Wooster’s new Web site options

These are the options presented to the College today for style directions for the redesigned Web site.

Here are the explanations of each concept given by the contractor.

Design one: Eclectic

This direction is based on a student’s dorm room wall/door. We call this “eclectic” because it is composed of elements drawn from various sources to tell the story of “who Wooster is.”  This layout creates a visual aesthetic that is student-centric where the unique objects and elements tell the story of what it feels like to be at Wooster. While there is no “typical” student at Wooster, it begins to show the various levels of interests, activities and involvement of students at the college.

  • Global & Tool Navigation is clear and easy to find
  • Restrained, deliberate use of color that’s warm and inviting
  • The dorm wall/door “Wooster Is” feature is built in Flash and invites the user to interact and explore but is not overwhelming.
  • Keywords from Wooster’s messaging strategy are incorporated (as they are in all three concepts) into the objects for visual tie in and to evoke a sense of intellectual curiosity

Clicking on a minor keyword in the “Wooster Is” feature will reveal information relevant to that word and will link to that area on the site. There is also a prompt to add this to your “iWooster.” Minor keywords will change periodically, while major keywords stay the same although the imagery and objects can swap out on unique session.  When mousing over major keyword, the items will activate and move, grow or shake. Clicking on a major keyword will cause the items to shuffle to the side and the feature presents all the associated links to that keyword.

Design two: Classic

This design is a walking tour of Wooster where the visual elements each tell a story.

  • A bit more organic in feel
  • Feature area is prominent, we’re answering the question of WHO IS WOOSTER? by showing rather than in telling
  • A highly original view of campus, not meant to be an accurate depiction, and gives users a glimpse of the energy, diversity and sense of place
  • Builds an authentic sense of community on campus, again, it’s all about the students and community
  • Liberal use of branding colors but palette also reflect a warm and inclusive community

Clicking on a minor keyword in the “Wooster Is” Flash feature will reveal information relevant to that word and will turn from sketch to photo and ideally activate a video component. There is also a prompt to add this to your “iWooster.” Minor keywords will change periodically, while major keywords stay the same although the imagery and objects can swap out on unique session.  When mousing over on a major keyword, the sketch turns to real photography and activates the video. A click will reveal the associated links.

Design three: Stylized

This design is bold, dramatic, stylized, less constrained, a completely unique and unconventional approach to concept. The concept was to take the “livelihood” of the campus, combined with architectural style and bring the two together in an illustrative interpretation of campus

  • Daring, unique, and dynamic, bursting with creativity and activity
  • It is important that the right balance of active design elements be juxtaposed by clean and calm presentation of content
  • The dark color palette of the stylized campus it meant to act as the stage to the activity within the “Wooster Is” feature.

The imagery of the major keywords is meant to take center stage and tell it’s unique story.  Clicking on a minor keyword in the “Wooster Is” Flash feature will reveal information relevant to that word. Minor keywords will change periodically, while major keywords stay the same.  When mousing over on a major keyword, the silhouette is revealed. A click will reveal the associated links and imagery related to the keyword.

I’m going to talk about each and try to highlight what I see as the strengths and weaknesses.

The Eclectic design

Stregths: I think this design is visually interesting and captures what I remember of my time at Wooster. When I look at it I get a good vibe and I think students looking at Wooster will get that vibe as well. The desktop/cork board design is something I think students will get. The colors feel warm and inviting and serve to add more punch to the images.

Weaknesses: The text color in the navigation bars and header seems to blend in with the background color making the text hard to read. The branding statement seems to get lost on the page, but I do think the imagery reflects the message. The fact that the Wooster IS area is Flash may mean it is harder for us to maintain and update.

The Classic design

Strengths: This design clearly highlights the message, academic programs, news and events, and profile. The design is also very different from what one finds at other schools. It really represents the communal aspect of campus life, but it takes a while to see it.

Weaknesses: The image feels cartoonish and reminds me of Norman Rockwell. The cartoonish aspect has been a criticism of our current print materials. I do not think students will feel that this gives a good sense of what Wooster is like. The image as it stands also does not reflect any single place on campus, but is a montage of several places. It also is not featuring Kauke which many alums see as the symbol of Wooster. The nature of the image could make maintenance an issue if we want to update or change the image.

The Stylized design

Strengths: This design is clearly not like any other college Web site. It will be a memorable site and is very interesting visually.The design features Kauke and gives real pop to the major keyword areas when clicked.

Weaknesses: This design is clearly not like any other college Web site. The message is almost impossible to find and I don’t think the design communicates the message as well as the other two designs. I’m not sure the design will appeal to the type of student we have identified as a good fit for Wooster. I think alums will really find this site hard to see as their Wooster.

What do you think? Are there strengths I missed in any of the designs? Are there weaknesses I’ve overlooked? Keep in mind that these are directions and that specific elements of each design can be massaged and tweaked. We need to decide which concept best communicates who Wooster is and will be. The design firm gave us the following questions to think about as we look at each design and I encourage you to address them in your comments.

