A Site for Sore Eyes

By Andy Boynton

After more than a year of research, redesign, and testing, Puget Sound presented a new face to the wired world on March 14.

The upgraded Web site is part of recent improvements in the way the college presents itself to the outside world and aims to improve the user experience. “All Web site visitors—both on- and off-campus—should find the new site much more intuitive to use,” says Barbara Weist, the school’s first full-time Web manager, “with richer and deeper content about all the university has to offer.”

The university hired Boston-based Web site developer BigBad, Inc., to help design and build the new site. (BigBad chose its name not because the firm is large or necessarily misbehaved but simply because the name is memorable.) The company’s experience with higher education, particularly with small liberal arts colleges like Puget Sound (Smith and Middlebury among them), made it an ideal choice.

BigBad conducted hours of focus-group sessions and gathered ideas from students, faculty, staff, and alumni to help identify ways to improve the site. The new look offers more intuitive navigation, with “topic-oriented” links (such as Admission, Academics, Athletics, and Campus Life) placed in one area on the Web pages and “audience-oriented” links (like Current Students, Faculty and Staff, and Alumni) in another.

“Having the audience-oriented navigation on all pages enables groups to go right to content specifically for them,” says Weist.

With photos showcasing the Puget Sound experience and the beauty of the campus, the new design adapts to different sizes of Internet browser windows, and it meets Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. Because the home page is designed to appeal to prospective students, it also bears a visual resemblance to the printed materials the university Admission Office distributes.

The site includes special features to differentiate Puget Sound from other liberal arts colleges. In particular, Weist mentions “experience profiles,” written by current students to highlight specific areas of their experience at Puget Sound. “These offer ways for prospective students to see how they might fit in,” she says. There are also clickable “Express Yourself” icons that yield student play scripts, essays, music audio clips, artwork, and more, designed to demonstrate the range and level of work done by Puget Sound students.

As part of the project, a content management system (CMS), produced by the Seattle company Ingeniux, was implemented by staff in the university’s Office of Information Services to organize the Web site’s content and make it easier for departments to update their pages. It will also help to establish and maintain site-wide standards and protocols, Weist says, something that the old site lacked.

To create the site content, people on campus will have access to a range of templates, some designed by BigBad, others produced by Puget Sound. The site will continue to employ a localized version of Google’s search engine.

Exceeding a whopping 21,000 pages, the old site cannot be converted overnight. Instead, a rolling schedule has been developed, with top-level pages (the home page and pages that link from it) having already been switched over, and lower-level and less frequently visited sections slated to be converted gradually over the coming year. The alumni section is due to be fully revised by summer’s end, though the schedule may change. Suggestions for the alumni site should be sent to alumoffice@pugetsound.edu.

The bulk of the conversion work will be handled by a centralized team, then designated content providers on campus will be trained and will assume site maintenance with Weist’s support. Tasks include cleaning up incorrect information, fixing broken links, recreating missing content, and more fully developing lower levels of the site.