Communications finalizes design for the Skidmore website: The final result is a combination of two designs with new elements responding to survey feedback

Posted by Adrian Appleman

On April 4, the Office of Communications officially finished the redesign for the College's new website to be submitted on to the new content management system, OmniUpdate. This decision comes after two rounds of campus and community surveys, several focus groups, meetings with the Student Government Association, the President's Cabinet, the Alumni Association Board of Directors, and other administrative organizations on campus.

After Communications analyzed the data collected from the second round of campus surveys and the feedback from focus groups held on March 13 and 20, the website task force decided to focus on how to incorporate the most appealing and traditional elements of Design A, such as the green color scheme, into the more unconventional Design C, which uses an entirely different layout format from the other designs, including a navigation bar on the side of the website instead of the top.

These design changes include adding a slight transparency to the navigation bar to make it less obtrusive, lending more focus to the glossy background slideshow of events. The vertical navigation, instead of having cake-layer sub-navigation bars, now opens horizontal menus, similar to the menus in Design A, with an integrated content panel underneath the menu for highlighting student and alumni research and accomplishments.

There is also an "admin bar" at the bottom of the page, which allows visitors easy access to a new A-Z index and the ability to bypass the new interface. An additional "CTM banner" on the navigation bar also adds recent content about creative happenings around campus right off the main page.

The committee presented the results of the "Skidmore Web Site Redesign Survey" to the ad hoc SGA Web Site Redesign subcommittee on April 2. The survey found Design A to have the highest percentage of approval, with 45 percent of survey respondents saying they would most like to see it as the College's new home page.

Because of the overwhelmingly positive feedback, however, Communications received about the runner-up Design C from its advocates, they decided to incorporate many of the popular features of Design A in an enhanced version of Design C, which was presented to the SGA committee as well.

Approximately 400 current students, 142 faculty and staff members and 114 alumni and parents, responded to the survey. Results differed negligibly between demographics, except in the case of the design most favored, in which the faculty and staff group selected Design C by a small margin of 3 percent over Design A.

"The people who liked Design C really liked it," Andy Camp, director of Web Development, said. "Design A, which, though it received the most votes in the survey, didn't win by a majority, and never really got as enthusiastic a response."

This closeness revealed itself in a class taught by Deborah Hall, associate professor of art, and a faculty counselor on the redesign project, in which students, when shown the new designs were split fifty-fifty on the designs, but those in favor of C spoke emphatically for it.

"There was a considerable group of people who liked the more traditional feel of Design A," Dan Forbush, director of Communications and overseer of the project, said. "The 'Skidmore green,' for example, and the conventional vertical navigation, were well-received aspects. But we thought we could definitely give it a more creative feel using elements from Design C."

The final version of the home page, screenshots of which were sent to members of the SGA subcommittee Wednesday evening, addresses concerns brought up in the last subcommittee meeting, as well as a meeting with the Advancement Committee of the Board of Trustees earlier this week, and several meetings with the project's three faculty counselors: Hall, Flip Phillips, professor of Psychology, and John Weber, Dayton Director of the Tang Museum.

These issues included the prominence of the College logo, which now floats above the navigation bar instead of being boxed in by it, the addition of a panel allowing for navigation of the site based on demographic of the visitors (i.e., parent, alumni, student, prospective student, etc.), and social media integration.

The finished design features a social media banner below the items on the navigation bar, with easy access to the College's social media outlets. Sub-pages, the design for which are still being finalized, also now include a flag at the top right-hand corner allowing the page to be "liked" and "tweeted," as well as emailed and clicked, with the push of a button.

"We hope to integrate Skidmore's vast social media presence into this design across the board," Camp said.

The next stage of the process will solidify the design of top-level sub-pages, such as "Admissions," "About Skidmore," "Student Life" and "Alumni." On April 9, the SGA ad hoc committee will reconvene to discuss the final home page as well as the future design of the "Student Life" sub-page, including the decision to conflate the two pages, "Current Students" and "Student Life" into one page informative to both prospective and current students. The Communications office also will organize an online focus group with alumni to collect input on the "Alumni" page.

There will still be room for fine-tuning after sending the programming to OmniUpdate, allowing for further input gathered in the upcoming docket of meetings and focus groups to polish the site even further. For now, the Communications department celebrates reaching a major milestone in the redesign process, culminating in the new site going live at some point this June.

"All audiences with whom we've shared the new design have responded enthusiastically," Forbush wrote on the Communication's web site redesign blog . "Andy Camp has skillfully pulled together a distinctive new design that everyone seems to agree says 'Skidmore.' "

Screenshots of the latest design can be found at http://www.skidmore.edu/redesign

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