bonsai tree

Corporate websites are all but dead. Big, bloated, bloviating and boring, the vast majority of sites are already extinct. Most corporate sites today feature reams of outdated copy, meaningless stock images and cluttered content that either repels visitors or endangers their trust. These sites look fussy and frilly with their overly complicated navigation, their illegible text, and their ambiguous copy.

Meanwhile, the web is growing astronomically. Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook alone store more than 1.2 million terabytes of information—information that can be found on the third or thirtieth page of a typical search. And consumers are showing their loyalty to companies that produce the most timely and salacious stories online, making our corporate sites look dull and lifeless.

No one spends four hours on a corporate website. We clap out loud when we see a visitor in an unknown city visit our website for a full 40 seconds. We applaud that visitor’s tenacity and their spirit of adventure. We see that singular visit as a sign of our success, a measure of our communications acumen, a gold ring which demonstrates that the hard work of constructing our corporate web presence has finally paid off.

Considering the wealth of information and entertainment at our fingertips, the lowly website, the progenitor of all things digital and the beacon of all corporate communications, is being brushed toward the dustbin of history. The corporate (or commercial) website as a collection of moderately organized pages of mostly relevant information strung together on sheets of code will soon be no longer.

We can see the writing on the wall.

Corporate Websites and the Moment of Finite Resources

Is there any relief?

Armies of people are writing copy, creating visuals, shooting video, and constructing new pages to build this empire of digital dust. In the face of its coming demise, they defiantly contribute more “content” to feed the beast that is, in turn, consuming itself. Aspirations for corporate site success are spurred on by managers and their managers and their executives, who collectively breathe a sigh of relief when a weekend at the beach affords them the opportunity to hide their devices.

Meanwhile, data centers are expanding exponentially. We need more and more room to house all of that online data, to serve it up to millions of people, 24 hours per day and 7 days per week. Companies locate their growing server farms near massive power plants to power that data and to cool their physical infrastructure. And those power plants are burning fossil fuels—coal, gas, and oil—to keep those data centers running and humming smoothly through the night. Taken together, the internet’s electricity usage would make it the sixth largest country in the world.

Today, there are over 1 billion websites in the world, fed by fear of falling behind, overrun with half-hearted content, fueled by dirty energy, and served to people who may or may not care about what is on offer. The web as we know it is not humanly, economically, or ecologically sustainable.

So.

As communications officers, brand strategists, marketing executives, and agency owners, should we lose hope? If the corporate website goes away, what will replace it? And how do we operate in a fully sustainable way that supports our customers, advances our mission, and values our precious time and resources.

A Holistic Theory and Practice of Web Production

There is a better way. As the purveyors and makers of the web, we will not despair. We will not give in to the tyranny of runaway content, the building of unmanaged managerial visions, and the massive use of fossil fuels to power our digital dreams. We will not give in to the digital clutter which assaults our senses each time we open a browser. We will not dehumanize our online materials with copy that reflects back at us the digital hydra of distraction, disengagement, and disgorgement. And we will not build websites that will grow unwieldy and untended.

Instead, we, the makers of the web, will need to advance a set of principles that adheres to professional practices of sustainability. The new web will be efficient, effective, and emergent. The web of the future will be a more humanely cultivated one, a product of refinement and intellectual honesty, and one that asks for continual improvement. The corporate web will be one of considered growth, courageous voice and consistent purposefulness. We will listen to our customers and to ourselves.

And we will breathe.

We will build an unhurried and conscious web. We will create a web that is built with open source technologies and that is accessible to everyone, including those with visual and other disabilities. We will create content that is to the point while also being generous in spirit. We will host our web on servers that are powered by clean, renewable energy. We will deploy technical features, functions, and formats with great care, enhancing the experience of our visitors and their comrades. And we will create a web that is made to grow with us, that takes time and resources to expand—and even contract.

We will be assured by our measured approach to the web. And we will not allow that approach to shock us.

