Tag Archives: incremental redesign

sitewide refresh and responsive design: teamwork, usability and action.

At the end of Friday, we officially launched a new look for key pages of oswego.edu, with goals of improving three things: 1) navigation, 2) aesthetics and 3) usability via responsive design.

The oswego.edu homepage, October 2010 to November 2012.

New oswego.edu homepage, launched Nov. 2, 2012.

The first thing users will notice are a megadropdown menu (seen open below) where key pages under our various sections (About, Academics, Admissions, Student Life, Alumni & Supporters, Athletics and News & Events) will now be available from anywhere on our site. Also quite notable is a new Popular Links feature on every page, where users will be able to access our 10 most-visited sites — such as email, the MyOswego student and faculty gateway, Angel online learning, A-Z Index and Penfield Library. In short, users should be able to access most top actions from anywhere on our site. Hard to improve a site’s usability more in one fell swoop.

Homepage with dropdown navigation drawer open.

We’re also quite pleased with what we consider a more eye-friendly look. Switching the font to Droid Sans with a better point size produced greater legibility. With the pagewidth going from 950 to 1170 pixels, we also have a wider field to compensate. The homepage takes advantage with larger photos in its various levels of information, which puts a premium on impactful photography and content that lends itself to this magnified stage.

What may be least obvious, but the biggest accomplishment, is the site’s transition to a responsive design that detects browsers or viewports — desktops, tablets and smartphones — and adjusts accordingly. Rick Buck, our very talented developer, coordinated the back end work, with Devin Kerr, who has been teaching graphic design at our college, using his design and CSS skills to create the look of the templates. Before he graduated, stellar student worker James Daniello (who’s available for hire!) added some fine coding work. The content, direction, design and development were a team effort as we bounced ideas and information off one another throughout the process.

Since I’ve endured two full redesigns at Oswego, doing something more in-between — a refresh, as we call it — was both (somewhat) less stressful and reflects the incremental redesign concept promoted by eduStyle‘s Stewart Foss. Rick and I are big fans of incremental and iterative redesign concepts, as well as agile project management. So plenty of theory and technical know-how went into this project.

But in addition to know-how, we also pulled out some can-do. Many talk about this kind of thing, but we were blessed to be able to take action. It did take more than a bit of lobbying, creative approaches, presentations, proofs of concept and old-fashioned teamwork … but in the end, we think all that work paid off.

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admissions page makeover: less talk, more action.

A few weeks ago, our admission folks asked me to design a new landing page for a marketing push they were working on. Apparently the direction went so well, they asked if I could adapt it into the new admissions home page. Or they were trying to soften me up to get to the bigger project. In any event, the new page went live on Monday and shows the continuing evolution in how we handle web content.

As a writer, it’s hard for me to let go of graceful, compelling sentences full of descriptive adjectives, active verbs and strong nouns. Yet in high-level pages, it seems users have been more likely to click buttons, play videos, follow left-navigation links than click on inline links. And as Mary Beth Kurilko, one of the brighter minds in web writing, likes to say: If the opposite is ridiculous, why write it? Do any of our competitor schools NOT have outstanding professors, a range of academic programs and a desire to help students succeed? So perhaps this writing has always been cliche.

Here was our previous admissions page; I never thought of it as that bad, but always had room for improvement:

Even though it was less than a year old, you can see the incrementalism in it, as we kept adding one thing, then another, then another. The buttons were a nice addition at the time, but they ended up looking kind of strewn around the page. The virtual tour promotion came later. See all those contextual links? Our analytics found they weren’t terribly effective. Say, is that a July event still in our upcoming events list in September? Oh dear.

The new page is much simpler and more streamlined:


The incremental redesign’s new central emphasis is a two-minute admissions video. Below sit links for related videos, including an extended (~12 minute) version and introductions to our four colleges and schools. The buttons on the side emphasize actions that enrollment management would want to drive — take a virtual tour, schedule a campus visit, apply — and I also recommended a link to majors/minors since statistics show this is a popular link on any page it appears and since one of a student’s first questions is whether we have their program.

We generate the buttons via this site, which eases some crunch of not having a dedicated designer for our office. I’m on the fence as to whether six buttons is a lot; streamlining options is generally a good thing but if Admissions wants to start with six buttons and they all serve valid functions, I can’t argue. What we can do is look at the analytics after the initial push and see where people click and don’t click — and adjust accordingly.

I’m still trying to adjust to less writing, but short directive phrases (Update Status, Add Photo, Write Post) seem to work for Facebook, right? In any event, we’ll see how a new direction of less talk, more action works for us.

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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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