This past week, Tech released a new version of its website, implementing the first major revamp of the Institute’s website since 2004. The release of the new layout is the culmination of a design process that began in early 2007.
The main reason for the website’s redesign was a combination of aesthetic needs and basic user functionality, many of the same things that initiated the 2004 redesign. However, web technology has advanced over the past few years, as well as Tech’s growing need for new features.
“Over the course of the last three and a half years, the need for a more contemporary user interface was equally matched by a need for a site that functions more as a conduit for content distribution and service delivery,“ said Jeffrey Smith, the director of Online Communications.
When initiating the design process, Smith and his team consulted potential users to craft the new look and feel to the needs of the end users.
“We began by conducting evaluative research on various online communications technologies, to get a feel for where our different audiences were going for information, and how those constituents were using that information. We also held focus groups with prospective students to get a feel for how the previous site was functioning, what was successful, and what sort of features might best serve our respective users,“ Smith said.
There are many new features that are highlighted in the new design. Perhaps the most notable difference is the new graphic interface.
“The visual aesthetic is more elegant and open…inspiration was pulled from hundreds of sources, but from a functional perspective, one of the dominant inspirations we discussed was the iPhone. We looked at how the iPhone has an incredibly simple design, with a very flexible user interface, to adapt to the presentation of different kinds of content. We started with the button grid that the iPhone uses to display icons, and thought about how that grid could be used to deliver modules of Web content, and how the grid could be adjusted to couple larger blocks of screen real estate to differentially emphasize content,“ Smith said.
While style is a vital component of any website, Smith notes that the new layout has a more clear separation between content and style, allowing both to be updated independently.
“The code structure also allows for a more dynamic layout, such that we can adjust the homepage and landing pages to better promote timely and high-impact messages. It is effectively a modular design, which enables us to promote content in different ways visually, without needing to re-engineer the site layout or supporting code,“ Smith said.
Although not all of the sections of the website have been converted to the new look, Communications and Marketing hopes to implement the new look and feel on as many sections of the site as possible.
“[We] hope to work with as many campus collaborators as possible, to move their sites to the new look and feel. We strive to keep a significant measure of visual consistency across all Institute websites, but we also want to balance the Institute brand with the unique needs and identity of each campus organization,“ Smith said.
The entire redesign was conducted in-house, so no external companies were hired to design the new layout.
“I’m proud to say that this was an effort that drew entirely from in-house talent, resulting in no additional expense to the Institute. This redesign was implemented by the Communications and Marketing Online Communications Team, which includes developers Eric Huffman, Fletcher Moore,and Bryan Jordin. We also leveraged the assistance of our copy editors and photography services group to address content needs. OIT was another key collaborator, helping us get servers configured and video hosting ready for launch,“ Smith said.
Although the new look and feel has been fully implemented on most of the front sections of the website, it remains a dynamic entity that will continue to change as the needs of the Institute change.
“This is a living resource, which will continue to grow and be refined. We are keen to listen to any and all community feedback, to assist us in better serving or constituents. Additionally, we are serious about wanting to highlight more of the incredible work that goes on here at Tech,“ Smith said.