A Bonsai Web Model: Managed and Conscious Long-Term Growth

The current corporate web presence is created like this: A tree, grown from a precious seedling, is planted in fertile ground. We force it to grow through intense irrigation and nutrition—and the resulting tree springs gorgeous leaves with new stems and strong branches of various sizes and forms. Over the course of two, three years, the tree’s branches spread outwardly to other trees and we gaze with awe. Our tree is strong. Other trees are nearby. Then, unceremoniously, we chop the thing down at its base and move to another parcel of land. And we start again.

Why do we do this? Why is our tree—and our web presence—built for single use and then quietly disposed of? Why do we hatch gardens one year and hatchet them the next?

Because we have become accustomed to the exigencies of disposable products, even when those products are some of our most important means of communications. We know that our plant has value but the next tree, grown on new soil, will be grown more quickly and take on even larger resources. Until it, too is firewood.

There is a very different and better paradigm. We can build a corporate web presence that lasts and that requires us to struggle less and plan more. We can create a website that is sustainable, that will live on carefully tended ground and that, best of all, represents our vision for years upon years. We can demonstrate our commitment to growth with long-term planning and, in return, reap the ongoing rewards of our efforts.

The future of the corporate web presence will be thus: A tree, grown from a single branch, is nurtured and planted on a plot of fertile land. The stems and branches and leaves develop and they are pruned, one by one, with attention and care and consideration of the whole. The caretakers care. The tree develops under a watchful eye and a strong, steady hand so that the totality of the organism is always considered. Over days and months and years, the tree is maintained, though its original shape may change. Our tree is a beacon of managed, aligned, and sustainable growth that reflects the future of the corporate organism itself.

This tree is vital and the recipients of its fruits are nourished. Its visitors are uplifted. Its owners are rewarded. And the planet is greened.

This is the bonsai web, a way of planning, tending and developing our organizational communications with a fully conscious set of sustainability practices in mind.

For websites and online applications, the bonsai web means that our presence will grow and will do so using patient capital and long-term discipline. It is an investment in the long-term.

Why a Sustainable Web? And Why Now?

We can hear some of you. You are calling bullshit on the bonsai web. Sites should be built in hours—not years. No one at the head office has time to tend a long-term project. Maybe the guys in IT? They seem to have more time for this kind of thing.

And why now, anyway? Our time is ever more precious, constrained by the many demands of business, family, and economic relations. Shouldn’t we just throw in the towel and put something up, create some half-decent content, and call it a day?

And is a sustainable web even possible? Who has time for this?

How We Must Communicate

We are living on a planet with limited resources yet unlimited human potential. We need to think long-term for our mental health, for our social benefit, and for our planet’s perpetuity.

Climate change and social adaptation are the biggest challenges we have encountered in human history. Policy analysts, urban planners, and architects are embracing the urgent need to build sustainable practices into every aspect of their work—from mitigation to supply chains to labour and infrastructure. Addressing the twin anxieties of our time, climate change and civil society, requires unprecedented cooperation and new thinking—even and especially for those who plan, build, and maintain our vital web infrastructure and platforms.

There are six reasons why a sustainable web is inevitable—and why every organization will soon recognize this path. A sustainable web means:

