No, not the one with the Minis, Michael Caine, and the third best car chase in cinema history (right behind Bullitt and The Blues Brothers — argue all you want, that’s a fact!). This Italian job is a recent project that we undertook for the European University Institute (EUI) at the end of last year.

The EUI wanted to modernise their website, and as such began a complete redesign, focused on a clean, responsive finish. While the new site isn't radically different from the original design, the changes have made a positive difference. As well as refreshing the look and feel of the site the redesign also allows users to access their website via mobile devices. The team at the EUI is only small, but they've done a great job, especially when you consider the scale of the task!

Our role in this project was the redevelopment of several key areas. The first of which is the one I want to share with you here — the Events and Seminars directory.

“They say he's going to do a job in Italy”

The EUI’s Events and Seminars area is a high traffic section of their website. It provides details of workshops, guest lectures, thesis defences, and more. 

With tens of thousands of events going back to 2004, there was a lot of data to work with. The EUI's main concerns were performance and maintainability. We were also aware that they wanted to encourage their students to attend as many events as possible while maintaining the look, feel, and identity of their site. 

The old listing was a web control, and updating or modifying it was difficult. The team at the EUI relied upon one person to make changes. By rebuilding this with Razor all the developers at the EUI could make changes. 

The old EUI directory
The old EUI Events & Seminars Directory

With all this in mind we looked into their analytics and how users used the current site. With such a high volume of visitors you can’t just go changing things without good reason! 

We discovered that users relied on filters to reach events from certain departments. In the new design we have retained familiar elements to ensure the user journey remains smooth. 

Louise Howells led on the UX side of things and turned that data into a comprehensive set of wireframes. Designs swiftly followed courtesy of the talented web designers in our Professional Services team. 

Detailed, annotated wireframes make for happy designers.

“Shouldn't we synchronise our watches?”

The first, and most important part of the project, was getting all the EUI’s events into Contensis. With almost twenty thousand records this was no mean feat. Luckily we had Alan Roberts, our chief miracle worker, on hand to make it happen. 

Following discussions with the EUI’s developers, he created an events importer that runs silently in the background, importing the events, on the fly, from a third party system used by all departments across the university’s fourteen or so campus locations. This enabled us to bring in all that data and store it as structured content — without anything changing for the end user. They still add, update and delete events in the same way they always have.

With the data flowing into Contensis, we set about the process of rebuilding the directory from the ground up. 

“Hang on a minute lads - I've got a great idea”

Together with the ever amiable Alan, we set about planning the best way to meet all the client requirements, while keeping things as logical and clear as possible. We think we nailed it.

Using Razor and a modular approach, we split up the search logic from the listings, allowing us to offer multiple layouts for their users to choose from. This also means that they are able to easily add new layouts in the future too. 

Our decision to break it all up paid off immediately, with both Alan and I able to work on different parts of the project without worrying about getting in each other's way. Not only that, it also meant that the code was logically separated so adding or amending features would be really simple going forward.

And, using Razor meant that the EUI had full access to all of the markup to make any changes they needed. Everyone wins!

“Make it work, Charlie!”

The last, and most crucial step of the project was to tackle the complex search requirements.

Being able to filter by department and/or event type, date ranges and keywords from item titles, participants, descriptions and much more, needed a rock solid plan of attack, otherwise things could just get really messy.

Because we’d kept all the search logic together it was relatively straightforward to keep track of this. After much testing we finally had everything working as it should. Sweep-EUI

We pushed the project through our intensive internal testing process, and even roped in a few others from around the company to help test. Finally, all that was left to do was deliver the project. And with the EUI being based in beautiful Florence, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hand over in person, as well as meet the team at the university with whom we had worked so closely for the past few months.

“Just remember this - in this country they drive on the wrong side of the road.”

With such a big project, we felt it was important to hand over in person, especially since we had worked very close with the web team at the EUI for so long. While the main purpose of our visit to Florence was to hand over the project, it turned out to be much more useful for both parties. 

Francesco Martino, the web communications manager at the EUI said that "Working with Zengenti has been a very positive experience. Since completing this project those of us in the EUI Web Unit have a renewed sense of collaboration with the team at Zengenti. We look forward to working closely with them again in the future."  

Not only did we have to opportunity to properly showcase and hand over the work we’d done, but we also conducted some training, demonstrated some of the new features in R8.1 plus, the guys at the EUI also gave us some really good feedback and even some suggestions for us to relay to the product development team, none of which would have been possible had we simply handed the project over remotely. Altogether, we spent two really valuable days with the web team, which really helped us see how our clients use Contensis.

You can see the final result here

With the project successfully completed and handed over to the EUI, all that was left to do was head home. But, obviously, not before we took the opportunity to have a quick look around Florence. 


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Antony Doyle

About the Author

Ant is a senior front-end developer for Zengenti’s Coach House team. He builds, and customises websites for clients, and creates new features for large websites. His background includes two bachelor degrees (network computing and English), and extensive front-end development.

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