other half of the team works with local clients. In terms of local and regional clients, our main verticals are government, banks, certain industries, like ... You have big clients like supermarket chains, people that are looking for very complex web projects, or automations, or yeah, that kind of solutions that we can provide. Yeah, that's what we are ... The companies, like two companies in terms of what we focus on.

AM: Fair enough. Your first DrupalCon, what do you think so far?

JDF: It's been great. I mean, the level of the sessions have been great. I really like the fact that people are very open to talk, very friendly. I know that in our conferences that, for example, I have been, it's harder to meet people, to find a point of conversation where you can start. But here, it has been great. The parties have been great, also. They provide a good space for talking. For example, yesterday, I was with the guys at Lullabot. They were super friendly, super fun. We have a lot of fun. Yeah, I really like. It's right what they say about the Drupal community. It's very open and very ... Well, even though what has happened recently, I think the people here are very good people, you know?

AM: I would agree with that.

JDF: Well, I hope that you go next year to Nashville.

AM: I will be there in Nashville. I would love to go to Costa Rica if I could swing it, but-

JDF: Yeah, so there in August. It's super fun. There's a good vibe always. We always do some, like after the camp, we always do like a trip to an island, or a beach, or-

AM: Forest. Something.

JDF: Yeah, very relaxing.

AM: Sounds amazing.

JDF: You can add your vacations and you do a-

AM: Any others to look forward to or ...

JDF: That's the ones I think right now the top of my head.

AM: All right.

JDF: I think Mexico is organizing one, too.

AM: Fantastic.

JDF: Yeah.

AM: Look forward to it.

JDF: Yeah.

AM: Thank you so much, Juan.

JDF: Yeah, look forward to seeing you. Thank you.

AM: Thanks for listening. Follow us on Twitter at Palantir or read our blog at palantir.net. Have a great day.

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Sep 07 2017
Sep 07

Our Client

Stanford University pursues ground-breaking research in almost every field of human endeavor. Its 2,000 faculty members can found their own laboratory and pursue new directions in medical, scientific, engineering, and humanistic research. These experiments can include class-4 lasers, viruses, chemical, biochemical, and radiological hazards. Over $1B (yes, really) in annual research funding supports hundreds of research labs.

Stanford’s Environmental Health and Safety department (EH&S) is the principal entity responsible for not only compliance with the law, but ensuring that the Stanford community is safe — an extremely challenging mission given the extent of Stanford’s activities.

The Challenge

Despite conscious effort to avoid being viewed as an “enforcement” agency, EH&S is often viewed as an impediment between an individual and their chosen task. Unfortunately reinforcing this perception was their outdated site: it was disorganized, difficult to maintain and update, and not mobile friendly. The site hosts an incredibly large volume of content — everything from safety manuals, PDFs, and critical documentation — that was buried and hard to find. Thus the former online space for EH&S was often an additional barrier for those trying to conduct their work in a safe and compliant manner.

The business goals became the following:

  • Create a responsive web experience that solves problems for real users, and advances the goals of EH&S to realize a safe and healthy Stanford.
  • Revamp Information Architecture (IA) to make it simple to use, match users’ expectations for how safety information is organized, and easy for people to find what they needed.
  • Shift the perception and language of safety away from “compliance” and toward something more progressive and attractive, to persuade unmotivated users to participate more fully.
  • Eliminate bottlenecks for users who are already motivated to take positive action.
  • Allow for analytical data to be taken from the site to determine the level of success, and be able to adjust the site as needed in response to the data.

The Solution

Because of the sheer variety and volume of audiences, types of content, and types of tasks needed, the solution required a deep understanding of both the structure of the content as well as how that content was accessed. This was in addition to getting several thousand pieces of content wrangled out of PDFs and migrated to the new site, which required a thorough content audit.

Strategy work consisted of persona development to learn about the various audiences, and the Stanford and Palantir teams worked together on card sorting exercises to determine the best information architecture. The taxonomy was re-categorized to allow related content to surface easily; when a user went to a page about chemical safety, for example, they’d be shown related content under the right category, such as proper chemical disposal (under Services), a chemical storage form (Forms), and courses needed to handle that chemical (Training).

Stanford roles page

Individual role page for Lab Safety CoordinatorUsers could self-select which role best suited them in order to view all the content related to their role.

In order to create the easiest user experience, we determined that the site should be broken down both by topic and by role. A series of icons was created to help delineate between the 20 different health and safety topics, and photography of real Stanford employees and students were used to demonstrate the 13 types of users determined via persona workshops. Quick links were provided to make it easy for users to do the most common tasks, and a faceted Solr search was implemented to help users locate forms, manuals, training documents, and standard operating procedures.

All of this was accomplished with a visual theme that worked within Stanford University’s overarching brand standards and was designed to allow for clarity and simplicity.

The Results

Stanford strives for excellence in all programs, and that should extend to safety as well. While safety content may not be the most exciting reading, it is critical that it is found quickly and is clearly presented in order to keep safety a priority.

Through content strategy and a supporting architecture, we were able to meet the product owner’s ultimate goal of “content on demand.” As he stated, “what I want, when I want, where I want!” The new site allows EH&S to present an image of a professional, knowledgeable, and helpful service provider that is fundamental to the unique experience of being at Stanford.

We want to make your project a success.

Let's Chat.
Aug 28 2017
Aug 28

My first real experience with web accessibility came when I joined the federal government as a developer during the executive branch’s broad adoption of Drupal. Until that point, I’d been working on smaller projects for my own company and several other clients. While I was familiar with alt text and design concepts dealing with contrast, my knowledge of accessibility didn’t extend very far beyond that.

If I’m being completely honest, I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t really put much time into thinking about how users with disabilities interacted with the sites I was creating. My thoughts (and many late nights) largely centered around learning as much as I could that would help me solve my immediate business needs. What I didn’t realize was that my ignorance was not only hurting my business, but I was missing a vitally important piece of development knowledge.

What is Accessibility?

Generally speaking, accessibility refers to ensuring that people with disabilities have the same access (both physical and virtual) as others. Everyone is familiar with the benefits of providing physical improvements like ramps to building entrances and at sidewalk crossings, expanding hallways, requiring elevator doors to remain open for a certain period of time, and adding raised surfaces near the rails on metro and subway platforms. Web accessibility refers specifically to similar best practices put to use for a more inclusive environment online.

Many people generally think of screen readers and visual disabilities when it comes to accessibility, but the range of topics that it covers is larger than that and includes more than just disabilities. For example, needing sufficient contrast so someone can see a site on their phone on a sunny day. That's an accessibility use case for sighted users just as much as it is for someone with deteriorated vision. Similarly, the ability to pause autoplay videos is an accessibility feature for those with neurological issues, but is also a feature for anyone that gets motion sickness.

There are guidelines provided as a goalpost to achieving appropriate levels of accessibility that are a great resource for anyone looking to ensure that their site is as useful as possible to as broad an audience as possible. WCAG 2.0 (you may have heard it called “wick-ag”) is generally accepted as the standard to measure against when talking about information you’re presenting to users on a website.

These were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C and published in 1999 as version 1.0 with 2.0 being published in 2008. The federal government began using WCAG 2.0 in measuring compliance with their requirements, known as 508 or Section 508, in early 2017, though several agencies have been using them as a reference point for years. Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that was passed as the version we know today in 1998. Interestingly, it was originally passed in 1986 showing a lot of forward thinking by the government, but it lacked enforceability. I have had the pleasure of working with many government employees that feel strongly about and take to heart the spirit of 508 compliance. It’s an attitude that I have carried with me beyond my time with them.

In addition to the above, individual companies often have a set of guidelines that address accessibility for their sites as well. W3C has also published several other standards and guidelines that focus on various aspects of online interaction to include Authoring Tools (ATAG), web browsers and media players (UAAG), and Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) which I’ll touch upon again later.

Why Bother?

Many times people find themselves in a position where they need to defend the need for adopting accessibility standards. This can be a result of various factors including budget (just trying to get an MVP out), perceived lack of time, lack of knowledge/not recognizing it as even being something to think about, or difficulties around training editorial staff and content creators. If you find yourself in that position, here are a few points to help people understand the importance of addressing web accessibility.

Disabilities affect users’ capacity to interact with your site in many ways. This can include visual, mobility, auditory, cognitive or intellectual and neurological impacts. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, 19% of the population has a disability. That is a lot of people to be ignoring if you’re not willing to discuss ways of improving accessibility at your organization. It’s unclear exactly how many of that 19% have disabilities that directly impact interaction with a website (i.e., a mobility disability affecting the foot may not have an impact), but with that percentage equaling 57 million people, it is safe to assume that there are more people with disabilities using your site than you might initially think.

What is also not included in Census data is those disabilities that are temporary. For example, a user with a broken hand in a cast will have difficulty on a site that requires use of a mouse. There are a number of tools your users may be implementing when they come to your site including screen readers, braille terminals, screen magnifiers, speech recognition software, keyboard overlays and keyboard shortcuts. If ignored, your site may respond in unintended ways when visited by a user implementing one of those tools.

An added benefit to addressing accessibility comes in the way of SEO (search engine optimization). Many of the best practices around developing for accessibility have a direct correlation to best practices of developing for SEO. Things like semantic markup and site maps are used by some of the assistive technologies mentioned above. Having them present allows for search engines to use that same information to better index your site which improves your chances of achieving favorable rankings in searches. It is my personal belief that there will come a time that search engines will penalize sites for not being accessible in a similar manner to recent decisions around mobile and use of SSL certificates (https).

A negative impact of not addressing accessibility that I’ll touch on briefly has to do with legal ramifications. If you’re running a government site or receiving significant government funding, there is the aforementioned 508 compliance, but what about those in the private sector? The Americans with Disabilities Act has recently been cited in lawsuits claiming that users’ rights were violated based on the fact that “No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to) or operates a place of public accommodation.” For any site that can be proven to be a “place of public accommodation” this should be given serious consideration.

