17th February 2011 0 comments
Cardiff University's home page is visually striking, and presents a clear message

 

In our last blog post on website design , we conducted a poll to decide what kind of websites we should look at next, following on from our series on charity websites and green & ethical website design.

Out of a choice of three different kinds of websites, university sites were the most popular, so over the next couple of weeks we will dedicate our thoughts to the particular demands and challenges of producing a successful website for a university.

 

Visitors

Bristol University's home page indicates the need for a balance between promotion & service

 

A good place to start on this subject is to consider what kind of visitor a website will receive, and how the design can best suit their needs.

One of the greatest challenges of the university website is the sheer variety of visitors, and the many different purposes a university's website needs to fulfil.

The type of visitors roughly splits into two kinds: people interested in the university (potential students, researchers, academic peers, funding bodies) and people already at the university (current students, academic staff and researchers, administrators and so on).

This means that a university website has to be attractive, conscious of its brand image, and able to efficiently communicate what kind of institution it is, as well as being functional in providing information and services (library catalogue, email, e-learning systems) that are easy to use.

University websites are not immune to the need for online marketing and reputation management, as the competition for students is extremely important to individual departments (and perhaps increasingly so in the current funding climate and with the prospect of higher fees in the UK).

Like most businesses (which is what education institutions have had to become), many universities are increasing their web presence via social media - something we will include in our look at design.

 

Content

Because of the nature of universities themselves - large institutions with many departments, with the need to serve several purposes - another major challenge is the sheer size of a univeristy website.

Each department (academic and administrative), research project and service needs its own area, with its own set of subpages.

For this reason, we will be looking at design consistency across the different parts of a site.

The other issue is the volume of content that has to be preserved, with the communication of news and research.

Additionally, there is a need for the presentation of all content to effectively convey the institution's ethos.

Because websites are a highly visual medium, it can be difficult to strike a balance between bringing essential and compelling information to the forefront and ensuring that the great volume of content that has to be included in the website as a whole is easy to access.

The University of Edinburgh's home page demonstrates the range of areas needing to be included

 

For our first post, we will start with the home page of a university website and the importance of this for giving a strong first impression.

In the meantime, if you have any examples of striking design you're noticed in a university website, please let us know!

Continue to Part Two of Four