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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell.edu revamped

At 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Grinnell’s website, www.grinnell.edu, switched from its old layout to a new one that focuses on pushed content, user engagement and newsfeed-like qualities.

The launch has come after a long process of redesign and surveying users. In 2012, a web audit surveyed students, faculty, staff and alumni on their impressions of the site. The survey led to a realization that external audiences were unimpressed by the website. This was especially true for prospective students, one of the main target audiences for the website.

“People were not satisfied with search and the kind of findability of information, they didn’t feel like it fully represented Grinnell at it’s best,” said Jim Reische, Vice President for Communications. “[Prospective students] found it hard to use, they found it unattractive.”

Reische, who oversaw the new design along with Jim Powers, Director of Communications, focused on revamping the image of the College through a redesigned website.

The College commissioned the Chapel Hill firm Art and Science to design the website in accordance with the survey results. A main goal was using the website as a means to attract prospective students.

“A college website is really designed for an external audience; it’s a marketing tool that we use to present ourselves to people whom we hope will apply and eventually be admitted and attend Grinnell, but who may not know much about us,” Reische said.

The new website leverages a more streamlined design and dynamic content. Visitors to the website can personalize their browsing experience based on their interests. They can either create a personal profile for maximum customizability or indicate the kind of user that they are—prospective student, current student, alumni, faculty or staff—and receive a homepage tailored to their expected interests.

Reische hopes that the 25 percent of “stealth applicants,” or those that apply to Grinnell College with no prior contact will create accounts and add their interests in order to engage with them. Creating a new account is a simple process. Although the account-creation process features several fields, the only necessary ones are a login and password.

The new homepage currently features a series of “tiles” organized by broad themes such as: athletics, events, dining and other specific interests. In addition to user-customization, the Office of Communications has the ability to promote specific content by pushing it to various tiles on the homepage.

“It’s like your mini-newsfeed,” Reische said.

Besides visible differences such as the aforementioned ones,  there  have  also  been  other changes to the website. Significantly, the number of pages has decreased from 27,000 on the old website to approximately 5,000 on the new one.

However, the transition from the old website to the new one has not been particularly smooth. Visitors to the website may have noticed a series of glitches over the past few days. Several links appear to be broken and the library page was inaccessible for much of last Wednesday.

Students and faculty alike have been complaining about not being able to access information on the new website.

“[The layout] seems fine, but the one thing is, for example, ARH hours. All the links on Google, at least last night, were dead. You could click on the ARH, but it would just go to a dead page because everything’s been switched around,” said Nick Conway ’14. “So, that’s annoying.”

Sarah Anderson ’98, Director of Interactive Media and Web Publisher, explained that the College had made judgment calls based on past page usage while deciding what to migrate first.

“Some of [the pages] are really important, some of them are less [important], but they all need to be done. … The new site is for an external audience, so there are a lot of things that were tagged for an internal audience that we didn’t automatically bring over. … If it hadn’t been used in a while, we didn’t make it a high priority to move it over,” Anderson said. “I think of it more as preparing the structure and now the content is coming into it. The focus has really been in creating that structure [and] making sure that the databases are all talking to each other.”

Reische acknowledges that the website has not been completed but views these kinks as an inevitable part of the process.

“You don’t launch with a perfect site. You launch with something that’s largely done and then you do a rapid series of improvement and fixes,” he said.

Reische also mentioned the existence of a font problem, where some browsers would display fonts on the site in lower-than-normal resolution.

“That’s one of [the] top priorities in the next two or three days,” Reische said, explaining that the fonts need adjustments from the designer at Rouge Element, a Chicago design firm.

Accessibility is also unfinished in the current version of the website. The current website has not been audited for accessibility compliance, according to Reische.

“At launch, we’re aiming for a minimum level of compliance,” he said.

Reische noted that the gray dots on the homepage didn’t have enough contrast, for example, to meet these requirements.

After four to six weeks, a firm called Interactive Accessibility will audit the site in order to achieve “Level II compliance,” which Reische regarded as surpassing most peer institutions.

Reische also acknowledged that the website will change at the design level with coming changes in what he calls “institutional identity” or “branding.”

Over the next year, the College will formulate effective ways to convey its unique institutional identity through its communications materials.

“We built this website knowing that there will be a significant redesign coming somewhere not that far down the road,” he said.

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