New Years Resolutions for Homepages

It’s that time again when we all resolve to do this, change that, and generally “be better at stuff” in the coming year. If a homepage could make New Years resolutions, what we they be?

  1. I resolve to stop trying to be all things to all people and just focus on what I’m good at.
  2. I resolve to provide new visitors with an easy overview of what’s available on this website, while not getting in the way of regular visitors who already know where they are trying to go.
  3. I resolve to always be standards compliant and accessible to all users.
  4. I will show off my University by always looking my best!
  5. I will go to the gym at lunchtime every other day. (Oh, wait. That one’s mine.)

Happy New Year!


The Goals This Time ‘Round

Back in 2004, during our first in-house homepage design process, the Web team developed a set of three goals that would drive the design. Those goals were: To provide more space on the homepage for content that changed; to create a more consistent navigational scheme that would allow visitors to find information more easily across all the University schools and divisions; and to conform and validate to a growing set of Web standards that were being increasingly adopted by modern Web browsers.

Those three goals proved to be a very useful device for the team in framing the process as it went along. Whenever we questioned ourselves about what we should do in the design or the structure of the site, we fell back on those three goals and asked: “Well, how or to what extent does that idea advance any one of our three goals?” Having that big picture in mind made it a lot easier to make the many little choices involved in a successful design.

So we figured, hey! Let’s do that again!

This time ’round there are five goals for the redesign (why stop at three?). They are:

  • Make a dramatic and immediate impact on users
  • Create simple, clean navigational elements
  • Emphasize prospective and current students as the primary audiences (on the homepage and on the supporting pages when appropriate)
  • Beef up the supporting pages; rely less on institutional “lists” and more on dynamic content and visitor participation
  • Use underlying technology that takes advantage of new user environments (eg. larger monitor sizes/resolutions, mobile devices)


Why Redesign?

So the fact that we are redesigning the University homepage does beg one obvious question: why? What’s wrong with the current homepage design?

Well, nothing major. The current homepage design represents, I think, a big improvement on what came before (more on that in later posts). But the next design will represent a big improvement over what we have now. There are a few key ways in which the homepage can and should be improved by a redesign:

  • The current design is nearly four years old. It is a “land-locked” 800 x 600 pixel table-based layout, created at a time when this was the most common screen resolution setting for users coming to our site. Given the expanding sizes of most people’s monitors these days, plus the desire to provide a clean looking page whether someone is viewing it on their Apple cinema display or their tiny Blackberry screen, this fixed-width approach is limiting and outdated.
  • The space available for providing news, updates, what’s happening now, is also a bit limited. Prospective students should get a quick sense of what kind of place this is and what goes on here when they visit the homepage, and current students, faculty, alumni, and staff should get a daily snapshot of University life if they return to the homepage often.
  • The second-level pages (or “Sorting Pages”) of the current homepage were meant to provide access to all the various offices and resources available across the entire University. As such, these pages are currently composed of pretty static lists of links. We’re missing an opportunity here to provide visitors with updated, dynamic content on these pages and we plan to address that in this redesign.

Happy Thanksgiving, and safe travels to wherever your holiday plans take you!