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Revamped University Website Launched

Key links, more space for news and photos and plenty of purple among new features

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September 24, 2012 | by Alan K. Cubbage

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University’s website got a facelift last week when a new home page and top-level pages were launched. The new site features improved organization of key links, a more user-friendly design, additional space for Northwestern news and photos -- and lots of purple.

The design for the revised site was based on analysis of usage statistics of the University’s website, surveys of students, faculty and staff on how they use the University’s site and extensive user testing, said Janet Dobbs, director of University Web communications in the Department of University Relations. 

“The previous version of the website had served us well for the past three years, but with improved technology and usage analytics available to us, we were able to use that information to enhance the home page and top-level pages significantly,” Dobbs said.

A key change was creating several new “landing pages” that link from the home page to broad areas of the University, such as “Arts and Culture,” “Global Engagement” and “History and Traditions.” Doing so makes it easier for users to find information that exists on sites from many different offices or academic departments but relate to the same topic.

“Essentially what we want to do is organize the site based on how people search for information rather than the University’s institutional structure,” Dobbs said. “For example, there are several offices that deal with study abroad programs, including offices within some of the schools, but users probably don’t know what specific office or department to look under. So by creating the new landing pages, it makes it easier for users to find information without having to figure out where in Northwestern’s complex organization the information may reside.”

The previous version of the website used a similar approach for “role-based navigation,” which groups the most sought-after information for users based on whether they are students, alumni, etc., Dobbs added. That was continued and expanded in the new site.

Another key change was to add links on the home page for some of the terms that were most frequently searched for using the search engine but were not previously on the home page. So new links for “Parking” and “Bookstore” now are at the top of the page, along with other frequently used links, such as “Library” and “Maps.”

In addition, the new design increases significantly the opportunity for Northwestern news to be displayed on the site, both on the home page and on the landing pages. The gallery of stories at the top of the page can now include more stories and the news box in the center of the page allows space for more photos and stories. Each landing page also now has space for photo galleries, news stories and features. The redesigned Northwestern News page also provides additional space.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to include more stories, photos and videos about Northwestern,” said Storer Rowley, director of media relations. “There are a lot of great stories to tell and the new site will enable us do so.”

At the same time, the home page will continue to have the key links at the top of the page that many internal users rely on daily for routine tasks, such as to access email, get course info and find phone numbers.

“We know from our analytics that for many of our internal audiences the University home page is simply a place to go through quickly on the way to get very specific information,” said Alan Cubbage, vice president for University relations. “However, it’s also the front door to the University for our external audiences. So we want it to be an inviting and interesting place that makes a good first impression and tells Northwestern’s stories well.”

A team from University Relations’ Web communications group, led by Dobbs, Anastasia Masurat, information architect, Jessica Becker, Web designer, and Nathan Wiens, Web developer, did the site revamp.