We’re excited to share with you the next evolution of Allegheny’s web site. The emphasis has been on making a site that is not only attractive but more easily navigable, scalable to all of the different devices that people use to connect to the web, and accessible to all. In brief points below, we’ll explain what problems we solved, why this matters, and why we believe this new home page design paves the way for even more excitement in the future.
Although the redesign is mainly confined to the college’s home page for now, we’ll be bringing the rest of our sites into the redesign over the summer. This is simply Phase 1 of an ongoing project, with the site continuing to evolve in the months ahead as we respond to opportunities to make it even better.
Thank you for sharing your feedback with us, and we hope you’re as excited about the redesign as we are.
1. Content First! Everything started with content.
We did an extensive audit of the content on the existing home page, traffic across all of Allegheny’s websites, heat-mapping on the home page (we can see exactly where users click), terms that users search for when using our on-site search feature, and then matched that data to our college-wide communications goals and to the Strategic Plan. It was only after we were satisfied with what the content needed to be that we moved on to wireframes and visual design.
This led to…
2. Simplified Navigation
The old 2007-era home page had over 150 links and no clear hierarchy. In plain English: users were overwhelmed with choices and didn’t know where to click.
In the new design…
We have clear top-level choices:
At the very top of the site, we have links that will get you literally everywhere else on our site:
- My Allegheny (the “home page” for on-campus audiences)
- an A-to-Z listing of everything at Allegheny (if we left anything out, let us know)
- a list of administrative offices
- a list of student resources
- and, finally, a search box.
Best of all, once this design is rolled out to the rest of the website, regardless of what site you’re on, those two main levels of navigation will be persistent across the whole of Allegheny’s web presence.
3. Design for Mobile First
Traffic to websites via mobile devices (smart phones, tablets, etc.) is growing rapidly across the internet in general, and even more so across higher ed. Our design process started with mobile-sized screens and moved up from there, utilizing modern web technologies (such as Responsive Web Design) to ensure that the website would scale in order to be usable on any modern web-enabled device. This enabled us to design not just for the specific devices of today, but to design for what the web will be. From your new phone to your new car with a touchscreen, to your HD TV, this new design should scale appropriately across all platforms, providing a full-featured experience across the board.
We’re also very concerned about optimizing our website for users with disabilities. Gone are elements of the page that rely on images-only for conveying a message. Even the large “sliders” at the top of the new home page are now plain text overlaid on top of a photo, making the text readable by screen readers and other assistive technologies.
5. Put our users first and reorganize content based on them.
In the past, we have tended to organize our web content based on our organizational chart. The problem there is that a new visitor to Allegheny’s website doesn’t know a thing about our internal structure. For example, gone is the “Administration” link, replaced by more easily discoverable links to a more robust Resources website.
First of all, we’re excited to hear your feedback!
Moving forward, we will…
Roll out this design to all official Allegheny sites.
Academic departments, administrative offices, and everyone in between can benefit from the above enhancements — and more that are on the way. We will roll out the new design to all sites that are in our WordPress content management system over the summer of 2013.
Continue to develop supporting content and websites.
As we said at the top of this page, this is simply Phase 1, the cornerstone of a more awesome future web presence. A few examples…
We have a ton of opportunities to further develop the About Allegheny site, especially in light of our upcoming Bicentennial. We want the Resources site to continue to evolve as well. We have a long list of sites that can benefit from the more robust platform that a design like this provides. (Seriously. You should see our list.)
Continue to iterate on all of the above.
Perhaps the biggest change for those of us “behind the curtain” of this redesign is the fact that this introduces a more flexible framework on which to build new cool things. We’ve been very limited to this point by old visual design and old code. We have opportunities now to be more flexible, more innovative, and more bold — which all supports the goal of meeting the needs of our prospective and current students and their families. (And the cool thing is, when you do that, all other audiences benefit too!)
This type of project can’t be done by just Jesse Lavery and Sean O’Connor. This was the collective work of Web Communications, the Communications Leadership Team, and countless others across campus who have offered their expertise, input, feedback, and support.
Thank you all!