Meeting with students

Yesterday, the redesign group met with a representative group of interested students to listen to their opinions about the current homepage, the Admission site, various departmental web pages and other parts of the Wesleyan website. While the group made several points that we have already been discussing amongst ourselves, they also offered some unanticipated perspectives. All came at it from the viewpoint of a prospective/future attendee of Wesleyan, citing their own college searches and experiences with our site and other universities’ websites.

One of the topics of conversation was the importance of reliable and relevant search results. There are a lot of processes already in the works to help in this regard, and ITS has been asking for input on the search tool. If you have an idea as to how the search could be improved, a feedback form is accessible from the search page,

Other topics discussed were the types of dynamic news headlines and other content that prospective students care about by highlighting student/faculty collaborations, research opportunities, and alumni achievements in their fields. We discussed their thoughts on having video on the homepage, and the need to update some of the constituency-based pages that currently are lists of links. We talked about drop-down menus and other navigation schemes, the calendar, clutter vs. airiness, the impact of the beltway feature, user-generated content sharing, and the use of large images.

Finally, we looked at some other universities’ websites that had impressed some of those present during their college searches. All in all it was a very good meeting, with a lot of sharing of ideas and we appreciate the time those present dedicated during midterm week to help share their perspective on the current Wesleyan website.

If you are a student and could not attend the meeting, what are some of your thoughts on the current website? What sorts of features or types of content do you think are most important for Wesleyan to appeal to future students? What could we add or remove from the homepage or secondary pages?

16 thoughts on “Meeting with students”

  1. I think the biggest problem with some of the constituency pages is that they’re simply not designed. They look like they’re simply generated (I think they are?).

    Compare our library page ( to say Vassar’s ( or even Oberlin’s ( Oberlin’s might not win any design wards, but it’s certainly more inviting and comfortable to read. Vassar’s is beautiful, but it’s almost a second site, and it might be unrealistic to design each department and section separately. That said, Vassar certainly prides itself on the design and quality of its pages —

    Another comparison: vs.

    The E&ES site is actually one of the nicer ones, but if I were looking to major in Earth Sciences, I would probably be more interested in the latter.

    I like Wesleyan’s Art Department website: Oberlin’s also isn’t bad (, although it’s a bit late 90s.

    I think the biggest problem is that the design culture simply doesn’t exist yet. There are a lot of talented graphic designers here at Wesleyan — I’ve taken classes with them. But the problem is that you’re not going to be able to get them motivated because the current website just isn’t interesting enough.

    I could be wrong, but I think that the way to get the support of that talent is with a strong frontpage. Not something that’s just functional, but also beautiful. Then departments will be complaining that their sites don’t look as good as the front page.

    It’s true that a lot of the students that have design experience might not have web experience, but perhaps classes could be taught or developers could be paired with designers.

    Departments have to start seeing their website as recruiting devices. Going forward, isn’t going to cut it. The secondary pages have to be as well-designed as the primary.

    Everything considered, my main interest is in the front page and the overall tone and statement that it sets. Cornell (, Vassar (, and Boston University ( all have beautiful (and functional) websites.

    Of course, just calling for beauty isn’t going to work. I think that a pair of fresh eyes wouldn’t hurt. A few web shops that I would love Wesleyan to work might be Happy Cog (their redesigned Thomson Reuters site is great), Airbag Industries (whose lead designer is the son-in-law of the owners of our own Neon Deli), or even Method Arts.

    I don’t know what the next redesign will look like, but I know that “nicer,” “web 2.0,” and “pretty good” won’t be good enough. It seems that Dartmouth recently redesigned their site ( It’s nice enough — clean text, fairly attractive colors, but I -don’t- think this is the direction Wesleyan wants to go. It’s too generic. It’s boring. I honestly think that it’s waste of money to put so much time into something without a personality. I also don’t think that it should go the Oberlin ( or Swarthmore ( hip-for-hip-sake aesthetic. It should still look collegiate and respectable. It shouldn’t look like a blog. The three sites I mentioned above balance this well. Yale ( too, although I think it’s slightly informal.

    In summary, make it exciting, make it interesting, give it a personality (ideally Wesleyan’s), work with others (like Happy Cog or Airbag Industries), and make it beautiful. When it’s launched, there should be complaints. People should Twitter about it and form Facebook groups against it. But don’t just change it back because it’s too interesting, or too compelling. That wouldn’t be Wesleyan. I’m looking forward to what you guys come up with.

