Capstone Blog: Endless Summer | Progress Report #0

Posted on Wed, 09/02/2015 - 20:31

This summer was definitely an interesting time in terms of the preparation and learning I've done, in the lead-up to the official start of our capstone design studio course.

First, I was able to leverage quite a few good networking opportunities to gain more insight into my project. Back in May, I attended DrupalCon Los Angeles and met a group of developers from the University of Virginia. They've had quite a bit of experience in developing and implementing their own custom Drupal installation profile for all UVA websites. This summer, I reconnected with them over email and got some very helpful notes and a copy of their Drupal code to help me brainstorm about my own project. This August, I also attended Drupal Camp Asheville. Among other things, I was able to meet up with team members from Commerce Guys, the creators of the Drupal Commerce distribution, which is one of the most widely used and most successful Drupal distributions created to date. I got some great feedback from the Commerce Guys team and, more importantly, some helpful words of encouragement in undertaking my current project of building my own distribution.

Now, let me talk about what I actually worked on myself, in regards to my capstone project.

As mentioned in my proposal and completion milestones, I had planned to put in quite a bit of time on "preliminary background research/learning" related to Drupal distributions and the work I would need to put in to complete my own project. With that in mind, I continued to study various Drupal-related topics on, especially their series on "Drupal Deployment with Features & Drush Series", "PHP Fundamentals", and "Module Development for Drupal 7". Taken together, these series have begun to make me more [1] comfortable with diving into the true backend of Drupal on my own and [2] confident in understanding the lingo and jargon surrounding Drupal distribution development (as a subset of the larger Drupal development world).

On a more concrete level, I've also taken a couple of important first steps in the "real" work required for the project. Using the online Lucidchart wireframing software, I mocked up a fairly-detailed, multi-page sketch of what an Open Eggheads website might look like to the end user. I then created a brief online survey using Qualtrics and asked a group of graduate students/academic professionals to take the survey as an initial phase of user testing for this project. This survey integrated screenshots of the wireframe mock-ups that I created using Lucidchart.

The results of the initial round of user testing provided a good amount of insight into my target audience's preferences. The survey focused on two areas: [1] the "metadata" of the users' desire to have a website and their motivations/needs for such a site; and [2] the users' preferences with respect to actual design-related specifications for the prototype website (based on the Lucidchart wireframes). One of the most interesting insights—emcompassing both lines of questioning—was found when looking at the data from the more senior-level graduate students (4th- and 5th-years), who are either entering or already in the midst of the academic job market and consequently need to publicly present themselves well (e.g., via a personal website). In examining this target demographic (4th- and 5th-year graduate students), I found the following:

While older students display a greater interest in having/maintaining/putting effort into a personal website, they seem to value greater simplicity in the site's design (e.g., fewer pages, no need for customization, etc.) in contrast to the preferences of their other colleagues.

To-Do List for September:

  • Continue with Module Development video tutorials on to further familiarize myself with the proper "Drupal way" of custom development
    • Also revisit video tutorial on other site-building techniques using technologies related to the Panopoly distribution
  • Start creating the initial prototype/"golden site" of the Open Eggheads distribution, using the Panopoly distribution as its foundation
    • Set up a GitHub repository to store all code (and documentation) related to the project going forward
    • Set up a Pantheon development site for public demonstration purposes
  • Conduct further user testing with the group of graduate students/academic professionals cited above, in order to gather user feedback on the new prototype site as it is being built