Tag Archives: redesign

when a website goes live, it doesn’t go dead.

Over the weekend, we began rolling out the new web design for oswego.edu to a pretty good reception. The design portion of the project — from first comps to launch — took less than three months, an exceedingly short window in higher education, so it has been quite a rush. But throughout the process I’ve emphasized that the new look is only a first step.

Screenshot of new home page

What we really wanted was a look that was cleaner and less cluttered than the previous design, which had a lot of colors and tables and suffered the misfortune of aging the way anything does in seven years web time. The new look is a skin we’re putting over pages migrated into our new content management system, Ingeniux, which topped some 200 other contenders (when the CMS team started) in large part through ease-of-use for our nearly 300 campus editors. But it’s also a powerful CMS we’ll tap more in the future.

As we were tasked with having the new design up before the Admissions cycle heated up this month, and since we have a huge site with a short window to get this far, some of our old pages remain in our old look and CMS. We continue the migration, but people can still find pages with this look:

old career site

In the new site, we try to play up the use of large photos (500 px by 205 px) first proposed by the freelance designer who did the makeover. Feedback from more than 200 incoming students pointed toward a preference for simplicity and a strong visual sense. Adding components (reusable blocks of content) in the right side can help make our pages more dynamic:

new academics homeBut there’s much left to do. We had to make some hard decisions about what we could complete before relaunch, and what we knew would still need work. We don’t want to throw everything into Tales From Redesigned Land’s mythical Phase 2 black hole; we’d like to keep working hard to make the website better on a daily basis. Stewart Foss of eduStyle calls it incremental redesign, and I’m a big believer.

The phrase I use, blunt as it is: When a website goes live, it doesn’t go dead. Everyone working in the web, imho, should think that way. We’re always tweaking, editing, looking to improve. Every day is a new opportunity to make things better than the day before.

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don’t forget the value of face-to-face conversations.

Sometimes finding a solution is as simple as sitting at the right lunch table.

As we redevelop our website, we recognized a need from the top down for feedback and input from prospective and/or incoming students. But I wasn’t really sure how to do it. Until one day I decided to sit with the good folks who run our New Student Orientation program during lunch in our Campus Center.

They were discussing an informational scavenger hunt where incoming students had to perform a certain number of tasks while competing for prizes. And it dawned on me: Hey, maybe one of those tasks could have something to do with our new website! A couple conversations later, a task involving our web redevelopment was part of the scavenger hunt, and my summer of interacting with hundreds of incoming students began.

For the first two scavenger hunts, I asked students stopping at my station their opinion on three different design protypes for the new site. An overwhelming winner emerged, with 62 percent preferring an option with a narrow pictoral (often scenic) banner on top. Which happened, fortunately, to also garner positive feedback from faculty, staff and current students. But to be able to back that opinion up with results from surveying more than 200 incoming students provides great confirmation.

a simple card sort

The following orientation sessions involved a card sort. I asked each member of the teams of scavenging students to take a card with a topic on it and tell us which section of our website (About, Academics, Admissions, etc.) they would expect to find it. Some results held to form, while others were eye-opening … but having a couple dozen students choose each card during each hunt gave me a pretty good sample size. And the conversations made them aware that 1) we are redeveloping our website, and 2) we value their input.

Overall, the information, connections and visibility proved quite valuable … but it all comes back to that initial conversation. I think sometimes those of us working in social media get caught up in the value of conversations on Facebook or Twitter (and imaging ROI) that we forget about the importance of face-to-face conversations. Of getting out there and speaking to people from different backgrounds. Of the serendipity that can follow something as simple as just sitting at someone’s lunch table.

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is redeveloping oswego.edu a big project? yes. and no.

So this is my summer: I’m part of a great, dedicated team moving our massive website, oswego.edu, to a new content management system and giving the site a whole new look. Ideally, by the start of the fall semester. Is that all a big project? Yes. Absolutely. And, in a sense, no.

While it’s definitely a big project, I could describe it as accurately as a merging of many different projects and goals. Consider the activities of our small, merry band:

- We’re creating new schemas (templates), stylesheets and components (added features) in our new CMS, Ingeniux. (When I say “we” here, I mainly mean “Rick Buck.”)
- We’re migrating content for around 10,000 pages.
- We’re training a couple hundred users or so on the new CMS.
- We’re tracking and documenting all of the above.
- We’re creating around 30 new landing pages that raise the presentation of academic areas.
- We’re working with a freelance designer on four primary templates, including a new home page. (The CMS is skinnable, so the new look will be “turned on” all at once.)
- The powers that be have tasked me with making our new site more engaging and interactive.
- Under the umbrella of engagement, I carry six other emphases — more user-centered, greater portability (interactive with both mobile devices and social media), greater usability, more conducive to microtransactions (meaningful ways to interact), promoting storytelling and cultivating community-building. Yes, those are a lot of things, but they can help guide this and future projects.

We have a fabulous cross-campus CMS team working on the back end, and content migration is under way. The designer delivers first drafts of template suites (three options) this week. Support from the top has been marvelous.

We’ve come a long, long way. And there is so much to be done — in pieces large and small. It’s like assembling a giant puzzle, but we know all the pieces are around and we’ve started putting them together. Don’t be surprised to see more blog entries about this big project … or collection of projects.

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facebook changes, not the end of the world as we know it.

You may have heard somewhere that the Facebook home page was redesigned again. (#sarcasm) While I find it cluttered and imperfect, and have to relearn some of the usability yet again, amid the scrambling you’ll find elements of what makes the social-media site successful.

Say this much for Facebook: As an organization, it’s never satisfied with the status quo. You can say its new status line is essentially emulating Twitter, but isn’t adapting to competitive market forces something we value in organizations? You can fault the decisions made — and I did sign up for just about every I Hate The New Facebook petition and group the previous time — but you can’t fault Facebook’s dedication to continuous product improvement.

If you’ve ever been in on a site design, you’ll know it’s no easy process (I have been, and the three hours I spent in a dentist’s chair last week was less painful). Facebook, if nothing else, is certainly challenging its designers and programmers to keep it fresh. Unlike MySpace’s myriad potential layouts (virtually all of them ugly), Facebook’s CMS offers one unifying look. Generally it’s crisp and clean, and while the new one seems more confusing at first glance, it’s still better organized that so many other sites. If the layout isn’t always intuitive, the basic content itself remains simple, easy-to-understand and economical in its phrasing.

Moreover, one benefit of Facebook’s tinkering is it keeps us talking about good Web design. To paraphrase jurist Potter Stewart’s famous line about not being to be able to define obscenity, but knowing it when he saw it, we can say the same about Web design. Not many of us are experts on the subject, but we know what we do and don’t like in terms of Web page ease of us. With its seemingly continuous redesigns, Facebook enables wide-ranging discussions on usability in real time.

And besides, if you don’t like this version, you can bet Facebook will change it up again soon enough.

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