If you haven’t visited the city of Fresno’s official website lately, you might do a bit of a double take next time you see it.
Gone is the old design with a cacophony of photos (including a mugshot of Mayor Ashley Swearengin) and links, against a drab institutional-blue background, that generally wasn’t the most user-friendly for navigation. In its place at www.fresno.gov is a cleaner, simpler design dominated by what can best be called a “glamour” shot of downtown, a sweeping flyover video clip from the Chukchansi Park baseball stadium to the top of the Pacific Southwest Building, overlaid by the message, “Welcome to Fresno.”
The new site went live, quietly and without fanfare, Thursday afternoon as the city’s technical staff worked out initial kinks including a slow page-loading speed. By Friday, the site was far less balky as problems were getting fixed.
Mark Standriff, the city’s communications director, said revamping the old, outdated website was something that was on his to-do list since he took the job in April 2014.
“That was one of the first things I told the mayor that I wanted to focus on,” Standriff said Friday. “It looked clunky, it was hard to navigate, the text was small; it just wasn’t very user-friendly.”
We wanted to provide a website that was appealing to residents, people wanting to move here, and businesses; that was easy to understand and easy to navigate.
Mark Standriff, city of Fresno communications director
Standriff said the design of the site had been more or less unchanged since about 2006, and it had not been significantly updated since 2009. The old website had more than 8,000 separate pages; about half of those rarely, if ever, received visitor traffic.
Standriff said it took until about September 2015 before he was able to get out from under other tasks and create enough time to begin work on the redesign. The city sought bids from local and national firms for the project, and sifted through proposals before settling on local firm Bertz-Rosa | Strategy & Creative. Among the many websites the company has designed is one for the city of Madera.
The city’s budget for the project was $39,500.
“Our goal was to have someone with demonstrated experience in the design of local-government websites,” Standriff said. “We wanted to provide a website that was appealing to residents, people wanting to move here, and businesses; that was easy to understand and easy to navigate.”
The hallmark of the home page is the flyover shot looking north from the baseball stadium. Suzanne Bertz-Rosa, head of Bertz-Rosa, said the footage was shot by Enrique Meza of Meza Films Productions and licensed for the city’s website.
“Enrique had those shots in the can, and I had seen them and thought they were perfect,” Bertz-Rosa said. “We were very cautious about our budget; we could afford to license something, but we couldn’t necessarily afford shooting something.”
The new site designed by Bertz-Rosa and built by the city’s webmaster and web developer Gavin Haubelt includes a series of icons for the more popular destinations for website visitors in not one, but two places on the landing page – at the top left and just below the video window – for transit, the water and trash departments, city bill-paying, the FresGO app for reporting code enforcement or other complaints, and a contact site.
Those primary icons are the result of analyzing the pages that generated the most traffic from visitors on the old website.
“The analytics showed us those are the places where people were going,” Standriff said.
And above the video window, there’s a list of text links for government, services, doing business, community and departments. Those were on the old site, too, but now they are interactive: Instead of clicking on the link to reach a new page, simply hovering your cursor over the word will activate a pop-up showing all the options available from that link.
A short scroll down the pages reveals a collection of “featured programs.”
“Those are the things that we want people to know about,” Standriff said, adding that those can be changed and adapted depending on what’s happening in city government at any time.
Another feature is that the page adapts in size depending on whether a user is viewing it on a desktop or laptop computer, a tablet or a smartphone.
Bertz-Rosa described the new web design as a project of passion.
“I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this website since it was developed under the last administration,” she said. “When it was launched, it was a step forward, but people couldn’t find things. The content was there, but it was not organized from a user’s perspective.”
We wanted something clean and grown-up and that represents the city that we are. We’re a dynamic city and hopefully this website reflects that.
Suzanne Bertz-Rosa, Bertz-Rosa Strategy-Creative
“We wanted to do something that was easy for people to find information that they needed,” she said. “We wanted something clean and grown-up, and that represents the city that we are. We’re a dynamic city and hopefully this website reflects that.”
On Friday afternoon, a few pages – such as the Parks, After-School and Recreation Services department page – were still a little glitchy.
“As we’re finding those problems we’re cleaning them up quickly,” Standriff said. “Our in-house developer-webmaster is handling them with grace and patience.”
And the search function on the page was not yet active, instead serving up a message indicating that “Google hasn’t had the time to properly index all of our new pages. Please allow a couple of days of Google to analyze our entire site so all search results will become populated.”
Swearengin hailed the new website as “an important step in upgrading our ability to connect with residents and visitors with the goal of making the city’s digital services accessible for everyone.”
“We wanted to provide a citizen-centered website that is more appealing and user friendly,” she added, “and we look forward to hearing the community’s response to this exciting project.”
The original goal was for a launch of the new website in the fall; a Nov. 21 target date was discussed in internal emails to city departments. But it took longer than anticipated for city staffers to individually upload some required elements, such as past agendas and minutes and other public records for meetings of the City Council and various commissions and panels.
“We wanted to get it going by the fall to give us plenty of time before the new mayoral administration and changeover,” Standriff said, referring to Mayor-elect Lee Brand, who is to officially replace Swearengin on Jan. 3. “So we’ll have a little over a week of old information on the mayor’s page, and on Jan. 3 it will automatically change over to the Brand administration information.”
Also loading up on the site on Jan. 3 will be information for two new City Council members: Garry Bredefeld, elected to fill Brand’s District 6 seat in northeast Fresno, and Luis Chavez, who won a special election to replace District 5 Councilman Sal Quintero, who is moving over to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.
Frequent visitors to the city’s old website will need to refresh browser bookmarks they may have saved for certain pages, as Standriff said those old links won’t work.
The city’s redesigned website is online at www.fresno.gov.