  1. Where does your eye land first on the page?
  2. What four or five words would you use to describe this page?
  3. What actions do you think you might take coming to the page?
  4. Does this feel like Wooster to you? Why or why not?
  5. Do you think you could find any information you are seeking from this page?
  6. Do the colors and images resonate with you? Why or why not?
  7. Do you think prospective students would respond to this design? Why or why not?
  8. Do you think alumni would respond to the design? Why or why not?

Comments

  1. Joe BenfieldNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for posting these Jon. I’ll try to address the questions the design team posed (partly, anyway).
    Design one: Eclectic
    Since the navigation elements are larger in the first design, my eye is drawn to them more directly than it is in the other two. This is nice for prospective students. While the first design does feel like Wooster to me, it also feels like other college/university websites I’ve visited. The navigation is novel, but the look is maybe a little too familiar.
    Design Two: Classic
    The second design is…different. I don’t know that I like the sketched image look. It feels like some generic caricature of college students. My eye is drawn to the thought/speech bubbles. This is nice for prospective student navigation.
    Design three: Stylized
    The third design is quite different. My immediate reaction was negative but I actually think it could be very striking with some work on the color and design. If the image of Kauke and the nav links stood out a little more and the upper background was a little different, this could be a very unique, interesting and easily navigable home page. It’s definitely not like any other college/university home page that I have seen. If Kauke stood out a little more and the background brought in some other element from Wooster it would “feel” more like Wooster to me.
    All Three
    There are close to 40 links on the home page, which seems like a lot. Some of the links seem redundant as well.  I could find the info I’m looking for from this page but it might take some trial and error or a few minutes sorting through links. It sounds like all three will have flash actions and animations associated with them. Depending on how these work, they could be annoying when simply trying to find the right link. I’d be interested to see how they look.

  2. Eclectic
    This is my clear first choice. It is student-centered, showing elements of a *student’s* life that can expand to tell Wooster’s story from the perspective of a student.

    Where does your eye land first on the page? center – the student life photo.

    What four or five words would you use to describe this page? active, diverse, interesting, student-centered, authentic

    What actions do you think you might take coming to the page? as with the other layouts, hover the mouse to see what pops up, click on the words;

    Does this feel like Wooster to you? Why or why not? Yes, student centered, bits from student life

    Do you think you could find any information you are seeking from this page? yup

    Do the colors and images resonate with you? Why or why not? yes; just seems to work; lots of things going on in the page to get your eye moving around; suggests lots of things going on

    Do you think prospective students would respond to this design? Why or why not? I think so; you have images of real students (I would like to see an image of a student in a class or, better, the library), there are real bits of student life,

    Do you think alumni would respond to the design? Why or why not? I think so; should bring back memories.

    Classic
    Not as cool or interesting as Eclectic. I look at this and think it is an “adult’s” view of the College. Is this how student’s see the College? I don’t care for the font for the text or the use of sketches instead of photos. This gives me a sense of being removed from the actual College – a rendering of the College instead of actual images. Too detached.

    Where does your eye land first on the page? the big lamp just left of center

    What four or five words would you use to describe this page? fuzzy, not real, not genuine,

    What actions do you think you might take coming to the page? hover over the images to see what would happen, click on the words

    Does this feel like Wooster to you? Why or why not? Well, it captures some aspects of Wooster; I see a lot of white people; where is the academics?

    Do you think you could find any information you are seeking from this page? I don’t know; how did you decide on these keywords?

    Do the colors and images resonate with you? Why or why not? No, don’t care for the drawings; it all looks fuzzy, not in focus, not quite real.

    Do you think prospective students would respond to this design? Why or why not? not sure. I think they’ll like moving the mouse over images and seeing the people come into focus

    Do you think alumni would respond to the design? Why or why not? they might; some might think we have “progressed” and others might think we have lost a sense of tradition.

    Stylized
    Um…is this Hogwarts? or Kauke? Don’t like this at all. Looks really contrived and doesn’t give anything like an accurate picture of the College, and I think it is critical that the page do that.

    Where does your eye land first on the page? On Hogwarts. This isn’t Wooster! Reminds me of Japan’s rising sun

    What four or five words would you use to describe this page? not Wooster, alien, false, trying to be something we aren’t, very strange

    What actions do you think you might take coming to the page? click on the words I suppose and be a little puzzled about the image we are trying to get across

    Does this feel like Wooster to you? Why or why not? Absolutely not. Kauke is a landmark on campus and it doesn’t look like this; the college culture doesn’t begin to match this image; is this a day for night shot?

    Do you think you could find any information you are seeking from this page? probably; is there significance to the fact that some keywords stand out more than others.

    Do the colors and images resonate with you? Why or why not? No, pretty clear from the above I don’t care for this.

