Approach with Caution
Whoa nelly! Re-defining the look and feel of a university website requires caution. It’s not as simple as prettifying or cleaning up an existing look. Universities, and I mean all universities, have a great deal of information to convey to prospective students. It can be overwhelming and humbling to choose what content stays and what goes. However, to successfully re-imagine a website user interface, flexibility needs to be exercised with website content. Luckily our friends at University of Nevada, Reno jumped on the most critical task early on in the re-design process: They created content based on our design needs.
With the content hurdle tamed, our next task in the re-design was brainstorming design elements. It’s 2014 and there are web design “musts”:
- Responsive design – The website needed to accommodate viewing devices such as desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, and iMax theater screen sizes. Well, I made that last one up, but maybe some day!
- Video – Our team loves exploring new options. We knew that adding a splash of video on the homepage would positively increase first impressions of the university. The university team was able to film and deliver some spectacular video footage.
- Photography – The university had an exhaustive photo library for our creative process. We were able to establish a candid tone for the website design, inspired by the photography itself.
- Interactions – Prospective students need to feel engaged. They come to the university website for information, but also to explore. We considered plenty of interactive elements on each page so viewers could participate in exploration of the university.
- Layout – Much of the website design was based on the idea of condensing pertinent information into 7 primary sections. Each page would give a bird’s-eye view of the university. The results were essentially 7 content-rich pages that explain everything the university has to offer.
- Fonts and color decisions – Staying on brand with the university was critical. We were able to incorporate subtle diversity into the color palette and increase font sizes for a natural, welcoming experience.
- Mobile – The university’s website is expansive. For mobile users, speed is of the essence. We wanted to give them an easier way to drill down into content or search quickly.
With all design considerations thought out, the execution of the final design templates began. In all honesty, the designs came naturally. Nothing was forced, allowing for a natural flow of the website layout.
All sections within a page were approached with the end-user in mind. As a result, we designed long-scrolling pages, broken out into digestible sections, allowing for overall content-rich pages.
Content hierarchy prevailed nicely on each page. A summary starts off each page so the visitor knows what to expect with each mouse scroll. Content was strategically broken out into sections within each page. Within each section of a page, information was broken out into bite-size facts and details. Rich photography was distributed liberally throughout each page to showcase the abundance of personality present at the university.
When viewed on a mobile device, the site responds to offer several advantages over the desktop version. Large carousel sections were condensed into manageable touch sliders, reducing page scrolling. Additionally, the main menu button gives visitors the ability to drill down through the navigation quickly. Searching and accessing quick links are very convenient as well.
Out in the Wild
It’s quite remarkable to see a large project released to the Internet. We’re so proud to have been a part of the design process for unr.edu. I’d describe the results as: refreshing, energizing, interactive, exploratory, genuine, candid and personal. Looking back at being a student myself, these were the words that helped influence my decision-making.
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