University Communications officially began the beta period of efforts to update and streamline the homepage of UR’s website on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
Communications began toying with ideas for improvement by using a series of special editions, such as a Sept. 11 tribute and a YellowJackets-themed Halloween design, before diving into a comprehensive redesign process.
According to Assistant Director of Public Relations in the Office of University Communications Lori Packer, the overarching aim of this beta period is not only to test the usability and aesthetic success of the new ideas being developed, but also to call for feedback from high school students, UR students, faculty and alumni.
“We’re definitely seeking feedback on the new homepage,” Packer said. “You can learn so much about how people use a site and what works and what’s confusing by just watching a small group of people actually use it for half an hour or so.”
In a concerted effort to make the redesign as transparent as possible, Packer is documenting the process through a blog called “Re: Design,” which provides a forum for comments.
A link to the blog — which originated from the last major rehash of the Web page’s design — can be accessed from the bottom of the UR homepage. It contains explanations for some of the major changes that have been made so far, such as the elimination of dropdown and flyout menus.
“The reason for trying to eliminate dropdown or flyout menus generally is that they do not often work as expected on newer touchscreen devices like the iPad and other tablets,” Packer wrote on the blog.
Packer acknowledged that to some users, big changes in methods of navigating the website — such as the sudden absence of the aforementioned menu types — might initially seem frustrating or cumbersome, but any change often does. Instead, Packer and the other members of the Communications Web Team are focusing on how changes will hopefully benefit new users who are coming to the University’s website without biases. Since these changes are part of a trial, nothing is final yet.
Some students have already noticed the updates being implemented as part of the beta period and have found them to be useful, even at this early stage.
“I think [the Web page] looks sleeker, and the search function is easier to find and use now,” junior Sam Weiller said.
The blog also documents a timeline of some of the major changes that have occurred since the University’s first Web page in 1996, including the addition of large, dynamic pictures taking up much of the background beginning in 2008.
This feature will not be removed during the current redesigns, but instead will be enhanced even further.
“Before, the homepage required a photo of a s pecific size, and sometimes the menu would cut across a photo in a way that meant we could not use it,” Packer said. “Now photos can be short or tall. We can run a long sidebar, a short sidebar or no sidebar. It lets us be a lot more nimble with how we feature stories about the University community.”
There is hope that these changes benefit some of the mainstay features of the website, such as Photo Friday, that students and faculty notice and enjoy seeing.
“I really like that the website always has one big picture, and Photo Friday is fun to vote on,” sophomore Mara Hyatt said. “I’m glad that hasn’t changed.”
Although she is thankful for the continuation of these features, Hyatt also noted that she has not noticed any significant changes thus far.
The website is only at the beginning stages of modifications, though, and upcoming transformations are being done in what Packer described as an “iterative” process, making them more subtle and gradual.
“You basically get your site to a good foundation — which I think we did back in 2007 — and then make incremental improvements more quickly,” she said.
Design changes will continue to be tested on the University’s website through the end of the month as the Web Team turns to feedback, the websites of other colleges and their own original ideas.
Sklar is a member of the class of 2014.