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Content Still King for Prospectives

June 10th, 2009 by Bob Crisler

The college recruitment consultancy Noel-Levitz has just released a research report, “Scrolling Toward Enrollment: Web Site Content and the E-Expectations of College-Bound Seniors,” that provides ample data points that might help your position in continuing to shift the attention (and resources) of the university to the importance of quality online communications within the recruiting process.

The report, to those involved in the day-to-day work of creating and publishing content on a university website, is probably not all that surprising. But there’s a big difference between opinion and facts in our discussions with those who control budgets and therefore the mix of media carrying our messages to prospective students. Facts, in audience research terms, require adequate sample sizes (1000 in this study) and sound methodology, such that one can say with confidence that a given result would be repeated if the study were repeated. I’ll highlight a few of those facts in the paragraphs to follow, and what they might mean for the continuing development of the UNL website.

First, as the title of the paper suggests, the idea that users don’t read long-form text online, repeated so often that it’s attained a Gospel status, is debunked, at least for this audience. Please, read on. :)
Read the rest of this entry »

College Navigation — as of June 2009

June 9th, 2009 by rsimonsen

Here’s a pdf document showing the basic building blocks that colleges are currently using for their primary navigation bold links.

There are basically five areas that make up most of the primary navigation color coded as follows:

Red text – About the College/General Information
Green text – Students
Blue text – Faculty and Staff
Purple text – Departmental Info/Centers and Programs
Orange text – Alumni

The departments are listed first in alphabetical order showing their main navigation links color coded from the above list. Then the main areas (About, Students, etc.) are presented showing all the various sublinks that are found among all the colleges to show an all encompassing list of what everyone currently has down to the sublink navigation level.

Finally, at the very bottom of the document are a few miscellaneous primary navigation items that are unique to one or two colleges each.

Hopefully, by analyzing this information colleges and perhaps departments can use it to make decisions to help create more consistency with colleagues across campus. The goal being to create intuitive navigation structures that users are able to grasp quickly when moving between various colleges and departments within the UNL web environment. 2009 Redevelopment Rollout Presentation

May 28th, 2009 by Bob Crisler

For much of the past three weeks, we in the UNL Web Developer Network and in University Communications Internet and Interactive Media have been on a 2009 Rollout Tour, giving presentations to and having discussions with campus groups in preparation for transitioning UNL websites to the new 2009 template, slated for release in August 2009.

As these things go, though, not everyone who is interested in the subject can show up to a given meeting, and a number of university faculty, staff and students are simply out of town for the summer. So I’ve made the presentation available here as an MP4 video (complete with stammering narration). Thanks for your interest, and I look forward to your continuing engagement in the development of

4000 People Thinking: The and You Survey

May 28th, 2009 by Bob Crisler

In early spring of 2009, while sitting among boxes in UComm Internet and Interactive Media’s temporary storage-closet location while our new offices here at Wick were being completed, Seth Meranda and I began formulating a comprehensive survey of our website’s audiences. The survey was intended, as a first priority, to solicit feedback for the in-progress site redevelopment process, based on our 2006 survey instrument. At the same time, we’d ask the users who’d completed what we called the “Design Survey” to continue on to a longer survey to take the audience’s temperature on media use, preferences, etc., as related to use of the web generally and of in particular.

The “Design Survey” and “ and You” were programmed to move seamlessly from an internally-developed instrument to the LimeSurvey-based and You (thanks, Brett); users simply kept clicking through. The significant interest in the redesign process translated to a strong response to and You that we may not have been able to attract otherwise; nearly 4,000 people ended up completing both surveys.

Surveys of this type are not a “vote;” they’re an opportunity for users to provide input to, and influence, a group of professionals from across campus whose expertise lies in communication, visual design and user interface and interaction design. The survey was intended to provide focus to the final ‘leg’ of the journey from 50 designs to one … the distillation of best elements from three designs to one design over the span of a single month.

Qualitative results, especially, had to be interpreted, as there are almost as many conflicting opinions as there are opinions. It was the first order of business for the final design team to identify broad themes in the qualitative responses.

It was the job of the design committee to discuss, argue and implement (yes, in some cases also reject) those opinions. Whether or not a and You respondent sees a specific response to their issue in the final design, the feedback led to spirited debate and discussion that in all cases improved the final product. If you took the time and effort to provide feedback to us, thank you.

Design Quantitative
Design Qualitative and You

Introducing the Future Design of

May 19th, 2009 by smeranda

On May 12, the final result of the design team was presented to the Web Developers Network. The design, a visual realignment, will become the new template and interface for beginning August 17. For details on how the design came to be, take a look at Aaron’s explanation of the process, and my explanation of the research.

Let’s See the New Template!

The visual design of the 2009 template in the default state.

The visual design of the 2009 template in the default state.