    Do you think prospective students would respond to this design? Why or why not? Don’t know; but I am sure that if they look at this, then visit campus, they’ll wonder about the connection. This is NOT an image I can imagine will make students more interested in visiting campus.

    Do you think alumni would respond to the design? Why or why not? Not likely. Do you think this is how they remember or think of Wooster? Kauke?

  3. Hi Jon,
    Ah, the old Web site redesign process. Exciting and frustrating all at once. Anyway, here is the perspective of an alum who has worked through the same process relatively recently…

    First, I think all the designs are too heavily geared towards prospective students. It would be nice to have more audiences served in the primary focus area of the home page design. As an alum, I would visit my alma mater’s home page to see updates about what is coming to campus, how faculty are engaged in teaching and research, what innovative things students are doing, etc.. To do this effectively, I think the home page emphasis, or primary design element should be frequently updated/changing — something to keep me coming back. I know this often manifests in the flash slide show of “stories” idea that is practically a college home page cliché now days, but hey, it must mean it is effective at some level. I see in all the draft designs that there is a mostly text-based effort at spotlighting news and events but always in an out of the way place and almost as an after-thought.

    As to the specific proposed designs, the first two are tenable, the last one (the one Jon calls “stylized”) is probably too far out there for most people. Prospective students (the 16-18 year olds) may be OK with it. Too abstract. The one dubbed “eclectic” bothers me from design perspective. The reproduction of physical world organizational tools and media for web content like paper clips, notepad pages, metal clamps (do students even use those?), and Polaroid pictures (ahem: http://tinyurl.com/3jmz38) just seems contrived. Trying too hard to be cute. The “classic design:” Again, get some dynamic content somewhere in the top two-thirds of the page. The sketch, to me, is a non-starter. Wooster has a beautiful campus with which people have tangible connections. The web is a fantastic image delivery medium. Show real pictures. From all of the descriptive “Wooster phrasing” (collaborative, creative, diverse, accomplished, etc..), it looks like someone conducted a focus group in the community to identify “what Wooster is.” I co-chaired a process like that when I worked at Washington & Jefferson College and, guess what, we came up with a pretty similar list because it is a pretty similar institution. I bet many liberal arts colleges would come up with a nearly identical list. A lot of the phrases, of course, go right along with what many people at these types of institutions hold as ideal. But what *differentiates* Wooster from these others? Well, the big one in my mind is Independent Study. Yeah, IS is there in the phrase collage but it is diluted by all of the small residential college clichés. Run with IS. Also, some of the phrasing in some of the designs is pretty borderline touchy-feely. For example, “you’re never alone,”  “abundant workspaces,” and even “orientation” (why does this get front page real-estate at all?). This type of stuff is fine for down-level pages but the home page? I like the “Independent Minds, Learning Together” motto. Nice balance. An institution’s home page should project some (at least minor) level of gravitas. It doesn’t have to be all “college is serious business,” or anything, but the liberal arts tradition is an honored one that, at its best, produces deep thinkers, lifelong learners, and instills a desire to serve the greater good. And even for prospective students, there should be some clue that they will be entering a community that, in addition to the other stuff, also values rigorous scholarship, critical thinking, quantitative analysis, etc..That all being said, the status quo must change. What is up now is in dire need of a refresh.

  4. Drew PasteurNo Gravatar says:

    I tend to agree with Simon on the order of preference.  The “Eclectic” design is student-oriented, yet functional and appealing to alumni.  The “Classic” is too cartoon-like, and the blurbs of text scattered across the scene seem too chaotic.  The “Sylized” looks more appropriate for an art school or very edgy, countercultural type of institution than for a midwestern liberal arts college that has stood the test of time.

  5. Dan Shortridge '01No Gravatar says:

    Please send your consultant back to the drawing board, or else hand the task over to some in-house folks – maybe even some talented students, hmm?All three designs are cluttered and far too busy. “Chaotic” is the first word that pops into my mind, followed by some less charitable words. And please, please don’t forget that not everyone has a high-speed connection suitable for silly Flash animations.If I absolutely HAD to chose one, I’d pick the Eclectic design, but only under extreme duress. The Stylized design is horrible – it looks like a really bad MySpace page on toxic mushrooms. The Classic scheme is decent, but the sketches would better be used to promote an art school – they’re extremely generic, as someone commented above. And by tossing out the photos, you lose a great opportunity to showcase a beautiful campus through the talents of Matt Dilyard, who is a fantastic photographer.I noticed a comment in the Voice story on this topic about networking. Please, PLEASE don’t devote time or resources to developing a WooSpace or FaceCOW system. Students and a large portion of alumni already use Facebook and MySpace, plus WordPress and Blogger. Don’t reinvent the wheel for something that will be a huge flop.There is nothing wrong with the current site – it’s easy to navigate and find the information you need. If the problem is on the back-end, with posting information and updates, consider enhancements there, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.