Historical Context for the 2002 Redesign Project
6 July 2002
To fully understand the challenge of
redesigning the NC State home page, it is first useful to note that
various projects, committees, and organizational units at NC State talked
about, met, and sometimes even worked on redesigns as far back as 1995
the NCSU electronic door: a brief history). So the February, 2001,
release of the first redesign of the NC State home page was
long overdue, given that many prospective college students complained
that, on average, university and college websites didn't provide the
information they need [Gueverra, J. (2001, June). How
Are Dot Edu's Using the Internet? The Technology Source].
The latest redesign of the NC State
website comes one-and-a-half years later and draws on the strengths
of the existing home page while simultaneously addressing the shortcomings
of the design. The greatest improvements to the current NC State home
page are the new home page's
Web Development Team's Methodological
- streamlined look, resulting in much
faster download speed;
- new search
engine that uses Google technology to ensure efficient and effective
- textual news items that change daily;
- multi-column second-tier page design
that all but eliminates the need for scrolling;
- graphic emphasis on NC State's Bell
Tower, students, and faculty, and;
- retention of the information architecture
established in the previous home page design.
The web development team followed redesign
processes used at other top institutions and companies, for example,
Ease of Use Group [in addition to following approaches described
in detail in Dumas, J. S., and Redish, J. C. (1994). A Practical Guide
to Usability Testing. Hillsdale, NJ: Ablex; Landauer, T. K. (1995).
The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity.
Cambridge, MA: MIT P; Nielsen, J., & Mack, R. L. (Eds.). (1994). Usability
Inspection Methods. NY, NY: John Wiley & Sons; Nielsen, J. (2000). Designing
Web Usability. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders, and; Rubin, J. (1994).
Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective
Tests. NY, NY: John Wiley & Sons].
In short, we:
Principles Driving the 2002 NC State
Home Page Redesign
- Continued performing competitive
analyses of peer institution websites;
- Maintained high-order usability
goals including usefulness, effectiveness, learnability, and satisfaction
ratings from various audience types, and;
- Responded quickly to feedback and
continued to test and refine the existing home page (through pluralistic
walkthroughs, focus groups, contextual inquiry, field observations
and, importantly, performance testing).
The list below defines each element
or usability principle operating in the new design in more detail:
1) Existing information architecture
and audience categories have been maintained: The home page categories
are clustered into four basic information "types" -- audience
oriented (e.g., for students, for faculty & staff, etc.), programmatic
information (e.g., academic programs, research, etc.), administrative
information (e.g., chancellor's office, administration, etc.), and search-for
features (e.g., search, directories, campus map, etc.). Clustered content
is easier to scan and search (see
Mehlenbacher, B., Duffy, T. M., & Palmer, J. E. (1989). Finding Information
on a Menu: Linking Menu Organization to the User's Goals. Human-Computer
Interaction, 4, 3, 231-251).
2) Download speed tested and increased
significantly [Sears, A., Jacko, J.A., & Borello, M.S. (1997). Internet
delay effects: How users perceive quality, organization, and ease of
use of information. Proceedings of the ACM CHI '97 Conference: Human
Factors in Computing Systems].
3) Links placed across audience categories:
Placing content in more than one category (e.g., links exist that both
future students and current students would find useful) [Rosenfeld,
L., & Morville, P. (1998). Information Architecture for the World Wide
Web. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly & Associates].
4) Popular NC State structures emphasied,
for example, the Bell Tower, students, campus buildings, athletics [see
Design Factors of e-Loyalty].
5) Font size selected in response to
research: The HTML typography size for the second tier is font size
= 2 [Baumel, B. (1999).
Understanding Cross-Platform Text Size Differences].
6) University address prominently displayed:
Serves as an anchor element at the bottom of the page and gives users
information important for contacting the university.
7) 2nd tier designed in multi-column
format to reduce scrolling dramatically: Users are now able to see all
of the sub-categories at a glance and scrolling is reduced to a single
sccreen [strongly recommended by Nielsen, 2001].
8) Media available but not intrusive:
video and photography on the 2nd tier make this level of information
more interesting. All video is brief, with an option of using either
Quicktime or RealMedia software.
9) Designed for universal usability
(ADA accessibility): [Shneiderman, B. (2000). Universal Usability. Communications
of the ACM, 43 (5), 84-91].
Usability methods built into our design process from
the beginning: we have continued to perform competitive
analyses of peer and private university home pages,
built heuristic evaluations into every development cycle,
and integrated usability and focus group feedback into
our design efforts at every stage [Nielsen, J., & Mack,
R. L. (Eds.). (1994). Usability Inspection Methods.
NY, NY: John Wiley & Sons]. When users send us feedback
we respond and revise the NC State website according
to their user preferences.