I Remember When the Web Was Young
And it wasn’t all that long ago, honestly. My first college-wide and CMS-driven web redesign was Bates College in 2000. More than 75(ish) web projects later, I’m stunned that, as much as aspects of web communications have changed, so much remains the same.
Consider, for instance, in 2013:
- Education institutions are now embracing and expressing their brands through their website, but many still mistake a logo, a set of colors, and a tagline for the essence of their community.
- Audiences have become more sophisticated and demanding, but their key information and service needs remain.
- Content is still king, but generating good content is still a big issue with even robust communication teams. Limited resources, varied skill levels, and issues of quality control in a decentralized publishing environment still pose significant challenges.
- The complete web experience now includes much more multimedia, social media, and SEO, but strategy, production planning, and ongoing curation still form the foundation for a well-deployed site.
- Most every client we know has a CMS, but that software remains a tool — not a complete solution — for managing an online presence.
I’d like to spend a little time in this and some subsequent blog posts musing about what what’s remained, and what’s changed, since the heady days of my first project. This afternoon’s topic: navigation.
About. Academics. Admission. Research. Student Life. News & Events. Athletics. Giving. (Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.) Look familiar? Augmented by audience links (current students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents) and task-based sets (apply, contact, visit), this topic-based link set has become stock and standard over the last decade … and for some fairly good reasons. Based on the mental models of prospective students (mostly undergraduates, if we’re going to be completely honest), this navigation (or some derivation) set gets them to all of the most important information they’re considering (do you have my major, where am I going to live and eat, what will I do when I’m not in class, what’s going on). The terminology is clear and functional, and all of the usability tests we’ve conducted over the years confirm the efficacy of the framework. Why fix what’s broken?
From what I can tell, what’s changed mostly is how we’re willing to display that information. We used to insist that everything must appear “above the fold” and that nothing important could be hidden by a dropdown menu. As we all move toward mobile-first websites, however, we’re pushed more than ever to adhere to the priorities that we’ve identified in our strategy. We must compress, reorder, perhaps even cut, and that’s a good thing. On the flip side, we have more liberty than ever before to layer information and explore navigation and touch-and-gesture native layouts. And this is the space in which I think that innovation in navigation will happen.