Lastly, the reason for worrying about accessibility is that it’s the right thing to do. As site owners, designers and developers it is our responsibility to make the web a better place. For the internet to have sites on it that exclude certain visitors is contrary to its purpose. I find (as someone that does not have a disability affecting my use of the internet) it can sometimes be difficult to keep this at the top of my mind. This is why I suggest thinking of it from the point of view of being with a loved one, sibling, or child with a disability while they interact with your site and imagine what sort of experience you would want them to have.

Drupal 8 and Accessibility

Drupal 8 has made some significant improvements around accessibility to ensure that your site starts with a strong foundation. I’ll list some of them here.

Required Alt Text

Alt, or alternative, text refers to the words used to tell users what is in the content of an image. It’s usually not rendered in the display of the page, but used by tools like screen readers. This is set to required by default in D8. Even having it set to required still does not remove the need for proper training of your content creators to ensure that the text provided is an appropriate description of the image taking into account its intended purpose and not just a word or two to satisfy the required field. A great presentation on alt text for further reference can be found at https://www.slideshare.net/whitneyq/writing-great-alt-text-38937551.

Semantic Elements

Divs and spans are generic HTML tags used to define elements on a page. Historically they’ve been used to define most every element with the exception of things like images which have had their own tag. In HTML5, semantic elements allow developers to assign a name that fits the purpose of a particular element, and Drupal 8 has taken advantage of this providing a common element name for users and machines to know what to expect when presented.

Instead of one developer assigning a class of “nav” to a navigation div and another assigning an id of “navigation,” use of semantic elements allow for “nav” to replace div or span. That way a screen reader can know to present this to the user in a way that makes sense instead of it sounding like a part of the content. Some other element names include <article>, <section>, <figure> and <figcaption>, <footer> and <header>. This is a great example of when SEO overlaps with accessibility because search engine crawlers will also use these same element names to understand your pages.

WAI-ARIA

Another W3C published set of standards, WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications) deals with making certain types of content available to all users. Drag and drop functionality is a great example of this. Drupal 8 has followed WAI-ARIA guidance to make these more understandable to assistive technologies.

Aural Alerts

A JavaScript method (Drupal.announce) in D8 takes advantage of the above ARIA compliance and presents screen readers with a string to be read aloud to the user. To understand the need for this it is helpful to understand that a screen reader is only “looking” at one part of a page at a time, so if a change happens on the page that a user would be expected to see, the screen reader would typically be unaware of it. This allows for changes happening on the page to be made known to a user using a screen reader.

Constrained Tabbing

Various users may use the tab key on their keyboard to move around on your website’s page instead of using a mouse. Drupal 8 introduced another JavaScript feature called tabbing manager that allows for control over where the user can tab into. Think of this in context by imagining how tabbing would work when there is an overlay on the page if it wasn’t constrained to within the overlay.

Form Errors

In Drupal 8 there is an option to turn on a feature to improve accessibility related to the display of form errors. By default form errors are presented after submission at the top of the form with fields that failed validation highlighted in red. To understand the difficulty this presents, it is important to think of a screen reader that can only present what is on the screen in the order presented without contextual knowledge. In that case the user will get the error (e.g., “This field does not allow any special characters”) without knowledge of which field is being referred to, as the screen reader will not announce that the offending field is highlighted.

Colorblind users could also miss the highlighting of the field. You can, and should, use better form validation error verbiage to help with this, but putting the error inline with the field it relates to helps to provide context. There were a number of issues with this feature when D8 was released initially, but most of these have been worked out (including all of the “must have” issues) so please do some research to determine where it stands at the time you consider implementing it. To see if there are any issues still remaining that could affect your decision you can follow the issue at drupal.org.

CSS Display Options

Work has gone into reducing the use of “display:none;” in Drupal 8 as its use hides content from screen readers. Reasons for not using “display:none;” can be hard to guess with the usual response being “if I’m hiding content from rendering, why would I care if a screen reader can find it?”

This becomes problematic when content is hidden for treatments like accordions where a user accessing your site with a screen reader would have no way of knowing the content existed. To help with this, D8 has adopted four new display classes: (1) hidden, (2) visually-hidden, (3) visually-hidden.focusable and (4) invisible, and each have specific behaviors related to hiding an element visually as well as from screen readers.

For all of these reasons and more, using D8 in your project should provide you with a great starting point to build a site that benefits all users equally. Accessibility has clearly been given a lot of attention. Keep in mind that as with any starting point, it will still be possible for missteps and shortcuts to be taken that can reduce your site’s accessibility over time, so diligence is required.

Palantir and Accessibility

Palantir has been building accessible websites since the standard was introduced. For the majority of our clients, WCAG 2.0 level AA compliance is contractually obligated. Our automated and manual testing tools adhere to the WCAG 2.0 level AA standard, which is what our best practices and heuristic evaluations of design also follow.

We employ many of the tools, practices, and techniques documented in The A11y Project in order to design and build accessible products for our clients. Most of these tools and techniques are based on the WCAG 2.0 level AA standard (at a minimum). We ensure that the code we develop adheres to accessibility standards by employing a three-tiered approach to accessibility assurance:

1.) Following best practices in accessible design through:

  • Heuristic consciousness of accessibility in design, including (but not limited to):
    • Selecting colors for text that have a high contrast ratio with the background
    • Styling interactive elements, such as links, using a variety of indicators rather than relying on color alone
    • Including notifications and feedback for interactions such as an error message, or a success confirmation
    • Designing large links, buttons, and controls
    • Creating unambiguous and consistent navigation options
    • Composing clear layouts with organized content
  • Chrome accessibility extensions
    • Chrome Accessibility Developer Tools
    • Color Contrast Analyzer
    • WAVE toolbar in Firefox

2.) Performing automated, continuous code testing to identify any accessibility issues in the front-end code

3.) Testing individual, rendered pages of the final product using Tenon, which can assess that the code and content entered in the CMS are producing rendered pages that ultimately meet accessibility standards (upon client approval and on a project-by-project basis)

  • There is a Drupal module for Tenon that can be used, though it requires the client to create an account with Tenon that has a monthly cost based on the number of API calls made from the client site to Tenon
  • There is also a WordPress plugin for Tenon as well, which also requires a paid Tenon account

What Can You Do?

There are a lot of ways that you can help to ensure your organization’s success in terms of making your online resources accessible. The first is in the performance of an audit to determine where things stand currently. There are a lot of tools available for this and many of them are free to use. Tenon, WAVE, HERA, and W3C’s Validator are some. Running these will return a lot of feedback and issues. Do not get overwhelmed and throw up your hands. Compile them into a single spreadsheet or tracker and start prioritizing them based on what is achievable given your current resources (example).

A single audit is also not going to be enough to ensure your site is accessible. Over time, as new code is added and content creators add content, things can change. Regularly scheduled audits will help you surface any issues. There are also services that will connect you with groups of users with a variety of disabilities that can test your site for you.

Content creators are responsible for a lot of the work it takes to keep your site compliant. Drupal does a great job of creating a solid foundation, but if training isn’t provided to content creators there will still be issues. An example of this is providing poor alt text even if it’s required as mentioned above. Another area that is often overlooked is proper use of heading order. Proper use and nesting of heading tags (e.g., <h1>, <h2>, etc.) will allow for users to better understand the organization of content on a page. For more information on this you can reference W3C’s guidance.

Another way to help is to simply speak up. Remediation of issues is always more difficult than including accessibility from the start of a project. During planning and design be the voice that keeps accessibility on the table. Ask questions when new functionality or design elements are introduced. You may be the only one asking these questions at first, but you will find that over time it will become engrained in others as well so that accessibility planning is not an afterthought, but simply part of the process. Compliance to accessibility standards and best practices doesn’t require a lot of additional technology or even skill. It just needs attention.

Conclusion

Hopefully this has helped you gain a better understanding of web accessibility, why it matters, and why Drupal 8 accessibility improvements will help you create sites that are equally useful to all users. This has certainly not been a comprehensive deep dive into the topic, but it is meant to provide you with enough knowledge to feel comfortable bringing accessibility up in conversations at your next planning meeting or to get you thinking about it while you build your next module.

Please contact us to discuss how Palantir can help you use Drupal 8 to improve accessibility on your next project.

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Aug 24 2017
Aug 24

Our Client

The mission of the Yale University Art Gallery is to encourage appreciation and understanding of art and its role in society through direct engagement with original works of art. The gallery’s online collection contains more than 160,000 works, spanning more than 4,000 years of human history. Many of the images in the collection are available for use as part of the University’s Open Access Policy for public domain works.

Goals and Direction

Having launched their new website in Drupal 7, the Gallery was looking to improve its functionality by making the site easier to use and by simplifying their nightly collection synchronization.

The primary high-level goals for the project were to:

  • Streamline collection imports. Provide reliable synchronization from TMS source data to Drupal content nodes
  • Present a searchable collection. Provide end-users with relevant search results across content types and within collections based content
  • Implement faceted search. Provide end-users the ability to refine search results based on key facets which describe the search data
  • Include sortable results. Provide end-users the ability to sort search results when searching collection objects
  • Implement predictive autocomplete for collections search. Provide end-users the ability to see a set of auto-complete options of artist names when searching collection objects
  • Update the event calendar. Provide end-users with the ability to use the site calendar and event system to find relevant upcoming events

Collection Handling

Like many museums, the Gallery strives to put its extensive collection online. At the time of this writing, the Gallery had only 3,800 works on view to the public, with another 160,000 either in storage or available only by appointment. With the collection online, visitors, artists, and researchers can take a deeper dive into the entire catalogue.

For its collection management, the Gallery uses The Museum System (TMS), a Windows desktop application used by more than 800 institutions worldwide. TMS is a proprietary software system that provides its own bespoke web publishing system, and the Gallery wanted a greater level of presentation control than afforded by that system. In particular, the categories used internally at the Gallery needed to be altered when used on the public website.