  2. I would like to know what students would want from the disabilities services website. Are there interactive features that would be helpful? What kind of navigation features would they like?

  3. 1. Fix the calender. Have it show the proper ‘academic year’- rather than having to click multiple times to get there. (By default, the calender displays “events”, while the drop-down box menu displays “Academic Calender”. Either fix it to show Academic Calender by default, or make the first link in the drop-down box events. It’s confusing otherwise.)

    2. Homepage banner graphics; crop the vertical height of the images a little bit- To the former size- the new graphics are twice as large and make the homepage look like flickr. They shouldn’t take away all the attention from the rest of the website, nor should they eat half of my screen.

    3. Search Field – Utilize suggestions; like google and other websites, have suggestions pop out in a menu that may help guide peoples’ questions as they type in their query.

    4. As mentioned above, advertise the Argus website; that is a well-designed student publication that should be advertised prominently. Shows prospective students that we have a legitimate student newspaper with involved members.

    5. I’m not sure about everyone else, but the 4 box-graphic links that were added recently do not flow at all with the current homepage design (which I like). It throws off the layout because the links are as large as a top banner, yet they are in the middle of the page. Just my opinion from a design-standpoint.

    6. This may be slightly off-topic; but someone in the administration or otherwise should take charge in updating the Wesleyan University Facebook Page (fan pages). That is a tool that a lot of prospective, current, and alumni students will utilize to stay in touch with Wes– also something that many prospective students will likely look at. It would be nice if there were regular updates, photo additions, and a general sense of ‘activity’ on that page; rather than the same discussion topic “Wesleyan Students Get Arrested on Fountain” for the past year.

    Just a couple suggestions off the top of my head…

  4. One thing that stuck out to me (positively) about the Wesleyan website when I was a prospective student was its graphic continuity. Every page seemed a part of the “Wesleyan experience” online. I think it’s important to continue that wholesome graphic identity- it just needs a little modernization.

  5. Quite clearly, all the work cannot fall on the shoulders of the web designers. Constituents also have to do their fare share. For example, individual faculty sites have been taken seriously by the faculty members themselves. Compare, say, Chemistry to English. In the Chemistry Department, faculty pages up to date, each has a photo, and the members appear to feel as though they are stakeholders in their department’s website, and in their own faculty pages. Now go to the English Department. Few of the faculty have their photos up, and many of the pages are almost entirely empty, or are extremely out of date. It sends a message that the department is not cutting edge, that faculty are not conducting research, and that students should not bother to go to the department’s webpage for any useful information.

    One element of the new design should be, somehow, to encourage faculty in all departments to feel as though they are stakeholders in their department’s pages, and in their own. The institution at which I teach routinely encourages faculty to update our pages, and provides an easy mechanism to do so. This is made possible in part thanks to a uniformity across the departments in design. I can’t say our design is all that great, and departments certainly should be able to express their own personalities, but faculty webpages could certainly be uniform in ways that provide useful information but still allow each professor to maintain his or her own website for a more personal design.

  6. It is hard to find information on most of the pages. It seems to me that the information is buried somewhere in the net and there is no fast way to go to it. For instance take: and These pages are prominently featured on the homepage as if whole campus uses them ~ do they? They are ugly and the pertinent information is hidden somewhere. One damn link saying Administration to take one person to deans, and all the bizarre admin offices would suffice. Design and beauty are one thing but mis-organized information just kills people.

    If I am a student and was suggested Wesleyan, I would probably find about it — where can i find a simple online tour. The webpage should just not be designed for prospective students. What about the current student accessing it and what about visitors to Wesleyan? Having a photo gallery with tons of photos organized in an album makes sense with a decent link on homepage or secondary page would work …

    Finding any info on departments is a horror story in itself. There might be exceptions – but most department pages are not updated in regular basis. If a page is not updated every two month or not verified the information is still pertinent and relevant there is something wrong with the web-page. Just update the page with relevant information.

    There are so many pages which are official and are not updated in regular basis. This makes no sense at all to have these pages!

  7. MICA just released their new website last Sunday:

    From it’s page about the redesign (

    Rather than opting for a site that emphasizes a flashy visual experience to highlight MICA’s national leadership in visual art and design, MICA has developed an institutional website whose focus is on the needs of the user: simplifying and streamlining content access, enhancing interactivity, and creating opportunities to engage the College’s diverse constituencies and build community.

