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MLA Handbook

The MLA Handbook gives step-by-step advice on every aspect of writing research papers. The website is the first digital version of the handbook to be published and contains expanded content and functionality.

The Brief

The MLA Handbook was the fourth project successfully completed with Semantico, a specialist technical company based in Brighton. They handled the overall technical build, and commissioned us to supply visual design for the site.

The printed book weighs in at nearly 400 pages of extremely detailed and exhaustively cross-referenced materials – migrating the product on to the web presented a clear opportunity to enhance functionality, increase the user-base and create a vital service.

MLA had a clear vision of who their users were and what they would want to do on the site, so we were not asked to carry out any discovery work.

Instead, we were given a set of wireframes which detailed all the page elements we needed to include in the screen designs. The designs needed to reflect their core values: authoritative, definitive, practical and detailed.

A pleasure to work with… beautifully crafted designs with careful attention to detail – remembering all aspects of the user experience and adapting to an evolving brief.

Andrew Grimes, Project Manager, Semantico

Design process

Working closely with Colin Caveney, Semantico’s project manager, we devised a design-requirements capture form to help us steer the design process. Naturally, we researched competitor sites to help position them in the marketplace as well. We drew up initial designs based on this research.

After receiving further feedback, we prepared a design workshop for the client in downtown New York. During the workshop, we presented a second iteration of designs and were able to work up design variations in situ for the MLA team to see. As it turned out, we’d pitched the designs very closely to what the client wanted – the design-requirements capture process had been instrumental here – so we came away from that meeting with just a small set of changes. The meeting wasn’t just about presenting the designs and meeting the client, it helped us to understand what was really important to MLA and gave us an insight into their expectations.

We love working with clients such as MLA – their whole business is about attention to detail and we share those values. It’s really refreshing to discuss the finer points of layout and typography with a knowledgeable and concerned client – it makes our job that much easier.

Production process

Once the designs were signed off, standards-compliant XHTML templates and CSS files were created and then tested in IE6, 7, Firefox 2 & 3, Safari, Google Chrome and Opera.

We also added in additional markup to improve accessibility – adding in access-key shortcuts, skip navigation links and short cuts to common functions such as search.

Following testing, the templates were handed to Semantico to integrate into their publishing system.

The site is now live, explaining the benefits of the Handbook to prospective purchasers and giving those who own it a new, searchable digital version of the book.

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