When Palantir first engaged with the Gallery in September 2014, they were exporting the entire TMS collection nightly and importing it into the Drupal site using the Migrate module. The process was lengthy and error-prone, so our first task was to make the data import more scalable by having the nightly import only respond to records changed in the TMS system since the last import.

The Migrate module supports this feature with the concept of highwater marks. Highwater marks map the imported data to a sortable key in the source data -- typically the last updated date -- and instructs Drupal to only return content that has been changed since the last import. Doing so cut the speed and increased the accuracy of the nightly import, which formed the basis for all further site improvements.

Search

To search the collection, the Gallery installed an Apache SOLR instance, creating search repositories for site content and for the collected works. This dual approach allowed the creation of two distinct search experiences. Overall site search returns collection objects, events, and other content, while the collection search returns a faceted list of collection objects.

Using the Search API module as a base enhanced by the Facet API module, we can provide a rich search experience similar to what one might use on Amazon.com, where search results can be further narrowed by selecting checkboxes that limit the search range. For the Gallery, a search can be filtered by six distinct filters: Department, Classification, Date Made, Culture, Image Available, and Availability in the gallery.

robust search page

Using the Facet API Slider module, we constructed a custom date widget that allows the user to select a start and end date using a doubled-handled slider.

custom date widget slider

To create predictive search results, we had to create a custom autocomplete callback to handle the requirement that searches should default to pulling back artist records. (Technical note: since the search field is targeted to the SOLR full text index, the Search API Autocomplete module turned out not to work for this use-case.)

custom autocomplete callback

Events

The Gallery hosts numerous public exhibitions and events throughout the year. They play host to a number of traveling exhibitions and need to keep an overall calendar that includes events syndicated from Yale’s central calendar service.

Like the collection search, the calendar includes facets to help visitors narrow the list of results.

calendar

The site also tracks upcoming and past exhibitions, serving as a showcase of the breadth of the collection.

The Results

Like many organizations, the Gallery has complex publishing needs and a small staff. A major outcome of our work has been to streamline the production of the site so that it can be automated based on work already being done in external systems. Collections, exhibits, and artist information all flow through the TMS migration, allowing curators to do their work once and not spend extra time managing the website directly.

Streamlined updates aside, the primary result has been the improved experience for Gallery patrons. By improving the search and calendar functionality, visitors are now able to engage easier with the original artwork provided by the Gallery, both online and in-person at events.

We want to make your project a success.

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Aug 11 2017
Aug 11

There are many different facets of “the Palantir way,” but one principle that sticks out the most is the encouragement to be continuously learning. As a company, we are strong advocates for the concept of “learning by doing,” which is why we’ve had a summer internship program going for years. We believe paid internship opportunities are essential to figuring out what career path is best for you, and they can be beneficial for both the company and the intern.

Our interns are provided the opportunity to see what it’s like to work on real projects with a development team while getting exposure to working through a process with clients. They gain experience using tools like Github and JIRA, and a deeper understanding of responsive design, open source software, and Agile development.

We’ve found that our interns bring huge value with new perspective to our team. They give other Palantiri an opportunity to work on mentorship, and our buddy system means we gain a quick understanding of our interns’ existing skills, so we can help them grow that skillset more effectively.

The added bonus of our internship program is that both sides get to leave with an understanding of whether or not it’s a good fit. Being a remote-first company, it’s nice for our interns to be able to test drive remote work and see if it works for them.

We’ve had such tremendous success in hiring our interns as full-time employees (you might be familiar with Ashley, Kelsey, Patrick, and Matt), that we’ve recently decided to expand our program beyond summer to accommodate the awesome candidates that have extended availability.

Meet Our 2017 Summer Interns!

Lily Fisher

Q: Why were you excited to come work at Palantir?
A: While poking around the website and blog, I saw the previous clients Palantir worked with. I wanted my first job to be fulfilling and a learning experience that allowed me to grow during my pursual of a Computer Science career. Based on the eloquent, effective, and personal approach this company takes when serving their clients, I felt like working with Palantir would allow me to grow while working on real projects in a wholly-understanding professional environment.

Q: Who is the most famous person you’ve ever met?
A: I had a conversation with Alan Parson about my involvement in music.

Q: What do you most like to do to unwind?
A: Skateboard.

Q: What is the first thing you do when you wake up/start your day?
A: Cuddle with my hamster.

Jose Arreluce

Q: Why were you excited to come work at Palantir?
A: I was excited to come work at Palantir as I believed that Palantir’s internship perfectly fit what I was looking for. It presented the opportunity to work on real projects that would have an impact on real people, while also allowing me to learn extensively about how websites are developed in a professional environment. I was also excited by what I saw on Palantir’s website regarding its previous projects and the company culture, as well as by the emphasis on learning.

Q: What excites you about the web?
A: The vast amount of knowledge and opportunity for learning it provides. The memes are nice too.

Q: In 5 years time you hope to be. . .
A: In five years I hope to be working as a software engineer, pursuing an advanced degree, and to have run at least a half marathon.

Q: What do you most like to do to unwind?
A: Running, especially on the Chicago lakefront on a nice day.

Want to know more about Palantir? Check out our culture page or read through our bios. Think it sounds like a good fit? Send us your resume.

Want to work at Palantir?

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Jul 31 2017
Jul 31

Do all Spanish-speaking countries and regions have the same words and terms? Does everyone agree on these terms across the board, or are there barriers? Business Development Representative Annie Schow shares her experience on navigating the diverse landscape of the Spanish language and Web Strategist Michelle Jackson provides some tips on how to better understand the language and culture of the audiences you are targeting.

photo of Annie Schow as a kidAnnie in Colombia as a young, biz-dev-rep in training.

Growing up in Colombia, my first language was Spanish. Eventually, my family made the move back to the United States, but while in Bogota I attended an American school and had American parents, so the move to an English-speaking country when I was 10 was not a huge transition. The biggest transition I experienced was getting accustomed to what seemed like a completely new Spanish language that was being spoken in Texas. Camioneta was now troca, torta was now pastel, and patacones were now tostones.

It may not seem like a huge adjustment to learn some of these terms, but what happens when you take the examples of trucks, cakes, and fried plantains and put these changes into the context of web design? How Spanish-speaking site visitors navigate a site may vary significantly based on dialect, culture, and the region they are from. Some words may even have a negative connotation. Mexican Spanish may not make the most sense for a site that is targeting multilingual audiences from different regions in Latin America. 

So what does this mean for your next project that focuses on a Spanish-speaking demographic as one of your audiences?

Michelle's recommendations:

When in Roma …

Is the homepage portada (Chile) or inicio (Panama)? Will the navigation item for news say prensa (Spain) or noticias (Miami)? The answer depends on whom you are speaking with, where your client is based, and which audiences they serve. If the team is going to provide strategy or design expertise in Spanish or any language, use authentic idioms and terms consistent with the culture to build trust with clients.

  1. Review and take cues from the actual Spanish language site (if there already is one).
  2. If your client has members of the team that speak the language, take advantage of their expertise and seek advice on which terms to use in the navigation.
  3. Review websites in the region that target the same demographic. These can be competitor sites or other sites that people visiting your site might use in parallel markets. This will give you a sense of the actual lingo and what terms visitors may expect on your site.
  4. Run user tests on the menu and the actual site once it is built. Test with real visitors to see if the terms you and the client have selected make sense to the people who will be visiting the site.

Know your audience and avoid sweeping generalizations 

User experience practitioners sometimes make the mistake of creating a generic Spanish speaking persona. Building any site based on one individual and the language he or she speaks to guide the content strategy, design, and build of the site is risky. If one is building a Spanish language site or a site in another language, having multiple personas is best. Knowing the basics of the demographic the site are reaching out to is essential. This knowledge will ensure the site integrates cultural context into the content strategy, design, and technical build of the site. Here are some questions to better understand your audience:

  1. Who are the users (i.e. exchange students, U.S. citizens, etc.,.)?
  2. How old are they?
  3. Where were they born?
  4. What is their education level?
  5. Are they helping their parents or peers?
  6. Can they read English and Spanish?
  7. Can their parents read English and Spanish?
  8. Do their parents speak Spanish or a local dialect?
  9. If they can’t read Spanish, can they understand Spanish?
  10. Do they primarily access the web on their mobile phone or desktop?

This type of nuanced information not only plays a key role in shaping the direction of the project, but also leads to the development of accessible content that can lead to increased visitor engagement with the site. For example, leveraging video might be a solution for visitors with low literacy or for visitors who are reluctant to read a lot of text.

Lost in translation

Write the primary content in Spanish with the audience in mind. Avoid translating the English site word for word. Rather than using Google translate to engage visitors who speak another language, interpret the website goals and content and reflect these to the audiences you are targeting through the site design, content, and technical architecture. Design and build the site so it is authentic and frame content messaging in a way that speaks to them.

Consistency across sites

What do users get out of going to your website? Focus on the universal goals for the site and core user needs before focusing on language. Once you have a sense of what visitors want the most (i.e. apply for a Master’s degree program), you can prioritize supporting content (i.e. getting a visa). Avoid creating separate navigations for versions of the site that are merely the same iteration in another language. Many visitors are multilingual and may toggle between English and Spanish pages. They may get frustrated if the navigation or key content is missing from one site or located in a different places on another.

The Takeaway

Whether you’re moving to a new country or building a website, language and culture will vary. The best thing you can do is listen and learn. Patacones or tostones? You’ll never really know until you submerge yourself in the culture!

There is existing research around cultural and language needs, but words and idioms constantly evolve. Cultural norms are fluid. The only way to validate Spanish terms that you decide to use in the navigation and for key website content is to speak with real site visitors and to test the content and words with them.

Are you attending Drupal Camp Costa Rica? Don't miss out on sessions by Palantir CEOs Tiffany Farriss and George DeMet (neither of whom are Spanish speakers).

