October 27, 2006

NSIT kicks off website redesign campaign

This Monday, NSIT will launch a new homepage development site which will contain detailed wire frames of proposed changes and a Homepage Redesign Blog where students, faculty, and alumni will be able to discuss the pages and give feedback.

The redesign will address several issues, including the improvement of search functionality and graphic design, with an emphasis on structure and information architecture. The new site may also include RSS news feeds, which stream content, and video features.

“Our goal is to launch the new home page and central structure in the first half of 2007,” said Stacey Shintani, project manager at Web Services, in an e-mail interview. “We’re currently well on target to meet this deadline,” she said.

NSIT is leading the redesign effort with Greg Jackson, vice president and chief information officer in the Provost’s Office, and Michael Behnke, vice president and dean of College enrollment. A consulting firm was also hired for the initial phase of the project, which included interviews with more than a hundred people.

The project grew out of a U of C web-working group, the Committee to Evaluate Structure, which had been evaluating possible improvements to the site since 2003, said John Mohr, director of Web Services at NSIT.

“We’ve spoken with over a hundred people—students, alums, prospective students, and hospital employees,” Mohr said. “This is an opportunity to take a step back, look at the broad audience which uses the site, and make sure that it’s a very, very functional site.”

The site in its present form was launched in 1998. “Since then, the web has really matured, and the University’s use of it has grown much more sophisticated,” Mohr said in a telephone interview.

Minor changes have been made, such as the traffic-light feature in the lower left of the homepage that directs users to the U of C Status Announcements Page, listing updates from NSIT and Facilities on service outages.

But for the most part, the site has remained the same.

“People in the focus groups found it very functional [in its present form],” Mohr said. “That’s part of why it’s lasted so long.” Since the domain is massive, containing over 6 million documents, students should not anticipate a full overhaul of the entire University website, Mohr said.

“What we’re looking at right now is structure,” he said.

Students expressed mixed feelings about changes to the homepage. “On the one hand, there’s a lot of white space, which could be used to separate out departments more,” said Jeff Lowe, a graduate student in computer science who works in the MacLab. “But on the other hand, as it is now, it’s very minimalist, which is nice.”

“There should be better search options on the homepage, though,” said Lowe. “Like on MySpace, which is very popular, they make it very clear what you’re searching.”

He suggested changing the search options with drop-down menus and toggle options.

“People love it, actually,” said fourth-year John Lee, who is minoring in computer science and works in the MacLab. “[Our homepage] is pretty good for a school website, though maybe a little more color would be good.”