PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 27, No. 12, Jan. 17, 2008
Feedback wanted on redesign of Illinois home page
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
Just like many bricks-and-mortar sites on campus, the main Web site for the Urbana campus is undergoing renovations. And Web site users, who are being asked for the feedback about the new design, already have offered some valuable suggestions that are being incorporated into the new site.
The UI has had a Web presence since 1997. The first iteration of the current campus Web site was released in April 2003 and the site has undergone several redesigns, including a major overhaul in April 2005. The current design is outdated and “designed for a different Internet,” when the average user had a smaller monitor, for example, said Joel Steinfeldt, the project manager in Creative Services who is leading the redesign along with graphic designer Val Turner. “The new design takes advantage of new user technology and faster connection speeds. We’re creating a new design that’s up-to-date and reflects the technological innovation that the UI is known for.”
The new site reflects “Web 2.0” technology, offering rich user experiences and features that encourage user collaboration and knowledge sharing in a service-oriented environment. The new site will be universally accessible – to people with disabilities who use assistive technology such as screen readers as well as to people with older computers or slow connections, Turner said.
The research data indicate that 26 percent of viewers can see the entire page at once, 31 percent can see everything except for part of the footer – the information at the very bottom of the page – and 32 percent can see down to below the first “Campus Highlights” without scrolling. “We expect that if the trend toward larger and larger monitors continues, almost all of our audience will be able to see the entire home page without scrolling, long before the end of the site’s lifespan,” Steinfeldt said.
Since the majority of users have larger monitors and broadband connections, the page design is larger and contains larger images that present focal points for the viewer. People with dial-up connections will get the same content, but not all the images, and the site will download faster. On PDAs and cell phones, images will render as text links.
The new site will be easier to navigate, contain fewer links and have consistent visual language for its links. The current home page contains a whopping 180 links and uses both colored text and headers as links, making navigation inconsistent and confusing.
However, most users bypass the links altogether and use search functions instead, according to the research data. On the new site, the search functions for locating people, places and information will be combined.
A new feature, “Here and Now,” will present photos and videos of campus places, people and events shot and submitted by students, faculty and staff members and visitors. “Here and Now” will provide fresh, unique glimpses of campus life from the perspective of people living and working in the campus community. A staff member will review and edit the photos and videos submitted, which site visitors will be able to browse through once the material is posted online.
In planning the new site, the redesign team gathered more than a year’s worth of data about user behavior and user preferences, consulted with on-campus and off-campus experts and met with Chancellor Richard Herman and Provost Linda Katehi to discuss their visions for the site.
In accordance with the branding initiative that is under way on campus, a primary concern for Herman is that the new site differentiate the UI’s site from other universities’ sites and convey its excellence, reflecting the UI’s rich history as well as its preeminence in arts and technology.
At Herman’s request, the redesign team is developing a policy for determining what will be placed on the home page. “While everyone wants to have a direct link to their information on the home page, it’s just not possible,” Steinfeldt said. “However, we will offer a multitude of different ways for users to get to that information from the home page.”
The site’s largest user group is current and prospective students, so the new design focuses on delivering content applicable to that group. However, a student portal Web site – containing academic and financial aid information as well as online service – is being developed, and most of the student users are expected to migrate to the student portal when it goes online.
The new main site, which adheres to the campus graphic standards, is designed so that content can be added or removed over the next five years.
Since the redesigned site was made available online for user feedback a few weeks ago, users have submitted many comments and suggestions, some of which are being incorporated into the design, such as including a link to campus emergency phone numbers in the page footer and linking the current day’s date displayed on the page to the campus calendar.
The project team will continue to collect online feedback through the beginning of February. The new site will undergo user testing with the full spectrum of stakeholders – including on-campus and off-campus users and even users in other countries – and will be fine-tuned before the final design is presented to Herman and Katehi for approval and then unveiled to the campus community. The new site is scheduled to go live July 2.
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