Thursday, September 15, 2011

Designing a university web site

Occasionally I am asked about the design of web sites for organizations. One difficult type of organization to desk for is a university. There are conflicting demands between marketing and other parts of the universality, between student recruitment and research and between parts of the university. The web designer is confronted with these issues and there is usually no clear resolution. Some quick tips I suggest to designers are:
  1. Follow an existing model: It is much easier to look at existing web sites, pick one you and your clients like and model your work on that. As an example, the ANU and University of Melbourne are Australia's two leading universities, so it would be worth looking at how they do their web pages.
  2. Design for mobile devices: Increasingly web pages are being read on mobile devices. So it is a good idea to design for these. An added benefit is that the small screen size forces the designer to concentrate on what is important. There is no need to provide a special mobile site, just make the main site mobile compatible.
  3. Design for the public: While universities have very esoteric topics for students and researchers, their web sites should be understandable by the general public. This will allow the parents of the potential students and the government decision makers who find the universities to understand what they are doing.
  4. Show activities: There is a temptation to present dull history of a university or the courses available, but the first thing to show is there there are things happening. There should be a calendar of events, including many free to the public and a list of recent publications, with at least free summaries available.
  5. Provide Accessible Text: While video and audio can be engaging on-line experience, important information should also be provided in cellar, simple text. This allows search engines to index the content, allows those on slow Internet links to read it and also provides additional accessibility for those with a disability,

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