From the Top

  • In the top left corner is the “N,” roughly the same size as in our current design. However, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln title is much larger and more prominent.
  • In the upper right corner is a much larger search box. We have also removed the option to select the type of search to handle, and will replace with a results page that incorporates search results from, peoplefinder and the local site. The idea is to create one simple interface element to use when searching the site.
  • Immediately below the search box is a row of icons. The muted-in-color icons serve as links to site-wide resources (in order): RSS Links, current weather, the event calendar, peoplefinder and the public webcams. When the mouse rolls over these icons, they will be presented in color with little help “balloons” describing each element. Clicking on these will bring available the selected resource.
  • Perhaps the largest advancement from our current site is the display of the navigation. The new design brings together the multiple navigation schemes present on any page and places them in a single, efficient and compartmentalized section. More on the functionality of the navigation below.
  • Below the navigation, is a full-width, four-column content section. This area is reserved for the most important elements of the page, and is available to the developers to present in the fashion their users most need. Content area resources will be available for developers.
  • The last section of the page is an extended footer. This is reserved for site-wide content that can be found on every page (related links, promotional items, contact information, etc…)

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All Paths Lead Forward

May 14th, 2009 by smeranda

As the User Experience Architect, part of my role is exploring in depth our users’ web site habits, their likes, their dislikes and their usage requirements. Many primary and secondary research methods are constantly used to gather as much knowledge pertaining to our users as possible. This helps inform directions and requirements when creating online interactions. It’s really a fun and dynamic experience.

As a reader of this blog, you are aware that the Web Developers Network is in the process of realigning with a face lift. Aaron has explained much of the process in his previous post, and I won’t rehash his descriptions. Instead, I’d like to take you on a journey of how the knowledge gained from the research went into the future design. Read the rest of this entry »

Achieving a New Balance

May 14th, 2009 by Bob Crisler

In thinking about the broad aspects of user interaction design that form┬áthe bulk of our task in re-envisioning an effective web template for the university, we first need to focus on what it is we’re trying to accomplish.

Boiled down, the job of the web template is to assist the user in locating content while maintaining strong university identity. The navigational framework of a site, any site, is a supporting player. It has to be the best supporting player we can imagine, but in the end it should slip into the wings, and let the spotlight shine brightly on what the web user came to the site to see, to read, to experience: the content.

The case for horizontal/hidden navigation Read the rest of this entry »

The UNL Template Design Process

May 13th, 2009 by acoleman

Although smaller revisions and updates never truly stop (there have been over 70 template updates of varying sizes since 2006), every three years the University of Nebraska-Lincoln goes through the process of giving the website a large face lift. The incredibly fast-paced transformation of the web and the fact that our web presence is the only medium that anyone on the planet can reach in one click demands that we both stay abreast of current trends and try to set new ones. As mentioned above, we largely consider our website to be in constant beta mode, but these large overhauls allow us the chance to try to put ourselves one step ahead of the competition while setting the stage for the future.

The process as a whole actually started clear back in September of 2008, as detailed in this post. At that time, developers across campus worked on photoshop file mock-ups of their proposed look and approximately 40 different looks were submitted. At a well-attended WDN meeting, we then ran voting that took into account both “gut response” (2 seconds viewing time) and more detailed comments for each design. After tabulating that data, 7 different designs stood apart from the rest. Click on the thumbnails below to see each of the beginning phase designs in full size.

07 look 09 look 11 look 14 look 15 look 17 look 18 look

These 7 designs were then pulled together into 3 different groups that incorporated similar ideas. Designers and other interested developers worked to further refine the ideas presented within each and ended up with the final designs that were voted on by different constituent groups in the WDN Design Survey. Needless to say, each design changed considerably from where it started. Again, click on the thumbnails below to see the design in full size.

Group A Design Group B Design Group C Design

The resulting feedback from the WDN Design Survey was incredible. We received over 8000 full responses, providing us not only quantitative data to go on, but qualitative responses to help guide us as well.

Based on survey data, designers from each group (another special thanks to Joel Brehm, Jeff Nothwehr, Seth Meranda, Christy Aggens, Vishal Singh, Aaron Coleman, and Mark Hiatt) took the Group B design as a visual starting point and moved forward with not only a visual freshening in mind, but also a charge of making more sense of the multiple navigation systems that were being used on the old site and hierarchy of the page elements as a whole. Ideas and components were combined, refined, labored-over, respectfully disagreed with, and generally massaged for several weeks until we finally arrived at where we now stand; a look that will now be coded into the next generation of University of Nebraska-Lincoln web templates.

new template look

As mentioned above, this process certainly isn’t complete. The visual design has been worked out, but now we move onto the coding phase, and your help is needed.

We’ve made a PDF of the WDN template presentation (13mb) available for download.