September 15, 1997
Volume 50, No. 4
In an effort to both present an attractive face to the world and offer quick and easy navigation, Emory launched its new website Aug. 15.
Jan Gleason, director of News & Information, and Marie Matthews, former University webmaster, began working on the new look in January. They sent out requests for proposals in April, and nine Atlanta vendors submitted bids. In June they chose What's Up Atlanta as a good, "mid-priced, well experienced" consulting group, Gleason said.
After the process was underway, Norman Hulme, ITD senior multimedia project manager, and Andreas Dieberger, ITD associate director of research, came on board to help with issues of functionality and navigation around the site. Susan McBride and Peta Westmaas, both designers for Emory Publications, lent their expertise to polishing the look of the site.
Emory contracted with What's Up for 40 pages of HTML coding-the computer language in which websites are written-and about half of those have been finished, including new external and internal homepages. Many of the pages to be completed are form pages, like online applications or order forms, and taglines that will serve to keep Emory webpages consistent across entity lines. These pages and departmental templates should be available by the end of the month.
Matthews, who left Emory recently to work for Cox Interactive Media, and Gleason held three focus groups this summer to attempt to get a grasp on what people wanted and needed for the website and what elements were most important.
"This isn't just about looking pretty," Gleason said of the redesign effort. "It's about working well for a variety of people on campus-faculty, students and staff. And it also needs to work well for all the external groups like perspective students or faculty, alumni and patients of the health care system, for example."
When Hulme and Dieberger joined the process, their first concern was that the site paid too little attention to its utilitarian purposes. "When we saw the work that had been done, we felt it was very attractive looking, however it didn't leave a sense that one could get from point A to point B in an intuitive manner."
To incorporate a central functional tool and identifying element throughout Emory websites, the design team created the "thin, blue line," or navigational bar, that appears on many pages. Though it is not currently on all University pages, Hulme said that is something that should be considered.
"It's a good start," Hulme said of the new design. "But there are parameters that people use at Emory already-consistent business cards or letterhead, for example-and at this time there are no such parameters for the web. That's something worth discussing."
One illustration of the emphasis on functionality is the marked distinction between the internal and external homepages. Web developers at the focus groups said internal users want quick access to information, so the internal page does not have an attractive graphic taking up much of the page. Instead it features a number of text links arranged under categories for easy reference.
As is the case with every thing on the web, the Emory site is not a finished product. What's Up has about 20 more pages to develop, and even after those are done changes will continue to be made. With the World Wide Web's newness compounded with Matthews' departure, make it unclear what department on campus will have responsibility for maintaining the content of the site.
In the interim, Gleason has been responding to the concerns and comments that have been coming in since the new site was launched in order to expedite improvements. "It's always been a fairly democratic process," she said, "but when it comes down to it, somebody has got to make decisions and do it."
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