The gallery below contains screenshots of the webpage design scheduled for launch on a handful of sites September 7th. (Click the images to enlarge them.) The homepage grid — and all the new pages — are built to look good on mobile devices as well as larger screens. The purple header contains a college-wide navigation menu that will be available on every page. Unobtrusive when collapsed, the menu contains links to the most-visited college pages as well as the customizable Quick Links tool. The department site template features simplified navigation and page layout. Please have a look and read on below the gallery to learn more about this project.
The Meerkat Theme is Evolving
Meerkat is the internal code name for the website design that debuted almost 4 years ago. At the time of this writing (July 2016), it is the design of this site, the college homepage, and most other department websites. Though it has had a successful run and is not going away in the immediate future, the communications office is currently working on the next-generation design to replace the current one. The goal is to launch an updated homepage with a handful of other sites by the end of the summer. At that point, the new design will be available to everyone and we will work to transition all interested departments.
The communications office is always looking to improve the college’s web presence to the benefit of all who consume and produce its content. Many of the changes we implement are incremental and go unnoticed by most visitors. Periodically, however, significant advances in technology or changes in user behavior warrant larger, more fundamental updates to our infrastructure. The exponential growth of mobile device usage and corresponding rapid evolution of web technology to accommodate smaller screens is one such tectonic shift. With the percentage of visitors browsing our sites on mobile devices increasing rapidly, as our own analytics confirm, improving our sites to better serve these visitors is a necessity and the primary driver of this work. Additionally, we have learned a lot about how the current design performs during the past few years and believe we can improve its organization to make it even more user-friendly.
The good news is that in most cases we currently serve visitors using mobile devices webpages specially formatted for small screens. This was already an important consideration during the last design process, and the most expedient way to do this at the time was to create a “lite” version of our theme for mobile visitors. There are a couple downsides to this approach: Site navigation and page layout can differ somewhat between the desktop and mobile versions, and there is a large technical overhead to maintaining the two themes. The better news is that state of the art now allows us to build one theme that looks good on devices big and small. This means site visitors will have a better, more consistent experience as they move from device to device. It’s also means the web team can spend less time maintaining two versions of the theme more time improving the user experience.
An important goal of the meerkat design process was to give more prominence to department-level navigation links. Each department’s four most important links were put at the top of the page, with the rest of their links in the sidebar. As we worked with academic and administrative departments to move their sites into meerkat, anecdotal feedback began to indicate this organization was not intuitive to some users and forced departments to make some tough decisions with respect to the content they wanted to prioritize. A user survey this spring confirmed that a significant subset of users had some trouble with the navigation scheme. The new design will simplify site navigation by clearly separating college-wide links and tools from department-level ones, by consolidating department links, and by allowing more flexibility in the number of top-level links.
Work on the new design is well underway. Its evolution is informed by collaboration with users, a user survey, focus groups, analysis of website analytics, and research into current trends in web development. We are excited about the progress so far, but aren’t quite ready to unveil it yet. Keep an eye out for a preview in August.
Once the design is finalized and launched, we look forward to working with departments to move their sites into the new look. If you are generally happy with how your content is organized now, we can move your site into the new theme quickly! If, on the other hand, you think it’s time to reassess your website, the communications office is happy to consult with you and help to reorganize it as part of the process.
If you have questions or comments about this project, please send us an email at [email protected].