Of Dropdowns and Flyouts

The only real functional change we’ve made in the new homepage beta is the elimination of the dropdown menus that were there before (other changes involve aesthetics, content, or underlying code). I have noticed a few comments and questions about this change, and it is definitely one that we will be testing specifically to see how it affects users’ ability to find content from the homepage. For people who are familiar with the old homepage navigation and who had their favorite method of getting to their most visited pages, any change can be disruptive. But how do dropdown menus affect people who are not familiar with the University or its website?

The reason for trying to eliminate dropdown or flyout menus generally is that they don’t often work as expected on newer touchscreen devices like the iPad and other tablets. Dropdowns usually work on “hover;” you hover over a menu item with your mouse and are given the option then clicking on the original item or one of the sub-items. On touchscreens, there is no “hover.” There is only touch. This can lead to touchscreen users having to click a menu item twice before anything happens, or getting stuck behind a dropdown that keeps popping up.

During usability testing I am planning to divide users into two groups: one group will use a version of the site with dropdown menus and the other without. I’ll be curious to see how significantly — if at all — the absence of dropdowns affects people’s ability to quickly find other sites and content.


Iterative Design: Meliora Meets the Homepage

A little more than three years ago, in September of 2008, a new redesign of the University’s homepage was launched.

screenshot of homepage

That redesign was 11 months in the making and represented a complete overhaul of the homepage it replaced. And that homepage –

screenshot from older homepagelaunched in 2006 — was itself a complete overhaul of the site that came before it.

The trend in Web design however is away from these months-long redesign projects and toward what is referred to as “iterative design” or “progressive enhancements.” Happily we are no stranger to this philosophy at the UofR, and we have an even better name for it: Meliora, Ever Better.

Over the last few weeks, we have been marking several special occasions on our homepage, beginning with the 10th anniversary of September 11, and continuing with the YellowJackets appearances on The Sing-Off, Meliora Weekend, the Meliora Challenge kick-off, Halloween, and our popular Photo Fridays. For these special editions we found that having a more flexible homepage that didn’t require a photo of a specific size for example, or a fixed sidebar, came in very useful for keeping us nimble and responsive.

Today marks the beginning of a month-long beta period for the homepage in which we’ve incorporated some of the enhancements we’ve made to accommodate these special homepages into our everyday Web presence. During the month of November, we’ll be conducting usability tests with students, faculty, and staff (and prospective students, ideally) writing regular blog posts describing some of the changes, and gathering feedback.

Please use this blog to let us know what you think.



Lori Packer, Michael Osadciw, Mike Jones, Dawn Wendt
Web Team
University Communications

Homepage Beta is Live!

A prototype of the new homepage design is now live at http://www.rochester.edu/beta/.

For this beta period, we’ve added commenting and “rate this page” functions for each page included in the beta, so please feel free to send us your feedback, either on individual pages or via the blog.

Some additional additions to the beta:

  • If you click on the large photo on the homepage, you go to a page that lists all the large photos, with desktop wallpaper available for selected images. We plan to expand the ways visitors can use these photos during the beta period.
  • The “Newsroom” is no longer a hard-coded mockup and is now actually serving up live news from all the University units, and live event information from the University calendar.
  • For the “sub-home” art, we stuck with the darker background images but made them shorter so that more of the content below would appear “above the fold” for users with shorter browser windows.

We plan to conduct more usability testing during this period with more audiences — prospective students, current students, faculty, and staff for a start — and I’m sure will continue to make changes. So keep those cards and letters coming in!