  1. Sustainable strategy. A site that is built upon sound research, strategy, and planning will allow a company to leverage its short-term goals and long-term growth. A sustainable operational framework means that a web platform matches the business goals and expectations with its offline and online commitments and communications. Further, sustainability means that human resources, both internal and external, for website strategy, production and upkeep are managed and maintained. For example, a substantial and realistic content strategy will be delivered in partnership and cooperation with teams and audiences over the course of months and years.
  2. Sustainable design. The interface, visitor experience, and information architecture of a given presence must be crafted to grow with the organization and its online human visitors. All content, features and functions must be added with careful consideration—and always with the benefit of the visitor or user in mind. Any new additions to the site—whether copy, modules, or imagery—will be carefully implemented. Design and experience decisions will be made with a view toward a site’s long-term upkeep.
  3. Sustainable content. Readily available, honest, ongoing and relevant content will be produced that meets visitor needs. The creation of willy nilly content to meet the demands of search engines, corporate managers, and extraneous consultants will be refused. Content will be generated in partnership with an agency or thoughtfully produced by a client over a regular and humane schedule. Content will be measured and shifts in tactics will be accommodated. A site will not break because of new content; instead, it will become ever stronger.
  4. Sustainable benefits. No longer can we say, “Build it and they will come.” The new web is built on data and the study of behaviors, objectives, and trends. A sustainable web platform means a substantial investment and a substantial return on investment. A site that is built consciously, designed for long-term content, and measured for engagement will reap financial and social returns. By honouring profitability and shared success, we know what is working, how we are connecting, and what is driving performance and producing gains.
  5. Sustainable technology. The website must be scalable, manageable, and accessible to all individuals, regardless of ability or disability. Any technology deployed for the website must be both humane (e.g. useful and understood) and open (e.g. crowds contribute to its growth). A sustainable set of technologies allows the client to reinvest its resources in long-term growth, including accruing content and features.
  6. Sustainable code. With the average page on the web about 2.4 MB in page size and increasing each year, our experience of the web is slower and more sclerotic. Most of the code on pages on these pages are unnecessary and only serve to use up precious resources—time, energy, and attention. We will code our platforms so that they are built to perform and will load quickly for all visitors on all devices.
  7. Sustainable data. Last but not least, our sites and applications will be powered by clean, renewable energy or the closest we can come to serving green data. For all of our online solutions, we will pursue data providers that power their servers with green energy, reduce their resource usage, and offset their carbon emissions.

In Sustainable Growth We Trust

We will build a sustainable web that leverages a multi-tiered approach. It will be purposeful, meaningful, and beneficial. It will consist of planning for the long-term yet building for the short-term. It will deliver measurable results and assured benefits. Above all, it will be human, humane and helpful. It will take into consideration the complex set of relationships among the organization, its internal stakeholders, its key audiences and the natural environment upon which we stand.

By no means will the sustainable web be perfect. We will struggle with meaning and create impracticable and unwieldy features. We will be pressured to bulk up, build out, and bloat our sites and platforms. But the best organizations will thrive, leading us toward a sustainable future that embraces and rewards all stakeholders—and allows us to communicate with conscience.

 

Note: Pictured above is the Japanese White Pine bonsai. This tree has been kept alive for nearly 400 years and survived the Hiroshima blast on August 6, 1945 (via Wikimedia under Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0).

Manoverboard is a company of designers and developers seeking to create a better world by design. We are a purpose-driven company focused on creating strategies, identities, websites, and content for socially responsible businesses, large nonprofits, and educational institutions. We are on a mission to create a sustainable web and a more equitable planet.

We currently seek an impressive individual who can provide superb front-end development. We use open-source technologies, such as WordPress, to create purpose-built and beautiful websites and web applications that are useful, helpful, accessible and efficient. The web developer will be responsible for translating finished and near-final designs into working platforms and for interpreting those user experience requirements into technical implementation. As well, the web developer will be responsible for implementing and customizing tools, features and functions (e.g. donations, event management, e-commerce) related to client requirements. This person will work closely with all members of the team, including current developers.

The right candidate will care about the future of design and technology, have high ethical standards, remain calm under pressure, and embrace technical challenges.

The key responsibilities of the web developer are as follows:

  • Create clean, valid, standards-based markup based upon design files and direction
  • Implement best practices for optimal page speed and site performance
  • Develop custom WordPress themes from scratch
  • Manage and maintain multiple WordPress sites and installations
  • Ensure the technical feasibility of all designs
  • Assist in assessing and scoping potential projects
  • Write blog posts about site design, development, and web technologies

Education & Experience

  • Bachelor’s degree in any university discipline or 2-year relevant diploma in Graphic Design, Digital Media Design, Communications, or applicable work experience
  • Minimum one year of directly related experience in web development

