University Web Developers

University Web Developers

For higher education websites, do you find it more important for the website to be attractive, or be simple and usable?

Is there a way to get both simplicity for users of all ages with an overall look that is also attractive to multiple age groups but still eye catching to prospective students?

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I think it is vital to have both, however if you have limited resources (time or money) then I would focus on usability first and foremost. After all, the basic purpose of a website is to deliver information that your target audience is looking for. I have seen it many times, a website looks really cool but then when you go to use it and start to look for a specific topic it becomes cumbersome. After a while you just quit looking. Don't get me wrong, it is very important to have a sharp looking site too but first and foremost the user is coming to your site to find information on a specific topic and if you can't provide that information they will just go somewhere else to find it, even if the site appears to be eye catching.

As far as incorporating both attractive and usable check out http://www.edustyle.net for inspiration.
I also agree with dmazon. What I've found is that in higher education, a lot of the "higher-uppers" really don't care about the design so much as long as it looks clean and understandable. I drives me nuts with the "above-the-fold" perception everyone has, to squeeze as much information on the top portion, when you can create a lot of elegant, sophisticated websites with the use of negative space. Importantly, figure what what is the purpose of the site, what you need to communicate that purpose, then create a design that fits that purpose. Design is a communication tool :P (That sounded text-booky). I should start a discussion about the "above-the-fold" perception. Curious to see what people's thought on that is.
I think they are both very important regardless of time line and budget. Your web expirence should be rich, fun and easy to use. I can't really see a design not appealing to the multiple audiences, its more in your information architecture and page content that mandates that. One major step in making sure that your site speaks to everyone, is the main navigation. Try taking out items that place people in baskets in your main navigation. There are plenty of resources that could go in main navigation that don't necessarily make people make a choice in where they want to go. Still have audience based navigation but not in he main navigation.

Here is an excellent example of a trendy design with navigation that does not put people in baskets.
http://www.wccnet.edu/
One of the things that I have learned these past six months regarding design, is that it needs to be well balanced: good design and good navigation. Usability is key for people to find things, but design is important too because for the culture that we are in today, first impressions are key. If the user does not like what they see, the thought in their mind is that if the institution does not take the time to spend wisely on it's outward appearance, what kind of sloppyness is going to be on the inside.

We just started the process of redesigning our Website. It is an 8 month process timeline that goes through everything from the design to navigation, to who are audiences are and how we are going to taylor the content/text to them individually, to the photography that we will be using, to the back-end architecture of our CMS to how content gets created and approved, focus groups... all the way to how we will push our brand through every page and interact seamlessly with new social media outlets that we are starting to utilize.

Design and Usability should be bonded at the waist. You really can't have a successful Website if these are not equal in quality and/or developed wisely.

steve thurston • webmaster
marketing department
digital media communications adjunct
valley forge christian college • phoenixville, pa
610.917.1476 • vfcc.edu

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