Campus Computing News
By Kenn Moffitt, Director of University Online Communications
UNT's New Website
This month, I was asked to write a feature about the new UNT Website. I wanted to speak briefly about the history behind this new site and some of the influences that have affected the new design.
The new Web design really started immediately after the previous Website was published. After three years of E-mail from students, faculty, staff and the Web community, it was pretty clear what needed to be changed to better serve the UNT audience.
A majority of the E-mail asked for information on events such as commencement, parent's day, homecoming, etc. Users were also having trouble finding information about academic deadlines such as the last day to add-drop. The new site was designed to incorporate these events and reminders throughout the top levels of the site for easier user access.
The E-mail also suggested that the UNT top-level site was difficult to find information on because the scope of the links weren't broad enough. Commonly accessed links needed to be surfaced on the UNT Website. These commonly accessed links needed to be easily available from the top of the Website. For example, instead of sending users to the UNT helpdesk site to find links, the most common helpdesk links should also be presented directly from the UNT home page to help the user not only find the UNT helpdesk, but also give the user a sense of the various areas that the helpdesk supports. Contact information for people and departments was also added as its own category on the home page so that users could contact departments directly.
The next step ...
The next step was to look at how Internet usage should influence our Internet presence as a whole. The Web used to be treated like print's ugly step-child. Since the last Website was published, the Web has become an increasingly legitimate force for information and communication and is often the university's primary point of initial contact. A person will check out UNT's Website before contacting UNT to request information and ask questions. The information for the new site needed to be easily accessible to all audiences and al experience levels.
Web philosophies and technologies have also changed greatly since the last time the site was designed. Web user data and statistics have been published in studies showing how most users use a Website.Most Web visitors will scan a Web page quickly for the information that they need and will not try to read long content online. The new Website is designed to promote scanning of information.
Web technologies and philosophies have also been influenced by portal sites such as Yahoo! and other dynamic sites such as Slashdot. The UNT Website can be viewed as a portal (like Yahoo!) that directs the user to one of the hundreds of Websites at UNT. With all of the various categories of information about UNT on the Website, the site design needed to support dynamic customization of features and contents so that new services, sites and events could be added quickly and be highly visible. Websites need to be designed with some level of flexibility in mind so that the site can be changed to communicate information in a timely manner. Users expect dynamically changing content to be updated regularly instead of the more traditional, static Web page design.
Other site design considerations
Finally, new state and federal regulations have gone into effect that enforces standards for accessibility. The state and federal standards had to be applied so that every user of the UNT Website can still get the information provided. Although the state guidelines have been in effect for more than a year, the new federal guidelines that went into effect June 21, 2001 make accessibility a priority for all UNT Websites. The new Website needed to be designed and coded with accessibility in mind.
Once all the site design considerations were addressed, we needed to figure out the mechanics of the site promotion and maintenance and which department would be responsible for various tasks. Web Support has become more specialized in server technologies, backend maintenance and technical support and will continue to support these duties. UNT Public Affairs and Information Services would use existing news and event resources to become responsible for the day-to-day site updates and dynamic content, including site organization and the creation of links.
The actual technical creation of the site took less time than all of the planning mentioned above. Once the pages were created, the site was finally a more dynamic tool that we could use to communicate with our broad audience and to promote the hundreds of UNT Websites which combined make up all of UNTs Web presence.
Check out the new site now: http://www.unt.edu/ and see what you think about it.