Queremos asegurar el éxito de su proyecto.

Hable con nosotros.
Jul 20 2017
Jul 20

Our Client

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) is the largest public arts institution in the city of San Francisco and one of the largest art museums in the state of California. With an annual combined attendance of 1,442,200 people for the two museums (the Legion of Honor and the de Young), FAMSF sought a way to expand the experience for attendees beyond the reach of the physical exhibits themselves and to deepen visitors’ engagement with the art. From this goal, the idea of ‘Digital Stories’ was born.

The Challenge of ‘Digital Stories’

FAMSF had an interesting challenge:

  • They wanted to create engaging, interactive websites for each future exhibition. 
  • They wanted each exhibit website to be unique – not employing the same template over and over. 
  • They wanted these websites to serve as educational tools for their exhibits over the course of many years. 
  • They required a platform that museum staff could use to author without starting from scratch. 
  • They needed to create these website for their two museums — the Legion of Honor and the de Young — with different branding appropriate to each museum and to their respective exhibitions. 

In short, they required a tool that allowed them to “spin up” unique, interactive educational microsites for multiple exhibits, across two museums, for several years.

FAMSF had seen various treatments of text, images, audio, and video on the web that they felt could be used as inspiration for interactive features for their content, that when combined together could provide a larger learning experience for visitors. Those treatments included an expansive use of the standards in HTML5 and CSS3, along with a series of exciting Javascript libraries that expand interactions further than what is offered through HTML and CSS.

The problem also required more than a front-end solution to create the interactions. It needed to be built on a content management system — Drupal 8 in this case — that could support their content editors, providing them with a tool where they could simply upload and arrange content to produce amazing, dynamic exhibit sites.

The Solution

Understanding the brands

In order to create an adaptable template for the museums, we needed to first understand the two brands. The Legion of Honor displays a European collection that spans ancient cultures to early modernism.. The exhibits are seen as authoritative manifestos. The de Young, on the other hand, houses diverse collections including works from Africa, Oceania, Mesoamerica, and American Art. The exhibits are challenging and exploratory, and invite visitors to think about art in new and different ways. The framework for the microsites needed to be flexible enough to convey either brand effectively.

Understanding the content

The FAMSF project was unique in that it wasn’t the typical content strategy we do for websites. Because this project was more interaction and feature driven, our content strategy was focused on the different elements of the stories to be told, and how we could showcase those elements to create an expansive experience for visitors. For example, users should be able to zoom in on a painting to get a closer look, or be able to click on a question and see the answer display.

Creating the right interactive features

With so many different possible elements, it was important to narrow down the interactions and feature components that they needed. These components needed to match their content and also have the ability to be executed in a tight timeline.

For overall presentation treatment, we introduced a flexible content area where individual sections could be introduced as revealable “card sections”. Within each card section, a site administrator can first choose to add hero content for that section which could include either background images or background video, plus various options for placement and style of animated headers.

Next within the card section, a series of “Section Layout Components” were available, such as single column or two columns side-by-side that they could choose from. Within the column sections they could place modular content components that included media (video, images, audio) and text.

Menu features for the Early Monet site, one of the Digital Stories for the Legion of Honor Museum.Menu features for the Early Monet site, one of the Digital Stories for the Legion of Honor Museum.

We used a custom implementation of several JavaScript and jQuery libraries to achieve the card-reveal effect (pagePiling.js) and animated CSS3 transitions as slides are revealed, using a suite of CSS3 animation effects, particularly for Hero sections of slides. Additionally, implementation of a JavaScript library (lazyloadxt) for lazy-loading of images was critical for the success of the desired media-rich pages in order to optimize performance. All were coded to work on modern mobile and desktop browsers, so that every experience would be rich, no matter the type of device it was displayed on.

Many interactive components went through a process of discovery and iteration achieved through team collaboration, taking into account the strategic needs of each component to increase user engagement, along with content requirements of the component, look, feel and interactivity. Components as well as the general treatment were presented as proof-of-concept, where additional client feedback was taken into account. Most interactivity on individual components was done by creating custom jQuery behaviors and CSS3 animation for each component. This often included animated transitional effects to help reveal more pieces of content as users look more closely.

Collapsible content displayed on the “Summer of Love” site, one of the Digital Stories for the de Young MuseumCollapsible content displayed on the “Summer of Love” site, one of the Digital Stories for the de Young Museum

Applying the FAMSF brand to design components

Although the same colors and typefaces employed in FAMSF’s main website were used, it was agreed from the beginning that the Digital Stories and the main website were going to be “cousins” within the same family as opposed to “siblings,” so they could definitely have their own unique feel. This supported the goal of designing the microsites to be an immersive and very targeted experience. This was achieved by expanding upon the existing color palette and using additional fonts within the brand’s font family.

Style tile created for the de Young: playful / challenging / contemporary / exploratoryStyle tile created for the de Young: playful / challenging / contemporary / exploratoryThe de Young style tile creates a sense of excitement and delight through the use of whimsical icons and graphics. Easily recognizable iconography is incorporated in order to communicate effectively with a wide audience, with the added bonus of fun details such as saturated drop shadows and stripes. The de Young style tile creates a sense of excitement and delight through the use of whimsical icons and graphics. Easily recognizable iconography is incorporated in order to communicate effectively with a wide audience, with the added bonus of fun details such as saturated drop shadows and stripes.

In order to make sure the FAMSF team could reliably reproduce new, unique exhibit sites without having to change any code, we had to systematize the structure of the content and application of the interactions.

The Digital Story Content type for each exhibition had modular and reusable interactive features including the following:

  • An image comparison component for comparing two or three images side by side, where revealable text can give more context for each image 
  • An audio component for uploading audio files that included custom playback buttons and a revealable transcript
  • The ability to add a highly customizable caption or credit to any instance of an image or video
  • A zoomable image component where markers can be positioned on the initial image and that marker can be clicked, revealing a more detailed image and an area for more commentary on that detail
  • A revealable “read more” section that can contain further subsections
  • An image with an overlay, to be able to reveal a new image on top of the existing image. This was used to demonstrate aspects of the composition of a painting, showing a drawing on top of the painting.
  • A video component that could support uploaded videos or embedded streaming video
  • A horizontal slider that could contain images and captions with a variety of configuration
  • A stand-alone quotation with display type and an animated transition

The Results

The resulting platform we built allowed FAMSF to launch two exhibit sites in rather quick succession, which would have been incredibly difficult if they had to build each from scratch. In a matter of weeks, FAMSF launched two quite different interactive learning experiences:

Both exhibit sites have received praise, not only internally at FAMSF, but from online reviews of the exhibits, which mention the accompanying Digital Stories online learning tool.

Since the completion of the engagement with Palantir, FAMSF has already leveraged this tool to create an additional Digital Stories site (digitalstories.famsf.org/degas), and they have plans to create at least three more before the end of the year. Because of the simplicity of using the platform, they anticipate being able to spin up 4 - 5 different exhibit sites per year.

Current success for the Digital Stories sites is being measured by individual views and actual participation rate, and the initial results are on track with FAMSF’s initial goals:

  • The Monet site has over 30,000 views
  • The Summer of Love site has just under 30,000 views
  • Visitors are typically spending 4 - 5 minutes on each page

We’re pleased to have been part of a project that helps expand visitors’ understanding of important artists and their works. FAMSF was a great partner, allowing for a true collaboration focused on both pairing the nest technologies to fit the material and also providing the best learning mechanism for those engaging with the content.

We want to make your project a success.

Let's Chat.
Jul 10 2017
Jul 10

Most people who use the internet take for granted the ability to easily access content and services from a variety of different sources. We watch movies and TV shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and countless other streaming video services. We listen to music on Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and Tidal. We communicate with others using social media and messaging apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. We get our news and analysis from hundreds of sites representing the full spectrum of political thought in the United States and beyond.

Being able to quickly and easily publish or consume content from nearly anywhere in the world is not just one of the key reasons for the rapid growth of the internet, but also one of its founding principles.

Today, however, that principle is under threat. The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering rolling back net neutrality protections that ensure equal access to online content for broadband internet users. Without net neutrality, internet service providers would be able to offer preferred access to some content providers, and withhold it from others.

Some of these providers also own their media companies and have a business interest in making it easier for people to view and purchase their content than someone else’s. Because most people in the United States don’t have many options when it comes to broadband internet access, losing net neutrality protections means that many consumers may no longer be able to freely choose the online services that best meet their needs.

Think about it this way: imagine a world in which Cuisinart not only made great kitchen appliances, but they also owned your local electric company. And imagine that electric company decided that they were going to charge you more for the electricity used to power any appliances that you had that were made by KitchenAid or any other other non-Cuisinart brand. You would probably argue that that’s absurd, because there’s nothing inherently different about the electricity that’s used to power a KitchenAid toaster versus one made by Cuisinart.

But that’s precisely what the broadband internet service providers opposed to net neutrality want to be able to do: prioritize traffic from their preferred content providers, making it more difficult or costly to access others. In reality, there’s no inherent difference in the traffic that comes from one site versus another; they’re all ones and zeros. Whether you choose to watch a movie on Netflix, Hulu, or FilmStruck shouldn’t be the business of your internet service provider any more than the brand of toaster you use to toast bread in the morning should be the business of your electric utility.

At Palantir, we believe that helping others discover, create, and share knowledge can help strengthen humanity. Many of the websites and online experiences that we architect, design, and build convey information that enable people to make more informed choices and in some cases, even help save lives. It’s important to us that our work is accessible to everyone regardless of what internet service provider they’re using.

That’s why we’re proud to join forces with hundreds of other sites around the web this July 12th for a day of action urging the FCC and Congress to preserve Title II net neutrality protections. You can find out more and make your voice heard at www.battleforthenet.com. We hope you’ll stand alongside us to help keep the web a free and open place.

