By Patricia Allen
Princeton NJ -- A new University home page and core Web site will be previewed this summer in preparation for a formal launch by the fall semester.
The joint effort of the Office of Communications and Office of Information Technology is intended to convey a better sense of Princeton through the Web and to make it easier to navigate, provide and update Web content.
"The home page is a vital source of news and information, and we're delighted by the improvements under way," said Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee, co-chair with Betty Leydon, vice president for information technology and chief information officer, of the Web Strategy Task Force, which called for this action. "The new core site will be rich in visual images and text to reflect Princeton's vibrant culture, people and tradition."
The culmination of years of research and other work, the site has been guided by input from the campus community through an online survey, focus groups, individual discussions and vendor briefings.
The new design, using shades of Princeton's black and orange colors, heightens attention to photos and incorporates new audience buttons. Created by communications office staff members, the redesign has been planned to be supported by a content management system that would make it easier for campus offices to update content, use templates, organize information and create efficient approval processes for Web material, according to Lauren Robinson-Brown, director of communications. The content management proposal is under review by senior administrative committees and also may be implemented by the fall.
"This is a major undertaking," Robinson-Brown said. "We've been asking anyone in the early planning stages of redesigns to hold off in order to benefit from the work we've already done."
Robinson-Brown said it is a testament to the original design of the current core site, created in 1998, that it has been able to last so long. The current average life for a Web design is less than three years. She noted that OIT has contributed improvements over the years that have helped the current site remain viable.
Leydon agreed: "When I arrived on campus in 2001, many people told me that they could not find information easily on Princeton's Web site. We tried to address that problem by clarifying the categories on the main home page and by adding a Google search engine specifically for the Princeton site. Now, we've undertaken a comprehensive redesign process that has proved both exciting and rewarding."
During the preview phase this summer, the University community will be able to test the revamped Web site and provide feedback before the formal launch in the fall. Information will be posted on the home page.
One of the most noticeable changes to the core site will be the addition of audience pages for key constituencies: current students, faculty, parents and family, prospective students, alumni and staff. Each page will have links with content of interest to the targeted audience, making it easier to find relevant information. Other features will include fly-out and drop-down or cascading menus, which will improve site navigation.
"One of the key goals of the redesign is to provide the greatest degree of accessibility to information, both for current users and newcomers," said Reed Meister, director of Web communications and strategic projects in the communications office, who is managing the project. Most of the current core site pages will still exist with the new design. However, navigation to sub-pages will be streamlined to make it easier to access them, he said.
The proposed system will provide a set of tools that will allow technical and non-technical users to effectively manage, maintain and change Web site design and content, Meister added.