    …whose goals are, I think, are very similar to Wesleyan’s. Brian made a good point — in order for the new site succeed, it’s imperative that you get both the students and faculty behind the new site. It won’t be possible to just go it alone.

  8. These are the things I think should be emphasized

    1. The website’s aesthetic, we are trying to represent ourselves and we all have to look at this thing constantly so it should look nice.

    2. Speed of the site. Not that the wes site is all that bad now but there is always a tendency to throw a whole mess of pictures and flash applets and x, y, z into new sites, just keep it simple and clean which brings me to my next point.

    3. Easy to navigate, this is the current page’s downfall. The organization of the site is completely non-intuitive. If we had a simple clean site I wouldn’t try to find wes subpages by guessing…. and see if I am right, or searching google. Embrace that google is a solid search engine and just embed it in the new site. You can customize the look of the search page and whatnot and it will actually find what you are looking for.

    4. Find a page that is really nice, look for the design site, contact the designer. Don’t just hand it off to some kid who knows how to use dreamweaver. It’ll be a bit more expensive but it’ll be worth it.

    hint: art/design/art museums schools generally have nice sites

  9. One part of the website that I think is incredibly confusing it the Admissions page. I don’t know if this will be included in the redesign, but I remember as a prefrosh being incredibly intimidated by that part of the website. It taking time to load and the supplemental application on it being so hard to navigate through made it seem like a challenge as part of the application process–i.e., if you can get through this confusing website then you actually have a chance at getting in. I don’t think that it should be so fancy. Honestly, a more straightforward and less cool-looking site seems more practical.

  10. As a current Wes prefrosh who recently completed the college search and application process, I definitely agree that the Wesleyan website needs work. The admissions page is confusing. I would make wescheck more easily accessible and make it easier for prefrosh to get into the financial aid version of wescheck. Making deadlines and application requirements a little more clear and centrally located on the site would help a lot as well. I agree with others that the academic calendar should be easier to get to.
    Also, I think the homepage should represent more of the personality of the campus. The dark, serious vibe that the website gave off was not what I found when I went to campus. That’s only one side of Wes. More pictures and glimpses of what student life is like would be helpful. I feel like the website does little to showcase what makes Welseyan unique and enitce prospective students to visit. An example of I site I fould particularly nice was the Carleton website, It made it easy to find what I was looking for and the slideshow they have shows the campus, their academic resources, and the fun personality of their school.

  11. As the administrative assistant in the Psychology Department, two features I find extremely frustrating is the search feature (you rarely get what you want because outdated information pops up first), and the inconsistency of department homepages (as simple as how to find contact information). On department homepages, all faculty/staff should have pictures.
    Cathy Race

  12. I’m an alumnus. (Actually twice an alumnus.) And I regularly use the website.

    First, I did like the idea of having WESU feed through the home page. You need some sort of dynamic content there, and that’s the nearest thing to a media feed Wesleyan has.

    (Or how about a scroll through Argus headlines… hah! Okay, nobody wants to see Argus headlines… )

    Second, I try to find things in the calendar section, simple things, like Commencement; the calendar was especially bad at this. You can search for the item itself, but if you try flipping through months, the events are static, and you have to decide if Commencement is an academic event or a party or a student event or a conference or an alumni event.

    The main alumni page has the same sort of problem. You get 30 options, each option makes some subtle distinction only known to the author of the webpage, and you’re left guessing whether you want a ‘community’ or an ‘association’ and what could possibly be the distinction. —The Graduate Liberal Studies Program is under lifelong learning; but isn’t it graduate study?

    The common problem to both is the designers of the site as it now is frequently provide lots and lots of possible links, all thrown together in unnatural categories, and every page asks the user to make odd distinctions. —If you’re looking for ‘trout’ you don’t know whether to click on ‘fish’ or ‘dinner’.

    I don’t know if this helps.

    Maybe something along the lines of how Yahoo and then Google started suggesting options the more you typed into a search box… Not that specific technique, but some more natural way to find what you’re looking for, generally. Fewer, broader, options migh be one way to get to that goal.

  13. AND, if you want an aesthetically pleasing site, I know a dozen alumni who design award winning websites. It’s their life.

    If you want something innovative, leave it an open competition for the best proposals among the talent Wesleyan already can draw on.

Comments are closed.