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Jun 07 2017
Jun 07

Our Client

Starwood Retail Partners owns 28 shopping malls and lifestyle centers across the United States. Unlike their competitors, Starwood Retail focuses on developing community centers instead of just shopping destinations. Their corporate website targets retailers and investors who are interested in leasing or developing their properties. The site provides information on the individual locations, as well as downloadable resources for potential investors.

Being on a tight timeline to launch the new site before an upcoming corporate event, Starwood Retail sought to replace their standard development partner. They had already contracted with another firm, Petrick Design, to provide creative support, but they needed a strategic development partner. After conversations with the Palantir team, Starwood Retail knew they had found the Drupal prowess they were looking for.

"We could tell the expertise we were getting in Drupal, and that we were going to have the necessary support to get all of the things we didn’t know we needed.” — Brian Price, Digital Marketing Manager

Goals and Direction

Starwood Retail felt that their site was lagging behind their competitors, and they wanted to do a full redesign in a way that would allow them to provide thorough information with an updated look. They wanted their website to inspire, engage, and “wow” visitors while advancing the company brand and culture – innovative, creative, fresh, and young but with tremendous experience. The site also needed to intuitively expedite the leasing process, showcase their centers as prime opportunities, reinforce their retail expertise, instill pride in current employees, and inspire potential employees and partners.

Simply put, none of the content on the old Starwood Retail site described what services they provided. It had information scattered across different pages in a way that made the information feel overwhelming, and the content was not organized at a property level. This made it extremely difficult to find location-specific information because all of their content was shown in massive lists.

The new site needed to achieve three primary goals:

  • Surface content to make it easier for marketers, future tenants and investors to find what they needed.
  • Tell a story about the services Starwood Retail provides.
  • Modernize the site by migrating to Drupal 8.

How We Helped

Living Style Guide

Starwood Retail is a rapidly growing company, and they needed a site that had the flexibility to grow with them. We took the beautiful static designs provided by Petrick and extended them into a responsive style guide that informed the Drupal build. This robust browser-based style guide turned the design into components, so that new content can be published quickly as Starwood Retail continues to grow. This style guide now serves as a reference so that any future updates will still maintain the design system.

Flexibility in Drupal 8

After the style guide was created, it was translated into an easy-to-use Drupal interface. As we were building, we were able to show the Starwood Retail team how all of the components would come together, and we worked with them on help text, labels, and an organization that made sense to them. Since they were in on the process, it makes it easier for them to carry forward.

The new site is easier to understand and easier to populate. In the previous site, contact information would have to be updated in each location that it was present on the site. On the new site, if you update a piece of content, it will update that node across the whole site. Another example is that when a new mall page is added, that mall is automatically added to their location map (shown below).

Property map with advanced filtering abilitiesProperty map with advanced filtering abilities.

The Results

The new Drupal 8 site has intuitive workflows and allows the editorial team to be more efficient as Starwood Retail grows. Not only does it have a modern look and feel, it’s easy to update. Editors know exactly where they need to go, because the site functions as they intended it to.

This project is a prime example of how a collaborative process can turn out well. Through constant communication and clearly identified trade-offs, even a very tight deadline was achieved.

“We have a great corporate website now that everyone is really proud of, and it functions exactly how we wanted it to.” - Brian Price, Digital Marketing Manager

We want to make your project a success.

Let's Chat.
Jun 07 2017
Jun 07

Our Client

GenomeWeb is an independent news organization that provides online reporting on genomic technologies. Historically they have focused on this very narrow niche of the bio industry, and they are the leading news site in that particular field. Their site has an active community with over 200,000 users and about 20 new articles being published daily.

Over time GenomeWeb saw that the technologies they were covering were moving very quickly into healthcare and diagnostics, and they wanted to expand their news coverage into the molecular diagnostics space.

Goals and Direction

Instead of adding new content directly to the existing site, GenomeWeb wanted to create a new sister site to be located at www.360Dx.com, which would include existing diagnostic content and also new coverage that could be marketed to a broader diagnostics audience. The new site would host less technical and more business-focused content, as well as share content with the current GenomeWeb site.

Goals for the new 360Dx site and multi-headed architecture:

  • Content from each site should be easily accessible for both sets of audiences.
  • New clinical content should only live on 360Dx.
  • Sites should keep the same user database. If someone is a user on GenomeWeb, they should have the same level of access on the new 360 site. This means paying for a premium level of access on one site would grant users premium access on the other.

“It was a very complex project. The site was already complicated to begin with.” — Bernadette Toner, CEO

How We Helped

To extend their business model to another site, Palantir used the Domain module suite to enable editors to assign content to both genomeweb.com and 360Dx.com. With Domain, the two sites can share some content and cross-promote articles to new audiences while having unique themes and settings.

The team developed a new derivative theme for 360Dx.com and ensured that content, users, and views were assigned to the proper domain. This work included analysis of existing modules and content, the creation and testing of update scripts, and configuration of domain-specific settings for analytics, ads, and other services. We also worked with the GenomeWeb team to integrate domains into their memberships, so that users could subscribe to email news bulletins from either or both sites independently.

The new site structure we created had very intuitive workflows, which meant the GenomeWeb team did not need extensive training to learn the new functionality. We worked to ease deployment and updates using the Features modules and through documentation of domain configurations.

The Results

The new multi-headed Drupal architecture created multiple wins for GenomeWeb. There is a wealth of content between their two sites, and by using Domain Access they are able to easily manage it all in one place. It has been easy for editors to post content and decide if it should go to one site or both, and there hasn’t been a huge change in their daily workflow.

The new architecture also allows GenomeWeb to engage with their audience on a deeper level: by having different kinds of registrations for each site, GenomeWeb is able to collect different demographics and target specific segments of their audience with more data. Although the site is still new, GenomeWeb has met their initial projections, and they anticipate being able to personalize their efforts even more as more data compiles.

“The new site works as we envisioned, which doesn’t always happen. The Palantir team listened to what we needed and was able to make it happen, and we are really, really happy with the results.” — Bernadette Toner, CEO

We want to make your project a success.

Let's Chat.
May 09 2017
May 09

DrupalCon is always a positive experience for the Palantir team, largely because of the Drupal community itself. Our week in Baltimore was filled with engaged conversations, thoughtful sessions, and much appreciated down time with friends we don’t get to see often enough.

DrupalCon by the Numbers

  • Palantiri in attendance: 14
  • Palantiri sessions: 3
  • Client meetings: 7
  • Coffees consumed: at least 2 dozen
  • Newsletter sign-ups: 240
  • Podcasts recorded: 2
  • Late nights: 2 many

“It was a wonderful first DrupalCon experience because of a great community that is so supportive and accepting of newcomers, regardless of their level of Drupal knowledge.” - Annie Schow

Highlights by Day

Monday: We ate all the crabs.
Following the opening reception in the exhibit hall, we ate dinner as a team at Riptide by the Bay In historic Fells Point. An impressive amount of crabs were consumed.

photo of Palantiri at dinner

photo of crabs at dinner

Tuesday: #PMTheMusical!
We witnessed another standing ovation for Joe Allen-Black and Allison Manley and their performance of Project Management: The Musical! There were quite a few crowd favorites, and Joe and Allison were both happy to share their final performance of this presentation in front of an energetic DrupalCon crowd.

photo of Joe Allen-Black and Allison Manley

Wednesday: Inclusion Initiative
We partnered with another Chicago-based agency, Digital Bridge, to coordinate a Drupal training session for five students local to Baltimore who were unfamiliar with Drupal. We’re looking forward to expanding the program in the future. Keep an eye out for more details on that later this month!

photo of students

Thursday: #ContentBeforeCode, #DevTeamCollab and Trivia Night
If you missed them at MidCamp, Megh Plunkett, Michelle Jackson, and Bec White did round two of their sessions on Thursday (recordings linked above). Michelle and Bec’s session will also be available via a webinar later this summer, so stay tuned for your chance to sign up in case you missed it at DrupalCon.

Palantir also hosted Trivia Night at Baltimore Soundstage. We’re not sure the wait staff knew what was happening as over 400 people were tasked with answering some fairly obtuse and nerdy questions about this mysterious Drupal thing, but they kept everyone hydrated so we could enjoy the fun. Jeff Eaton killed yet again as the emcee for the evening. 

photo of Megh Plunkett

photo of Allison Manley

Friday: Exploring Baltimore
As people shuffled to the airport, a few Palantiri were able to squeeze in a last minute trip to the Baltimore National Aquarium. Thankfully not one Palantir was lost to sharks.

photo of group at aquarium

Thanks for a great week Baltimore. We’ll see you next time, DrupalCon!

We want to make your project a success.

Let's Chat.
May 05 2017
May 05

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women in the United States. We are honing in on DrupalCon-host city Baltimore, which has launched several initiatives to combat cardiovascular disease. Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center are two large university hospitals local to Baltimore that have centers dedicated to women and heart disease. Using women’s heart health as our focus, we compared select search outcomes, menu hierarchy, labeling, and landing pages.

Step 1 was a cursory competitive analysis of two health system websites that we covered in part 1. Step 2 is competitive user testing to validate the conclusions that we made from the preliminary competitive analysis.

Competitive user testing is a useful way to see how your site measures up against your competitors’ sites. By taking a look at how patients may interact with your site and competitor sites, you can compare their experience and make changes that allow you to better serve patients’ specific needs. You can implement competitive usability testing even if you have not completed a preliminary competitive analysis.

Since we last discussed websites and women’s heart health, we held two user tests to compare site visitors’ experiences when navigating the Hopkins Medicine and University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) health system websites.

We chose tasks based on actions that people might perform on a health system website. We also considered the type of information women look for when seeking information on heart disease.

For our user tests, we asked two women who are Maryland residents between the ages of 40 and 70 to complete several tasks on both the Hopkins Medicine and University of Maryland Medical Center websites without using search.