Skills & Abilities

  • Experience with developing user-friendly, accessible, and responsive sites
  • Strong knowledge of HTML5, CSS3 and standards-based web development best practices
  • Proficient understanding of WordPress and plug-in technologies, including ACF
  • Good working knowledge of JavaScript libraries, including jQuery
  • Proficient understanding of cross-browser/cross-platform compatibility issues and workarounds
  • Proficiency with graphic design programs, especially Photoshop, Illustrator, and Sketch
  • Ability to work with a design team in managing all aspects of a project
  • Thrives in a team environment and also able to think on one’s own
  • Able to implement site security features as required
  • Highly organized and able to manage and navigate multiple, complex projects successfully
  • Demonstrates friendly, approachable, and positive attitude and is open to all feedback
  • Strong written and verbal communication
  • Willingness to learn, to share knowledge, and to always go the extra mile

Bonus Skills

  • Background in graphic design practices, principles, and theory
  • Good understanding of SEO and current coding best practices
  • Understanding of MySQL and relational databases
  • Knowledge of CSS extension languages, such as LESS and SASS
  • Ability to deploy and implement code versioning tools, such as Git
  • Understanding of modern server environments
  • Interest in social and environmental challenges facing city, country, and planet

Work for a B Corp!

As the first Certified B Corporation in the province, we believe in using business as a force for good. We are committed to a triple bottom line of prosperity, people and planet and most of our clients are mission-aligned, as well. We provide a friendly, thoughtful workspace in a great office, along with competitive salaries and excellent benefits.

This is a full-time, on-site and contract position but part-time work may be accommodated. Salary will be commensurate with experience.

How to Apply

If you believe that you’re a good fit, email your cover letter, resume, a list of recent sites that you developed to Andrew Boardman at careers@manoverboard.com. Please indicate in the subject line “Web Developer”.

No phone calls please—and no headhunters or recruiters.

Thank you. You’re awesome. We look forward to hearing from you.

Certified B Corp: Best for the World 2016

The work of a designer, developer and writer is never really done. There can always be one more tweak, one more little adjustment, one more phone call with a client, and just one more eentsy second guess. Creating a successful identity, interface, or story almost always takes more time than we anticipate. It’s part of the business of building things anew every single day.

The designers, developers and communicators at Manoverboard sweat this small stuff all of the time—during the day, over lunch and coffee, and in the middle of the night. Any given design, interface, or strategy is only done when we know it’s ready to rock and roll.

It’s why I’m so incredibly honoured to announce that we received the 2016 Best for the World award by B Lab today in the Workers category. The award means that Manoverboard scored in the top 10% of all Certified B Corporations in the world—about 1,800 of them—on the B Impact Assessment.

To be more exact, here is what B Lab, the nonprofit that certifies businesses and helps them “be the change” says:

Read more…

onlnie news collage

In February 2016, I gave a presentation for Sustainable UX: Digital Design vs. Climate Change, a conference about how content strategists, designers, developers, managers and site owners are addressing climate change. Thirteen different presenters spoke about their work, which included open source methodologies, creating a green content management system, and building sustainable behaviours and frameworks within teams.

I wrote a blog post called Online News is the Canary in the Coal Mine about my presentation. The talk focused the massive growth of online news and how news sites, because of code, feature and content bloat, are contributing to carbon emissions. Since then, I had the opportunity to connect with a number of other presenters and received great feedback about the talk, which you can watch here on YouTube.

I also had the presentation professionally transcribed so that folks who don’t like video, can’t see video, or have any accessibility issues, can access the content. YouTube has the ability to automatically transcribe content through closed captioning but I would much rather have it available in a blog post.

Here it is.

Read more…

download

I was recently asked by someone if I could help transition their website over to SquareSpace, a current and popular website platform. Their current site was built from scratch, and running on WordPress, the world’s most prevalent content management system. However it was made many years before WordPress matured into the software that it is today. The existing site was awkward to update, and they had been experimenting a bit with a trial of SquareSpace. They were excited to show me how easy it was to make a page, and add some basic content.

I tried my best to make a case for WordPress, and the brilliant platform it has become. I suggested the client carry on with WordPress and have a new more up-to-date website built. However, budget was a big concern and it appeared to me that their their mind was already made up. After all, SquareSpace makes the whole signup process very easy so it hooks you right from the get-go. Which really got me thinking; are there good reasons to start with, or to switch to a DIY systems like SquareSpace, or any of the widely-available off-the-shelf WordPress themes?

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