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)


Wayback Machine, Part I

The first University of Rochester homepage was published in 1996, and as we prepage for the next incarnation of, I thought a trip down memory lane might be in order.

Here is that first page (check out the Internet Archive for a more in-depth look at the site).

screenshot of 1996 version of homepage

To me the most striking thing about this design is how narrow that main top image is, while still managing to squish in no fewer than seven separate photos (and it’s a little tough to see in this image, but it looks like the crew team is rowing across the sky above Rush Rhees Library). Below that image the old HTML standbys of bulleted lists, bordered boxes, and horizontal rules are much in evidence.

It’s also amazing to think that in just about 10 short years the expectations for how a website should look have changed so drastically. Functionally, there’s not much wrong with the site; it doesn’t provide you with any opportunity to actually do anything, but as an aid to navigation it’s pretty straightforward. However, if a major university had such a homepage today, I think most users — especially prospective students — would be a little, shall we say, underwhelmed.