By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (June 13, 2016) -- Deep within the Pentagon, a team of programmers and web designers have been working for over a year now to bring the Army's award-winning flagship website, Army.mil, up to the latest web standards and to add some much-needed gloss to the site.
"Our Soldiers, Civilians, Family members and those who support our Army deserve a website that represents them and the greatest team on earth -- the United States Army," said Brig. Gen. Malcolm Frost, the chief of Army Public Affairs.
"The new Army.mil website was built with this goal foremost on our mind. The Office of the Chief of Public Affairs has put together a modern site, viewable over all mobile devices, that clearly and simply shares the Army's story with the American people," he said.
Most striking among the changes, which go live on the Army's birthday, June 14, is the implementation of a "responsive grid" design.
"The idea of a responsive website is that it displays correctly on every device, including smartphones, tablets, and a variety of browsers," said Zack Kevit, the Army.mil project manager. "All of the design decisions, the layout decisions, the coding decisions, and the framework we use to display the content, has been driven by the goal to make the site more mobile-friendly -- because that's the direction our audience is moving."
About 40 percent of the site's visitors now come from mobile devices.
The redesign of Army.mil involved a complete re-write of all of the site's code, Kevit said.
"We took a deep look at the structure of everything, including the information architecture, the file structure, the corresponding sites and all the legacy data on there," Kevit said. "It's all new now. It's lighter and faster."
Army.mil Technical Director, Johnathan Howard, added that two updates contributing to both increased speed and security on Army.mil is the enabling of HTTPS and HTTP/2. Howard said "Policy mandates that all sites have HTTPS connectivity -- and Army.mil is the first among its sister services to make that happen. Enabling of the HTTP/2 protocol will also improve site performance," he said. "Pages will load more quickly."
MOSAIC OF IMAGES
The version of Army.mil being replaced has existed since 2006 with only a few minor design refreshes over the past decade, according to the web team.
With the Army's need to highlight communication campaigns on the homepage, we decided to create a flexible mosaic like framework to bring harmony and order to a large amount of diverse content, said Lia DiValentin, a web designer with the Army.mil team.
The new visual centerpiece functions as the Army's virtual "digital bulletin board," and allows the Army to easily promote different types of high priority content within one cohesive structure.
The team said the new site enables them to give more emphasis to Army communication campaigns that are promoted by the Army's public affairs staff at the request of Army senior leadership.
Creative Director, Melissa Burlovich explained that another design element included in the new Army.mil is adherence to the Enterprise Army Brand. The Army has a marketing office that in addition to developing commercials and other advertising for the Army, also develops a branding strategy for the service so that magazine, television, web, and newspaper advertising, for instance, all look the same in terms of colors, typefaces, graphics and use of the Army logo and camouflage patters.
"Previously, Army.mil had its own brand," she said. "Now it follows the look and feel of the overall Army brand. If somebody sees an Army commercial or poster, and then comes to Army.mil -- they will associate the colors, typography and imagery more closely."
CORE -- THE ARMY'S CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
Much of what's on Army.mil -- in particular, the print news stories, and most of the imagery -- comes from a content management system called CORE. Redesign of that back-end is slated for this year.
CORE is a system that is used to share articles, videos and photos produced by public affairs officers from units across the Army.
Army.mil programmers have developed a new application programming interface, or API, to connect CORE to the new design. Howard said that documentation for the API will eventually be made available to other web developers, enabling them to use CORE-provided content.
"Other Army websites can utilize the content as well," Howard continued. "They can do all the news management through CORE with minimal recoding of their pages."
The site also includes an array of feature microsites for various Army topics and themes. Chief among those are the "Valor" pages for individual Army Medal of Honor recipients. There are more than 20 of those on the site.
Army.mil also hosts dozens of other microsites categorized as "Events" for things like the Best Ranger Competition, or Best Warrior Competition, "Heritage" for topics like D-Day, Battle of the Bulge, or the Korean War, and "Resources," for things like the Army values, the Ready and Resilient campaign, and Army uniforms, symbols and insignia.
Maj. Charlene LaMountain, chief of the Army's Online and Social Media Division, manages both Army.mil and the Army's social media efforts. She said the Army.mil team has done an exceptional job of development of the new Army.mil site, all while keeping Army priorities at the forefront.