Wesleyan has launched its new online look with a completely redesigned homepage.
The new, image-rich homepage, http://www.wesleyan.edu/, offers rotating photographs of campus life, university factoids and departmental highlights that change when the page is reloaded. The most noticeable change to the new homepage is the open layout that emphasizes information, facilitates navigation, and refocuses content for Wesleyan’s primary target audiences, including prospective students, their parents and external users.
Under the images are recent headlines, upcoming events and title selections from a new, open access Community Blog. All members of the Wesleyan community can author a post, and anyone can comment on a post.
“Everyone at Wesleyan is invited to join in the conversation on the Community Blog,” says Web Redesign Team member Mark Bailey, director of strategic communications. “Many provided great ideas and expressed the hope that we all will use it to bring faculty, student and alumni news to the attention of homepage readers. Only your participation can make the Blog a distinctive online space that reflects Wesleyan life and achievements.”
Today’s rollout also includes a new Office of Admission site and redesigns of the About, Academics, Campus Life, Offices and Services, Alumni and Parents pages. The Academics page includes links to recent faculty and student achievements; the Campus Life page provides ready access to class blogs, student activities, services, clubs, and Residential Life; and the About page includes “starting points” about Wesleyan including notable alumni, maps and a university profile.
Melissa Datre, director of the New Media Lab, recalls the initial web redesign meeting held 14 months ago. The group first devised a plan for developing a new website.
“Not only were we addressing a desire for a new look and feel, but we also wanted a more user-friendly web management system for our content providers,” Datre says. “During our research of content management systems (CMS), many universities we interviewed were surprised to hear our desire to not only redesign the website interface, but to implement a new CMS at the same time.”
With help from Wesleyan’s Technical Support Services, ITS selected, tested and set-up a new content management system, Hannon Hill’s Cascade, in less than six months. The Web Redesign team, which was formed in January, worked on the design prototypes while the Cascade team took on the integration of the content management system.
“The advantage to this new CMS is that it is a browser-based, cross-platform system and has a familiar interface that allows content owners to preview and publish their site from any computer. To put it plain, it is easy to use,” Datre says.
All 200 departments and sub-pages will be converted to the new design and content management system over the coming 12 to 18 months. ITS will be conducting Cascade training classes and offering one-on-one support to web content owners during this migration process.
“The team has worked hard to provide an improved entry point to Wesleyan for all visitors to the homepage,” says Web Redesign Team member Adrian Cooke, associate director of web technology in the Office of University Communications. “The new design focuses on content that is always changing. We’ve tried to create a page that provides quick access to specifics (such as events on campus), but that also gives people a sense of the character of the community as a whole.”
Prior to the website’s launch, the Redesign Team sought input from the Wesleyan community through meetings with constituent groups, a web redesign blog and a web design survey. More than 1,000 people responded. The respondents overwhelmingly “expressed a strong desire for a simple navigation, requesting that the menu system be clear, easy, intuitive, user-friendly, well-organized, and straightforward,” says survey coordinator Mariah Reisner, graphic designer in the New Media Lab.
Survey results also indicated that prospective students are more likely to spend time using navigation menus on the website, while members of the community are more likely to be looking for specific information and use the search box.
Respondents also strongly advocated integrating more photos into the homepage design and creating a “dignified and usable” layout. They also suggested that the role of the university’s website should form a confident and lasting impression of the university.
The Web Redesign Team is made up of members of the Office of University Communications and Information Technology Services. The team includes Cooke; Bailey; Reisner; Datre; Steven Jacaruso, art director; Anne Marcotty, senior designer; and Pat Leone, world wide web administrator. Implementation of the new design in Cascade has depended on the expertise of the New Media Lab’s Jennifer Carlstrom, lead designer; Jason Vienneau, web developer; and Philip Isaacs, new media developer. Leone and Carlstrom worked closely with Matt Elson and Hong Zhu of Technical Support Services in ITS to set up and test the new Cascade content management system.