Park District Leads the Way with Mobile-Friendly Websites
Fun fact: there are now reportedly more mobile devices than people in the world. So for a web site to be truly user-friendly, it also has to be mobile-friendly. For any non-techies out there, this means that a web site has to work the same way across all devices – smartphone, tablet and, of course, desktop PC. Industry insiders refer to this as a “Responsive Web Design” or RWD – a mobile-first design approach that differentiates fully-responsive functionality as opposed to sites that can be used on a mobile device but require a lot of zooming and scrolling to navigate.
With numerous URLs directing information seekers to its most popular facilities and programs, the St. Charles Park District began embracing mobile-first design as early as 2012, when it launched a mobile app for its main website. Year by year, other sites came on board and by the end of 2017 all domains were fully mobile-responsive.
“The St. Charles Park District has been well ahead of the curve with regard to mobile responsiveness,” said John Staples of VisionaryWebworks, who develops and manages the park district’s web presence. “They have long been aware of the need to better serve mobile customers in terms of responsiveness and security.”
With community survey respondents referencing the importance of easy, fast and secure online interaction, adopting a mobile-first approach was an important part of the park district’s communications strategy.
“More than half, and sometimes nearly two-thirds, of the people viewing our sites are doing it on a mobile device, such as a smartphone,” said Erika Young, Public Relations & Marketing Manager. “We’ve been proud to be able to offer this technology for more than five years now.”
Having such net universality means that the park district can be more responsive to the way their patrons use its websites. Gone are the days of pinching and zooming. With a mobile-friendly interface, functionality is no more complex than scrolling. It’s all in the design. What may look like 3 columns of information displayed horizontally across the screen on a PC desktop is transformed to a single column that moves vertically up and down a smartphone screen.
Here’s how it works: enter the park district’s URL of www.stcparks.org on your device’s browser. Boom, done. Scroll down to see what’s happening at the park district — promos for upcoming events or the latest news under “The Buzz”. There’s also a quick clicks section for easy access to “Announcements”, “Forms” and “Handbooks” for preschool and Baker Station programs.
Check out the new season of programs and events in the “Activity Guide” or find out what’s going on just this week in the “Calendar” section. Access the “menu” icon in the upper left corner to see a drop-down list of “activities,” “parks,” “facilities,” “community connections,” and “information.”
The new mobile-friendly design is also easy for staff to use from their own smartphones or tablets to quickly attend to web administrative duties. “We can post updates such as weather alerts much more easily,” said Young. “This means our patrons are getting up-to-the-minute information.”
In addition to its main website, the new mobile-friendly interface is available for all of the park district’s domains, including Pottawatomie Golf Course (www.pottawatomiegc.com); Primrose Farm Park (www.primrosefarmpark.com); STC Underground (www.stcunderground.com); Otter Cove Aquatic Park (www.ottercove.org); Riverview Mini Golf (www.riverviewminigolf.org); Swanson Pool (www.swansonpool.org); Hickory Knolls Discovery Center (www.stcnature.org); Norris Recreation Center (www.norrisrec.org); the annual Sculpture in the Park display (www.stcsculpture.org); and the St. Charles Park Foundation (www.stcparkfoundation.org). For even easier accessibility, favorite park district sites can be added to a device’s home screen by clicking on the bookmark icon.
A big part of mobile-friendly functionality is a user’s ability to register for programs and events online. While the “Online Registration” tab allows a user to sign up for a program on the spot, the “Forms” tab accesses general program registration, special event registration as well as household and emergency and medical information forms. And because these documents contain the most sensitive information a patron can submit to the park district, website security was paramount in the new mobile-friendly design. The park district implemented a comprehensive security plan across all URLs to protect against malware, viruses or attacks, using a sophisticated, industry-standard detection suite that automatically scans the websites, blocks threats and corrects any problems that might occur.
And to let users know their communications with the park district are secure, the mobile-friendly web site is encrypted using HTTPS with a secure certificate on every park district website. This technology ensures that no communication between a park district website and a customer can ever be inappropriately viewed, changed, or misdirected. Look for the green lock icon prominently displayed in the address bar.
With responsiveness and security being two of the most important issues for web users, the park district’s sites have built-in technology to detect the type of device being used and adjust its content to fit that device. And because all of the park district’s web sites share an underlying technology framework, visitors to each of the various websites will have a similar experience.
“We are happy to be able to offer more convenient and functional websites for our patrons,” said Young. “Mobile use of the internet has increased dramatically over the past few years and we’re glad to be on the leading edge of this technology.”