Tasks we asked participants to perform:

  1. Learn if you are at risk for heart disease
  2. Share information about the risks of heart disease
  3. Find a physician
  4. Schedule an appointment
  5. Find directions
  6. Pay a bill
  7. Find a program or center related to women and heart health

Select Findings

We found:

  • “Health” and “Healthy Heart” labels provide users with a quick pathway to heart health risk information
  • Users successfully completed the majority of top tasks (i.e. schedule an appointment)
  • Finding programs and information about risks associated with women’s heart health is challenging
  • Multi-level navigations and redundant label terminology created complex pathways for users

table 1

table 2

The experiences of these two women revealed some challenges that might be experienced by other site visitors. Our findings warrant additional usability testing to further evaluate, compare how these and other health system websites help patients seeking information about programs and centers that address women’s heart health.

“I would never [pay my bill] this way, I would pay it online [through my bank].”

Highlights and Challenges

“Health” and “Healthy Heart” labels provide users with a quick pathway to heart health risk information.

On the Hopkins Medicine’s health system website, both the first and second participants successfully found “know your risks” on the Healthy Heart landing page (see Figure 2) when looking for information about heart disease risk. The second participant said Hopkins Medicine performed better than its UMMC counterpart in describing the factors that put people at risk for heart disease.

When navigating the UMMC website, the second participant navigated to the Women’s Heart Health Program landing page and said the description of risks were symptoms associated with heart disease and not actual risks. “They don’t say, blood pressure, overweight, sleep apnea,” she commented. The first user did not locate risks for heart disease on the UMMC website.

Figure 1: Hopkins Medicine Healthy Heart navigation menu

figure 1: Hopkins main and secondary navigation labelsHopkins Medicine’s main and secondary navigation labels (Health > Healthy Heart) gave users quick access to information on heart disease risk.

Figure 2: Hopkins Medicine Healthy Heart landing page

Figure 2: Hopkins Medicine Healthy Heart landing page“Know Your Risks” featured prominently within Healthy Heart local navigation makes heart disease risks easily accessible to users.

Figure 3: UMMC Women’s Heart Health Program landing page

Figure 3: UMMC Women's Heart Health Program landing pageUMMC’s women’s heart program landing page does not present information about heart disease risks that is easily accessible.

Participants successfully completed the majority of top tasks (i.e. schedule an appointment). 

Both users successfully completed the majority of top tasks such as find a physician, schedule an appointment, find directions, and pay a bill. The first participant did not find a way to get physician on the UMMC homepage and Heart & Vascular Center landing page. This may have been because of the placement of the calls to action in the sidebar (Figure 5), adjacent competing content (Figure 5) and the utility navigation and the “Find a Doctor” call to action button similarity in color (Figure 4).

“If I wanted to find a physician I woul[d] ...call a heart specialist first.”

Figure 4: UMMC main navigation and “Find a Doctor” call to action button

Figure 4: UMMC main navigationCalls to action for top tasks such as “Make an appointment” and “Find a doctor” blend in with utility navigation colors, which could make it hard for users to see these key buttons

Figure 5: UMMC Heart and Vascular Center landing page

Figure 5: UMMC Heart and Vascular Center landing pageCalls to action for top tasks such as “Make an appointment”  and “Find a Doctor” compete with UMMC Cardiologists video and hero news story “One Family, Two Heart Transplants” content.

Finding programs and information about risks associated with women’s heart health is challenging.

The first participant did not find either the Hopkins Medicine or UMMC’s programs nor centers related to women and heart health, even when visiting pages that were dedicated to cardiology or cardiovascular health. The first participant visited UMMC’s programs listing page, which contained separate links to women’s health and heart and vascular health pages, but did not list the Women’s Heart Health Program under either of these headers (see Figures 6 and 7).

After the first participant clicked on the Heart and Vascular Center landing page, she scanned Services, but did not find the Women’s Heart Health Program because the secondary navigation extends below the top half of the page masking the Women’s Heart Health Program. The first participant also was unsuccessful in finding a program or center related to women and heart health information on the Hopkins Medicine health system website. “I can find heart stuff, I just can’t find anything on women,” she said.

The second participant was able to find the Women’s Heart Health Program on the UMMC site; however, she remarked that it was challenging to locate: “It’s not intuitive how you would find a program here. Now I see it, but not before I’ve gone through too many exercises.” 

Figure 6: UMMC programs landing page

Figure 6: UMMC programs landing pageWomen’s Health section on programs landing page has no mention of the women’s heart health program

Figure 7: UMMC programs landing page

Figure 7: UMMC programs landing pageHeart and Vascular Center section on programs landing page has no mention of the women’s heart health program

Figure 8: UMMC Heart & Vascular Center landing page

Figure 8: UMMC Heart & Vascular Center landing pageThe local navigation for the Heart and Vascular Center landing page has items under “Services” that extend beyond the top of the page. One user stopped at Pulmonary Hypertension and missed the last item in the “Services” dropdown, “Women’s Heart Health.”

Multi-level navigations and redundant label terminology created complex pathways for users.

Participants had difficulty remembering how they got to specific pages because of redundant label terminology and deeply nested pages. When looking for information on risks for heart disease, the first participant had trouble using the main, secondary and local navigation to find this information, selecting Health information > Medical encyclopedia > Look up a symptom > Medical Encyclopedia > Your Health only to go back to the main navigation to click on Centers and Services and Patients and Visitors.

“I would always call because half the time it gets lost when you do it through the portal.”

Takeaways

We can gain a more nuanced understanding of how diverse patient demographics navigate and use health system websites by conducting competitive usability tests and focusing on a specialized medical issue such as women’s heart health.

While this study warrants additional research and usability testing given the small number of users, it does reveal challenges that are faced by many of our clients in the health care industry like navigation and findability.

To better serve patients and their caregivers, health system websites can take several steps to improve the experience for site visitors:

  • Simplify their menu structure so that there are fewer levels and sub-navigations
  • Remove competing content from areas of the page and improve color contrast, helping users access key buttons like “make an appointment” and “find a doctor”
  • Reference and cross link to women’s heart health centers and programs on program pages
  • Provide related content on pages that have resources on heart health and women’s health to improve findability
  • Revisit alphabetizing navigation items in favor of featuring top specialities and health areas that are of primary importance to patient audiences.

In the health care field, meeting the needs of patients can be a matter of life and death. It is important for health systems to continually evaluate how their websites are meeting the needs of patient and caregivers and how they can improve the experience for patients and caregivers and best facilitate access to information about health services and resources.

We want to make your project a success.

Let's Chat.
Apr 17 2017
Apr 17

Heavily borrowing from “The Raven” by Baltimore’s own Edgar Allen Poe.


Once upon a laptop dreary, with its glow so blue and eerie,
Viewing travel sites where I could shop the online store —
While I purchased, looked at mapping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my office door.
“’Tis my colleague,” I muttered, “tapping at my office door —
Helping plan for Baltimore.”

DrupalCon! It is upon us! This conference of such colossus;
3,000 strong will be among us on the conference floor.
Many coming from Palantir to learn and join in Drupal’s cheer
Coming to learn and share with those of similar rapport,
Descending upon a convention center on this eastern shore.
Arriving to explore.

Palantir will have a presence: Booth 109 — and we’ll have presents:
Swag to give all those who visit our spot upon the floor.
A photo booth will offer chances to give our visitors some glances
Of how they look with props and hats of variety galore.
They can tweet and share photos beyond that building’s door.
Posterity forever more!

Three talks will come from Palantiri, who worked hard on each topic’s theory.
The first is 2:15 on Tuesday, and has a musical score:
“Project Management: The Musical” . . . could be slightly Seussical!
Allison and Joe will sing and dance on running scrums and more.
There’s much to learn! Don’t be fooled by the use of songs of yore.
Room 307 – Acquia in Baltimore.

The next are April 27. First at noon . . . is it hell or heaven?
Can separate teams together be something to desire or deplore?
“Successfully Integrating Teams” is the stuff of engineer dreams.
Mixing teams with thoughtful prep can much success ensure.
The tips to do this seamlessly Megh Plunkett will underscore.
Room 319 – Platform.sh in Baltimore.

The last is in the afternoon, and shows that no site is immune
From website content that has been continuously ignored.
“Content Before Code: A D8 Case Study” at 2:45. Grab a buddy!
So you too can learn how to gather content in ways to make all sure.
“Get your content ready for launch!” Michelle and Bec implore.
Room 307 – Acquia in Baltimore.

Palantir will host the fun at Trivia Night, where everyone
Can try for fame by answering questions about Core.
Doors will open right at 8, so hurry there and don’t be late!
Test your skills against your friends to gain the highest score.
Baltimore Soundstage is the place where we shall host the lore.
124 Market Place in Baltimore.

Our wish to see you there grows stronger; hesitating then no longer,
Please know we’d love to see you at our booth or on the floor.
Since we know that time can be fleeting, you can even set up a meeting.
To discuss how we can help your project take wing, and then to soar!
Contact us so we can meet that week in Baltimore.
DrupalCon forevermore!

We want to speak with you at DrupalCon!

Schedule a Time
Apr 14 2017
Apr 14

Come see Project Management: The Musical! at DrupalCon Baltimore. April 25th at 2:15pm.

In this presentation we will cover...

  • How to get your project organized
  • What analytics and KPIs to review
  • How to handle scope creep
  • ...and many more facets of project management

We want to make your project a success.

Let's Chat.
Mar 24 2017
Mar 24

Calling all designers, developers, strategists, and UX professionals: MidCamp week is here!

MidCamp is the largest annual DrupalCamp in the Midwest, and we are proud to have multiple Palantiri deeply involved in the planning and execution of this event. Not only is MidCamp a place to see great sessions on current topics, but it creates an opportunity to connect with the local community in person (not that we don’t also enjoy wearing those fun hats in a Google Hangout).

In addition to supporting MidCamp on an organizational level, this year Palantir is sponsoring Friday night’s Game Night. There will be an assortment of games to play and delicious food provided by the Donerman food truck (free for all Game Night ticket holders). Come late, leave early — we are looking forward to connecting with everyone!

