North Wind And Sun

IT Launches New College Web Site

There was an air of tense, knowing apprehension on August 19 as Amherst College prepared to debut its newest Web site redesign. Web site redesigns are risky business, and a few broken links here and there are the least of anyone’s worries when dealing with a Web site that gets hundreds of thousands of hits daily. The site could completely break down or, worse, people could dislike the changes.

But, to the surprise of most at IT, including the students hired especially to take on the supposedly inevitable flurry of questions and errors, the design went off largely without a hitch.

In January of this year, the Internet Strategy Group created a subcommittee dedicated to drafting a new design for the College Web site and reached out to the community for input and suggestions. The resulting product is a direct reflection of the suggestions and surveys provided.

The Web site was last revamped in 2005 and, in Web design terms, three years is a long time for an upgrade. “The previous design was really a print-based scheme and could not accommodate much of what the College was trying to do on the Web,” said Director of Information Technology Peter Schilling.

The College’s Web site now features a number of changes that Schilling hopes will serve to make navigation easier and more straightforward. “The impression we got from many users,” said Mason Bradbury ’10, a member of the redesign group, “was that a similar format, layout and navigational scheme makes the Web site easier to use.” Thus, in the spirit of user friendliness, the redesign group considered a number of designs that ranged from those that emphasized search to those that relied on folksonomic navigation.

For those using the Content Management System (CMS) to create pages of their own, the design group has included a number of new and useful features. Users now have the option to reorder sidebar links in order of importance, rather than be stuck with the alphabetical listing. Users can also employ the new teaser and publication features, giving them more control over how their posts look and when they want them published.

While the more obvious design choices like color and layout were considered, the redesign committee likewise considered a number of other factors that they thought should be reflected in the new design. One of the main goals of the committee was, according to Schilling, “maintaining, reinforcing and communicating a distinctive Amherst College identity.” This meant crafting the new design so that it could give an accurate sense of what Amherst College is, forcing the design group to consider things as seemingly unimportant as what was represented in the navigational bars.

Schilling was not aware of any major controversies surrounding the redesign, but there has been a growing level of discontent over a notable omission to the Web site’s tab bar�”athletics. In the final product of the redesign, athletics appears in a box marked “quick links” rather than on the tab bar, a decision that was made as early as February. That decision, of course, was not without its discontents, even within the design committee itself. “I think that athletics, as an important part of college life,” said Bradbury, “should have been given its own tab. I was unsuccessful at convincing the committee as they felt it was more appropriate to include it as a part of Student Life. That relatively minor detail was the only real gripe I had with our end product and, in general, I’m very happy with it.”

But the work isn’t over. Changes are still being made to redesign the College Intranet page which, according to Desktop Computing Specialist Devindra Hardawar at Information Technology, will feature a number of convenient additions. “The Intranet redesign is going to give students a true portal, with personalized links to their course information, in addition to the current feed reader,” Hardawar said. “When you’re not logged in, the new Intranet is still going to resemble the Intranet we see today, but once you are logged in, it offers many more options.”

(Originally published 2 September 2008 in The Amherst Student)

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