Imagining a New Look for OSCAR

As noted a couple of weeks ago, I recently set up a working mirror of the SCA’s Ordinary & Armorial that incorporates the look and feel of the College’s main website, and tonight I wondered whether the same idea could be extended to the College’s commentary tool, OSCAR.

(I have no mandate to redesign OSCAR, and little sense either of the effort involved or whether such a venture would appeal to the system’s primary developer or the community that uses it, so this should be understood to be purely a matter of idle speculation.)

The resulting mockup includes just six pages: the home page, the list of active letters and that of kingdom letters, the tracking grid, a sample search result, and one sample letter (with commentary expunged).

Most of the changes are limited to the page header and footer: I’ve removed the sidebar, and limited the page to a single block of navigation at the top rather than repeating it at the bottom.

The search form that previously appeared in the sidebar is now tucked away but can be revealed by clicking the search button in the top-right corner of the page.

The letters and kingdom letters pages have been reformatted to reduce repetition; comparing the mockup LoI page to the original reveals that I’m only showing dates once on each row, using month names rather than ISO dates, and omitting seconds from timestamps.

Obviously this mockup ignores many challenges that would be involved in carrying such a design change throughout the site, which has grown to include hundreds of features, so I don’t at all mean to suggest that this kind of visual overhaul would be straightforward, but I thought it was an interesting exercise and perhaps a starting point for future conversations.

First Round of Updates to the CoA Website

Over the last few days, two updates have been deployed to the website by Reis ap Tuder, the Codex Herald.

Most noticeably, the larger sans-serif typeface and responsive styling for small screens discussed in last month’s post about Enhanced Readability for the CoA Website are now live.

Secondarily, the first round of updates from the Proposed Navigation Changes for the CoA Website have been applied, creating a new “About Us” page that combines the contents previously found under the “Jobs” and “Links” choices in the main navigation menu.

I’ve archived my readability/responsive prototype, as it has served out its purpose, and have applied the new visual styling to the navigation-changes prototype in order to make it easier to spot the changes that are still waiting to be applied.

I’ll continue to work on the two big chunks of remaining work there:

  • The unified “registration” page containing all of the documentation and tools relating to submission forms, SENA, OSCAR, LoARs, and the O&A.
  • Updates to the article pages to include more offsite resources and additional metadata about each link.

Prototyping a New Look for the O&A

As part of my ongoing efforts to prototype possible changes to the College of Arms website, I’ve applied a related set of stylistic changes to my local mirror of the SCA’s armorial database.

Under the hood, this site is running a fork of the main O&A codebase (along with a custom local configuration file), so the core functionality is the same, but a number of changes have been made to the user interface throughout.

Site-Wide Visual StylE

The most obvious changes are to the overall appearance of the site.

  • There’s a site-wide header and footer that provide a bit of visual branding that matches the SCA’s main heraldry website.
  • There’s a row of navigation links in the header that allows quick access to each of the main search functions.
  • The text is set in a sans-serif font that is easier for some people to read, matching the readability prototype I made for the College website.
  • There’s some initial work done to make the site more usable on mobile devices with small screens, although this has not been tested thoroughly.

Supporting Pages

  • The list of “Related Web Pages” has been moved from the bottom of the home page to a separate “About” screen and expanded with more links, including direct access to the various search hints pages.
  • A new set of “search code lookup” pages allow users to find category headings and feature codes without scrolling through, and to find record types and kingdom codes without scrolling through the database format documentation. The category and feature codes both offer a “type to search” capability to make it easier to find relevant entries.

Display Options

  • On the search forms, the display options are presented in a more compact manner. Optional items which can be turned on or off are shown as checkboxes rather than select menus.
Old interface from live site
New interface from prototype

Other Tweaks

  • When displaying search results, the database copyright statement is only shown when requesting more than the default search limit.

Enhanced Readability for the CoA Website

As part of an ongoing effort to update the SCA’s heraldry website, I spent some time this afternoon working on a set of proposed changes to improve the site’s readability.

The existing design hasn’t been significantly updated since it was rolled out more than a decade ago, which leaves it out of synch with two significant changes in computing equipment that occurred over the intervening years:

  • On the desktop, pixel resolutions increased faster than screen sizes, with the result that many displays moved from 72dpi to 96dpi, and a line of text that is 16 pixels high now appears smaller than it used to.
  • Mobile devices have moved from the margins to play a key role of the information ecosystem, and it’s entirely commonplace for a website to be viewed on a screen that’s only three inches wide.

As a result, the current CoA website can be difficult to read in both circumstances:

Continue reading “Enhanced Readability for the CoA Website”

Proposed Navigation Changes for the CoA Website

The SCA’s heraldry website is a critical resource for the armorists, onomasticians, and administrators that staff the College, and for the members of the populace who want to develop names and armory for their own personae.

However, the site’s organization and navigation haven’t been substantially updated in more than a decade, and a number of weaknesses have become apparent in the course of the site’s heavy usage:

Continue reading “Proposed Navigation Changes for the CoA Website”

Thoughts on Updating the CoA Website

I’ve been thinking about potential improvements that could be made to the website so that it’s more useful to heralds and the populace. 

Here are some notes about this effort based on what I’ve learned so far.

Top-Line Objectives

There are three main avenues for improvement, as discussed further below.

  • Appearance
    • Improve the site’s readability on modern mobile and desktop devices.
    • Refresh the site’s appearance and give it a more “contemporary” feel.
  • Organization
    • Make it easier for non-heralds and new heralds to find key information.
    • Reduce effort for experienced heralds to reach key “hot-spot” resources.
  • Education
    • Link to more Internet reference material frequently used by heralds.
    • Clarify whether articles are authoritative, incomplete, or out of date.
Continue reading “Thoughts on Updating the CoA Website”

A Sketch of Possible Changes for the CoA Website

I spent some time today sketching out a possible overhaul of the website, at

Obviously this is very incomplete, but hopefully it can serve as a reference point for conversations about possible future work.

It mixes together two different kind of changes, which I think make sense to tackle all together, but which could be undertaken individually.

Continue reading “A Sketch of Possible Changes for the CoA Website”