The Palantiri Agenda

Content Before Code — A D8 Case Study
Michelle Jackson and Bec White

Friday, March 31, 2017
11:00am – 11:45am
Room: 314B

In this session you’ll learn how to:

  • Use GatherContent to create content
  • Migrate structured content in conjunction with Drupal 8
  • Collaborate with clients in planning, structuring and curating content prior to development

Successfully Integrate Teams of Internal and External Developers
Megh Plunkett

Friday, March 31, 2017
3:45pm – 4:30pm
Room: 314B

In this session you’ll learn how to:

  • Prepare your team to work with external developers
  • Spot communication breakdowns before they are un-mendable
  • Manage resourcing, roles and responsibilities

Game Night

  • Friday, March 31, 2017
  • 6pm – 9pm
  • Room: Second floor common area

Supporting Innovation Through Contribution
George DeMet

Saturday, April 1, 2017
11:30am – 12:00pm
Room: 314B

In this session you’ll learn:

  • The different benefits gained from supporting Drupal
  • What barriers are keeping organizations from contributing to Drupal
  • How to promote a culture of contribution within the Drupal community

Your Styleguide is an API
Luke Wertz

Saturday, April 1, 2017
2:00pm – 2:45pm
Room: 314B

In this session you’ll learn:

  • How to turn a style guide into a dependency instead of a deliverable
  • A framework for how to use style guides in a CMS-agnostic way
  • Some basic implementation strategies

It’s still not too late to grab tickets, so join us this week, and be sure to follow along on Twitter: #MidCamp.

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Mar 21 2017
Mar 21

Competitive analysis is an exercise, the importance of which transcends the borders of many industries, including healthcare. By taking a look at how your site compares to your competitors, you can ultimately make changes that allow you to better serve your patient’s specific needs.

In recognition of Women’s History Month, we are focusing on women’s health, specifically heart disease, the number one cause of death for women in the United States. We are also honing in on on DrupalCon-host city Baltimore, which has launched several initiatives to combat cardiovascular disease. The goal is to take a look at how two health systems in Charm City categorize and present information about cardiovascular disease on their public-facing websites.

Let’s imagine you have been tasked by the American Heart Association (AHA) to compare and evaluate websites of local health systems in the field of cardiology in how they serve women patients who suffer from cardiovascular disease. Where do we begin? What competitors will we look at? What dimensions or features/site attributes are we comparing? What key tasks are important to patients and caregivers? How does search impact the site visitor journey to each competitor website.

By the time you finish reading this post, you will have the know-how to do a competitive analysis for a health-system or hospital website with a focus on particular health specialties and demographics. You will be able to see how your website measures against the competition at the specialty level and also in meeting the needs of specific patient and caregiver audiences.

What is competitive analysis?

As we discussed in Competitive Analysis on a Budget, competitive analysis is a user experience research technique that can help you see how your site compares with competitor websites in terms of content, design, and functionality. It can also lead to better decision-making when selecting new design and technical features for your site (e.g. search filter terms or search listing display). In this post, we’ll focus on the navigation and internal menu labels as our dimensions.

A Tale of Two Hospitals

Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center are two large university hospitals local to Baltimore that have centers dedicated to women and heart disease. The two centers are considered direct competitors because both offer the same service and function in the same way.

Fast Facts for Context

  • Women’s heart disease symptoms are complex and often differ from mens’ symptoms. 
  • Women suffering from heart disease may not experience any symptoms at all.
  • In 2015, the Baltimore City Health Department released a report that cited cardiovascular disease as the leading cause of death in the city.
  • According to the 2015 Maryland Vital Statistics Annual Report, approximately 1 in 4 deaths in the Baltimore Metro Area were related to heart disease.
  • National and statewide statistics confirm cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for men and women.

It all begins with search

Search plays a key role in how patients and caregivers, especially women, find information about health conditions and treatment. In 2013, Pew Research’s Health Online Report noted that “women [were] more likely than men to go online to figure out a possible diagnosis.” The report also noted that “77% of online health seekers say they began at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo.”

Specific search queries will likely bring this group of site visitors to a specific page, rather than to the homepage. This means the information architecture of health system internal pages plays a key role in providing patients and caregivers with information and resources about medical conditions and services. Competitive analysis can help us understand if and how these pages are meeting patient and caregiver needs.

Keywords are key

Keyword selection drastically impacts the results that are returned during a patient and caregiver search query. To demonstrate this, let’s start with a basic keyword search to evaluate how sites are optimizing search for topics like women and heart disease. As shown below, keywords can transform the information-seeking experience for women.

Figure 1: Google search with “women heart disease baltimore md” as key wordsFigure 1: Google search with “women heart disease baltimore md” as key words

The first figure shows the search query results for “women heart disease baltimore md.” Johns Hopkins Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center and University of Maryland Medical Center Women’s Heart Program landing pages are both listed in the search results (Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 2: Johns Hopkins Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center landing pageFigure 2: Johns Hopkins Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center landing page Figure 3: University of Maryland Medical Center Women’s Heart Health Program landing pageFigure 3: University of Maryland Medical Center Women’s Heart Health Program landing page Figure 4: Google search with “heart disease hospital baltimore md” Figure 4: Google search with “heart disease hospital baltimore md”

Search significantly impacts patient and caregiver access to health and hospital information. Google provides results based on previous search behavior, so results may vary by browser and search history, among other factors. We tried these terms using a private session and when logged into Google and saw little to no variance.

As shown in Figure 4, using different keywords in the search query yields different search results. “Heart disease hospital baltimore md” returns Johns Hopkins Heart & Vascular Institute as one of the top search results, but University of Maryland Medical Center’s Heart and Vascular Center is not returned as a top result when logged into Google Chrome on during a private session.

This is important to note because the University of Maryland Medical Center may want to look into methods to improve search engine optimization. There are different ways to address the absence of your website or landing page, product or service at the top of the site visitor’s search results listing.

Menu hierarchy and landing pages - when alphabetization complicates user experience

If women with heart disease choose keywords like “heart disease hospital baltimore md,” and do not indicate their gender in their query, they are brought to Heart & Vascular Health landing pages for each respective health system. Both landing pages use alphabetization to organization centers and programs, Because the centers or programs dedicated to women and heart disease begin with “W,” they are situated at the bottom of the internal navigations.

This may pose a challenge to patients and caregivers entering the site from search queries that omit the word “women” (i.e. heart disease hospital baltimore md). These search query examples are not meant to represent the most common queries for people looking for information about heart disease in Baltimore; rather they demonstrate how different search queries can yield different results for people seeking this information.

Figure 5: Johns Hopkins Heart & Vascular Institute landing pageFigure 5: Johns Hopkins Heart & Vascular Institute landing page Figure 6: University of Maryland Medical Center Heart and Vascular CenterFigure 6: University of Maryland Medical Center Heart and Vascular Center

Internal Menu Labeling and Nesting

Now that we see how search impacts visitor pathways to the health system sites, let’s take a closer look at how Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center, differ in presenting information in the internal menus for the centers and programs dedicated to women’s heart disease and heart health.

Figure 7: Johns Hopkins Heart & Vascular Institute landing page navigationFigure 7: Johns Hopkins Heart & Vascular Institute landing page navigation

Multiple internal navigations within the Johns Hopkins Heart & Vascular Institute landing page and the current placement of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center at the bottom of the navigation hierarchy might make it challenging for patients looking for this particular center. Since centers provide services for patients, the placement of “centers of excellence” under “clinical services” may complicate site visitors’ understanding of resources and the relationship between services and centers. These types of naming conventions should be examined more closely.

Figure 8: Johns Hopkins Heart & Vascular Institute landing page internal navigationsFigure 8: Johns Hopkins Heart & Vascular Institute landing page internal navigations Figure 9: University of Maryland Medical Center Women’s Heart Health Program landing page navigationsFigure 9: University of Maryland Medical Center Women’s Heart Health Program landing page navigations

Like its competitor, the University of Maryland Medical Center has multiple internal navigations, which may also be cumbersome to users. Patients and caregivers have too many options which may make it difficult for them to understand what they should do on this page. It may also make it challenging for them to complete key tasks (i.e. researching risk factors, find a physician, schedule an appointment, etc).

The University of Maryland Medical Center’s “Centers and Services might resonate better with site visitors because they can find both Centers and Services under “Centers and Services;” Johns Hopkins Medicine’s placement of Centers of Excellence under Clinical Services could be confusing. Patients typically go to a center to receive clinical services; they don’t often go to a clinical service to find a center.

The University of Maryland Medical Center’s Heart & Vascular Center use of “Services’” for one of its navigations might not be intuitive to site visitors. “Services” plays the role of a catch-all for conditions (i.e. aortic disease), topics (i.e. women’s heart health) and treatment options (i.e. heart and lung transplant) and may make it challenging for visitors to find what they are looking for on this page.

More specifically, a patient or caregiver looking for women’s heart health may not necessarily expect to find a program under “Services.” These items could be surfaced more quickly and more efficiently organized within Centers and Services so that the pathways to Women’s Heart Health are more intuitive to patients and their caregivers.

We’ll know if this is the case after we test these health system site pages with real visitors.

Figure 10: Competitive analysis matrixFigure 10: Competitive analysis matrix

In sum

So how do you design a website for women who may have asymptomatic heart disease? How do you integrate the needs of potential patients who experience neck and back pain as a symptom of their heart disease? We can gain a better understanding of specific cases like this by understanding the user journey of patients who exhibit non-traditional symptoms of heart disease and their caregivers by conducting competitive usability tests of these sites.

So what next?

Now that we’ve provided a cursory analysis and heuristic evaluation of the internal navigations of two health system sites, we’ll perform user tests on the websites to validate the some of the hypotheses we discuss in this blog post and compare the content and design of the two health system sites. Keep an eye out for that post in a couple weeks!

