The next generation of Lehigh’s home page will launch later this month. The design is the culmination of work led by the Office of Communications and Public Affairs which conducted research with prospective students, alumni, parents and other key constituent groups.
The Lehigh community can preview the new page at www.lehigh.edu/homepagepreview and offer feedback at www.lehigh.edu/homepagefeedback as the final design takes shape. The campus community has until Friday, March 26, to offer feedback. Modifications to the design have already been made based on feedback received so far.
The home page is designed to reflect Lehigh’s identity, communicate strategic priorities, and help visitors quickly find information. Striking a balance between information and function presents an ongoing challenge, but the home page provides one of the best ways to tell the Lehigh story.
Research is important to Web design and helps inform decision-making. The process begins by asking questions: What are our goals and objectives? What kinds of usage statistics are available on the current home page? What kind of secondary research should we know about? How are our peers approaching this same challenge? What do the primary users of Lehigh’s home page care most about?
Analyzing Web use patterns and assessing our competitors
Several initiatives were completed in phases to help lay the groundwork for a strategic implementation of the design.
The first phase of the home page redesign was to study how the page has been used over the past few years. Web site traffic was analyzed and usage patterns were studied to help identify the most visited and highly sought information. The Office of Communications and Public Affairs manages more than 30,000 Web pages and these are viewed a total of 29 million times per year. As the virtual “front door” to our community, Lehigh’s home page alone receives nearly 3 million page views annually, and 81 percent of external visitors look for information for prospective undergraduate and graduate students. More than half are returning visitors, and in general, visitors spend about a minute viewing the page before clicking through to specific information of interest.
The second phase was to look at the outside world and Lehigh’s competitive environment. A thorough review of 70 university home pages was conducted to identify best practices regarding navigation, design and content. Among the other schools included in this benchmark study were Bucknell, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Colgate, RPI and Villanova, as well as US News and World Report’s 50 Best Colleges, including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, UC Berkeley, Georgetown and Case Western. Almost all of the schools feature news and events prominently on their home pages. Fewer than half feature video. There is an obvious move to integrating social media tools on these home pages.
Larger studies done by EduVentures, Collegeboard, CASE, the National Research Center for College and University Admissions, and other groups were also examined during the home page redesign. Secondary research enabled us to examine many institutions and identify broad trends and best practices. In the process, we found many similarities across the board, including consistent use of intuitive navigation, prominent placement of a search engine feature, and creative use of vibrant images and subject matter.
Three specific recommendations were developed for Lehigh’s home page redesign: 1) simplify and streamline navigation to enhance usability and provide clear paths for key audiences; 2) develop compelling messaging and imagery that reflect our comprehensive university and our values; 3) promote the vibrant intellectual environment through our stories and events we offer throughout campus.
Testing design prototypes with current audiences
In the third phase of the redesign, we developed prototypes of design concepts and messages and tested them with current audiences. An email survey was sent to random groups of prospective undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, parents, current students, faculty and staff. The sampling helped measure the preferences and perceptions of our constituencies and was used to shape the final design. Some design-related conclusions that emerged from the testing were to include people and the campus environment together in photos and to use colors that complement the university’s traditional brown and white.
During the final stages of the design, we conducted 20 one-on-one sessions with prospective undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, parents, current students, faculty and staff. In interviews, we collected opinions about various aspects of the design including the presentation format and the overall impressions created by the design. In the usability portion of the session, participants completed specific tasks while an observer scored the success of each activity. This task-based testing helps assess the overall effectiveness of the page and makes it possible to identify and avoid potential design pitfalls.
Simplifying the design of the home page and rethinking the navigation has allowed us to provide more “real estate” for news and events in an effort to convey the vibrant intellectual and social community at Lehigh. We have also provided links to Lehigh’s social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter due to the growing interest in social networking.
The information acquired during the research and testing of the new home page design will be applied as we continue to redesign the top-tier areas of Lehigh’s Web site. During the next few weeks, the Lehigh community will have the opportunity to preview the new design and share any feedback before the home page is implemented on March 30.