Fatima Azamtarrahian said the Webster University website, webster.edu, needs a lot of cleaning up. She said the accessibility of the site isn’t smooth, the search bar is difficult to find and the style is outdated and unclear.
“The current site is a mess, honestly,” said Azamtarrahian, senior media communications major with an emphasis in interactive media. “There are a lot of improvements the site needs to allow users to navigate through smoothly.”
Azamtarrahian, who is also getting certificates in both web design and web development, has many hopes for the new website that will launch this month. Patrick Powers, director of digital marketing and communication, said the site will have a quiet launch on Oct. 17, but the university won’t be promoting the new site until the following week.
“We did that purposefully because we know that inevitably, with any site launch, there’s going to be a few hiccups along the way and we’d like to get those ironed out before we go out and tell everyone, ‘Hey, the new website is up and live,’” Powers said.
Webster has maintained the current webster.edu site since 2006. The new site has been in the planning stages since August 2011. Azamtarrahian said she’d like to see the new site have better consistency.
“For users accessing the site from their smartphone or iPad, I hope there is a compatible version with these platforms,” Azamtarrahian said.
Powers said he is most excited for the fully responsive web design. In the new website design, each page will readjust to whatever technology is accessing it — be it desktop, laptop, tablet or cell phone. The site will not have a mobile version or mobile application, however. Powers said the responsive web design doubles as a forward thinking design.
“Devices are changing every month, it seems,” Powers said. “So in order to future proof the site, we designed it based on the screen resolution that the user is using. It might format differently or look differently, but the same content will be presented.”
The current webster.edu does not reconfigure the page and its content if the browser is shrunk down or made larger. The new site will. Powers said many universities use this method on their homepage, but Webster will be one of a handful in the nation to use it site-wide.
Other new aspects include, but are not limited to:
— new navigation,
— a Google search appliance that uses Google’s algorithm to search site content,
— new content management system for site managers to easily update and add to pages,
— the clean layout helps make prospective students’ needs a priority and makes it easier for them to find information to enroll.
The current website has hundreds of thousands of pages that are unnecessary and outdated, Powers said. Pages will be edited and removed as needed. The new site will have approximately 650 pages. Azamtarrahian said, in addition to easier navigation and searchability of the site, she wants to see something cleaner.
“I am hoping with the new site, the front page is appealing for prospective and current students,” Azamtarrahian said. “With a good front page, users will want to explore the rest of the site.”
Powers said the site will have a cleaner and fresher appearance to appeal not just the students, but to the entire Webster community. Powers said the university’s brand is being a top-tier, non-profit, private institution with an emphasis on its international campuses. Powers said the new site will better represent that international presence.
“We’re not really introducing a new brand to the university through this,” Powers said. “We think the new site will do a better job of reflecting that brand.”
Three companies were brought in to recreate webster.edu. Google is used as the site’s search appliance, OmniUpdate, Inc. as the content management system provider and mStoner as the design and implementation firm. mStoner developed three website concepts and sent them out to the Webster University community for testing. Around 1,700 responses came back, mainly from students and alumni. Two of the three concepts scored an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.
“We were in a fortunate position where we felt we had two concepts that our audiences appreciated,” Powers said. “Of those two, we selected one based on management and maintenance capabilities of our own staff, plus the forward thinking nature of the design.”
mStoner also looked at the other equally-ranked concept. The firm took some of the ideas that people liked and incorporated them into the final project.
“The website is a never-ending project,” Powers said. “We’re always working to find ways to improve it to better serve our students.”