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Mar 10 2017
Mar 10

Strategy-driven design is a process that is heavily informed by the research and goals established during the strategy phase of a project. At Palantir, our design and strategy teams work together closely. I’ll be using this post to talk about how different strategic deliverables help to inform the design process and keep it on track throughout the project.

Creating a Common Language

The biggest benefit of strategy-driven design is the creation of a common language for the design team, the strategy team, and the client to discuss design decisions. This benefit extends into each step of the process.

Many non-designers have trouble talking about and providing feedback on design. I’ve had experiences where I get feedback like “the blue isn’t working, so I think we should use orange more,” or “the image at the top is too small, let’s make it bigger.” Though this type of feedback isn’t all that bad, it could be more effective. The reasoning behind the feedback isn’t clear, and it lacks a relationship to the user experience.

By using the strategic deliverables as a benchmark, we can reframe the feedback in a way that keeps the goals and user experience in mind. Instead a client might say “The blue on this button does not have enough emphasis, and since this CTA is one of our primary KPIs, we should explore alternative colors to improve its hierarchy on the page.” You can see how the core meaning of the feedback didn’t really change, but the conversation around that feedback has been reframed to be goal-oriented and problem based.

When we have a common language, communicating is easier and the reasoning behind design decisions becomes clearer to a client. This results in clients being more confident in the design decision and also gives them language and reasoning when presenting them to their stakeholders.

Strategic Deliverables’ Relationship to Design

Competitive Analysis

Competitive Analysis involves looking at an industry’s competitive landscape and determining what your website is doing well and where there is room for improvement. Basically, this piece of strategy is about sizing up the competition and figuring out how to surpass them.

Though the competitive analysis does not directly affect the design process, it can help us to understand an industry’s best practices and standards. We can compare our designs to what already exists and find unique ways to improve our user experience and the overall brand impressions from that experience.

For example, Competitor A’s site also has a newsletter signup pathway. As we navigate through it with the mindset of a user, we can uncover areas of improvement. For example, their form element doesn’t tell you what information it is looking for, and they do not have any descriptive information about what you are signing up for. By navigating through this process on our competitor’s site, we can gain a lot of insightful ideas to improve the user experience on our own site.

Competitor A's newsletter signup

Business Goals and KPIs

The business goals and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) of a project are the guiding light of the design phase. As we work through each part of the design process, we look at the goals as our design targets. Through the design, we want to ensure that we help set the project up to accomplish those goals.

For example, a site goal could be to increase newsletter sign-ups, and a KPI might be to increase them by 25%. So as we move through the design process, we consider the sign up form’s placement on a page as well as the style decisions that give it the appropriate hierarchy and visual weight, like color and size.

In addition to the site wide goals, each section of the site may also have its own unique goals. Part of the design and strategy collaboration process includes balancing these section specific goals with the project goals. The design helps to guide the user through each section of the site, ensuring that the section’s goals are understandable and navigable, and that the site goals are visible, without being overpowering.

User Research

User research builds on the existing KPIs and explores how and why a user explores the site. Empathy mapping provides insight into the feelings, thoughts, and actions of a user as they try to accomplish their goals. Personas then define the types of users at a high level by focusing on their specific needs, motivations, and limitations. User journeys combine this information to plan an improved pathway to help users more easily accomplish their goals on a site.

It is the designer’s job to help realize these goals and translate them into a clear and usable interface that meets the needs of individual users. By using hierarchy, color, clear indicators, and subtle animations, design can help guide users through the site without getting in the way and slowing them down. We begin to consider accessibility and functional needs. With the user journey as the direction, we can visualize how a user gets from point a to point b and where they may need to stop, or get help, along the way.

To continue our “newsletter sign-ups” example, this step involves ensuring that the placement of the signup form is in a location that makes sense, but doesn’t interfere with the other content on that page. It also means ensuring that users know where the submit button is and what information goes into the inputs by using appropriate labels. We can also begin considering different user needs. For example, a visually impaired user may need higher contrast levels or may need to navigate the signup form using their keyboard.

Content Strategy

The content audit looks at existing content, and the content type definition begins to define what content will be used on the site and how and where it will be used. Design uses this definition to plan components and templates. Without the content, there would be nothing to design and there would be nothing of value for a user. Content is really key.

A lot of people think good design can compensate for poor content, but that isn’t true. Content and design are like a pair of dancers, if only one is good, then the act is mediocre at best. If both are good, however, then the act is a beautiful work of art that communicates its message clearly and seamlessly to the audience. Good design cannot compensate for poor content, and you cannot have a great design without great, well thought out, and consistent content.

Once you have a good content plan the design can begin to form the structure and the hierarchy of that content. The strategy helps to inform how and where the content is connected, and the design works to tie those threads together with clear, navigable pathways.

For our newsletter example, this means first determining which content pathways lead to the newsletter signup form, and how important that form is compared to other content within that content type. On a news or blog article page, that form may be more relevant than on a contributor’s biography page. Additionally, the content strategy helps articulate the language around the form itself, defining the title and description blocks.

Information Architecture

If the User Journey is the direction from point “A” to point “B”, then the Information Architecture is the map. When it comes to integrating the IA into the design, the work is a lot more literal than the other examples. It involves creating waypoints that help users know where they are and how to navigate.

This involves things like clear labeling of “you are here” type information, such as bread crumbs or section headers. It can also entail active states on the navigation to show “you are in this section”. However, there are multiple pathways to get to point “B”. We can’t always tell where a user came from on the site or if they even landed there from the site at all. This means that each page has a goal of informing the user of where they currently are, as well as showing them other routes that they can take to get around. Having a clear navigation with understandable labels goes a long way. Design works to ensure that these are discoverable and usable.

To go back to our newsletter example, this would mean having a clear path to the newsletter signup in the navigation and surfacing alternative navigation pathways through the rest of the site.

Diagram showing clear path to newsletter and alternative navigation pathways

Goal Setting and Testing

Above, I talked about how each individual deliverable impacts the design process. As a whole, these deliverables give the design process clear objectives, benchmarks, and a common language for discussing design decisions. This process helps to marry the strategic goals with the design goals of a project.

Oftentimes, design goals are not very rigid or specific. For example, a design-based goal might be to improve the brand presence on a site. This goal has a wide range of acceptable solutions and can be very hard to test in a meaningful way. By leveraging the strategic goals, we can set more specific design goals that directly tie into the project KPIs. These hybrid goals are much easier to test with an end user and lend themselves to the creation of benchmarks that the site can be tested against in the future.

The Wrap-Up

In my experience, when we do not have strategic goals, the design process can become frustrating, extended, and a bit detached from the overall process. Since there is no common language, it becomes harder and more frustrating to resolve design feedback in a meaningful and productive way. When we have that common language, communicating is easier and the reasoning behind design decisions becomes clearer to a client.

Additionally without clear project goals, it is also a lot harder to determine when a design is “finished” as there is a real lack of measurement. Oftentimes, clients will continue to iterate because they do not feel it is “quite right”, and are feeling a lot of pressure to be successful with large projects. With the goals in mind, we can look at a design and say “This is accomplishing this goal”, and we can test that statement. This gives clients a lot more confidence in the design deliverables as well as a platform for talking to their stakeholders about design decisions.

By leveraging the strategy deliverables in the design process, our final product is goal-oriented with a focus on the user experience. Ultimately, this creates a better final product for both the client and their users.

Roadmap of design deliverables

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Feb 21 2017
Feb 21

Besides being the recent desired destination for Instagram #wanderlust-ers, Iceland is now home to an exciting new Drupal event: DrupalCamp Northern Lights. With twenty speakers, lots of coffee, and a planned sightseeing trip to see the Golden Circle and Northern Lights, it is sure to be an exciting inaugural event.

A small crew of Palantiri will be proudly representing, so if you are making the trek overseas, keep an eye out and say hi to Allison Manley, Michelle Jackson, and Megh Plunkett while you’re taking in the sessions and sights.

Check out the schedule and make sure to stop by our sessions.

Kickoff Meetings, by Allison Manley

  • Time: Saturday, 10:45 - 11:35
  • Location: Room ÞINGVELLIR

How do you make the most use of your face-to-face time with your client and lay the groundwork for a successful project?

Allison will outline how to get the most out of the kickoff meetings that initiate any project. She'll talk about pre-meeting preparation and how to keep organized, and also give some tips on agenda creation, how to keep meetings productive (and fun), and what steps need to be taken once the meetings adjourn.

Competitive Analysis: Your UX must-have on a budget, by Michelle Jackson

  • Time: Sunday, 14:15-15:00
  • Location: Room ÞINGVELLIR

A tight budget and time constraints can make dedicating time and resources to understanding audience needs challenging. Competitive analysis is an affordable way to evaluate how competitor sites are succeeding or failing to meet the needs of your audience.

Michelle will cover how competitive analysis can help you avoid competitor pitfalls, gain insight into what your users want, and lead to better decision-making before you invest in and implement new designs and technical features.

7 Facts You Might Not Have Known About Iceland

  • Iceland was one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans.
  • They are getting their first Costco in May.
  • 60% of the Icelandic population lives in Reykjavík.
  • Babies in Iceland are routinely left outside to nap.
  • Surprisingly, Iceland is not the birthplace of ice cream.
  • First names not previously used in Iceland must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee.
  • Owning a pet turtle is against the law. Sorry Rafael, Franklin, and this kid:

I like turtles

Fact Sources: http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/people/31-odd-facts-about-iceland-but-h..., http://icelandreview.com/

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Pages

About Drupal Sun

Drupal Sun is an Evolving Web project. It allows you to:

  • Do full-text search on all the articles in Drupal Planet (thanks to Apache Solr)
  • Facet based on tags, author, or feed
  • Flip through articles quickly (with j/k or arrow keys) to find what you're interested in
  • View the entire article text inline, or in the context of the site where it was created

See the blog post at Evolving Web

Evolving Web