Do the words exciting, engaging, interactive and informative accurately describe the homepage of the University of San Francisco? Although this description may not be the first image that pops into your mind each day as you attempt to log in to your student account, a university hired design team hopes to accomplish a “total redesign” of the core site and bring a much needed face-lift to USF’s web presence.
White Whale Web services, based out of Oakland, has recently been hired to construct a series of templates and features that will seek to alleviate the “widespread dissatisfaction with the [current] content management system.” Initially contacted by the university in the Fall of 2008, White Whale Web Services, led by Jason Pontius, has been holding weekly meetings with various members of the administration and interested students since January and intends to gather “as much feedback as possible” in the design stage in order to avoid having to head back to the drawing board after the first designs materialize around the first week of April.
White Whale generally focuses on educational institutions and its portfolio has included the web layouts for Duke University, Kenyon College in Ohio and the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Law. Pontius’ experience has led him to emphasize the input of those who access the content of a site on a daily basis, which has led to a close collaborative effort with Prof. David Silver’s Digital Media Production class among others. According to Marlene Tom, Web Services Director for Academic & Enrollment Services and head of the Web Steering Committee that is overseeing the changes, White Whale was chosen based upon their “unique and thoughtful” design strategies and their “focus on higher education clients”.
The steering committee hopes that the new web design will encourage “intuitive navigation, and [additional] flexibility” (as it pertains to specific colleges and departments) while enabling “easier contributions from the university community.”
Although the University and White Whale have already begun significant work towards the redesign, it appears that the first hurdle will be overcoming the belief that the current site is good for little more than a quick search or a marketing tool for prospective freshmen. Kashmira Ngyuen, a junior biology major said that “I usually just use the search tool” while Donna Bender, a senior communications major, said, “You do look at it a lot when you’re a prospective student.” Arnie Salazar, a junior computer science major, agreed that he didn’t believe many students use the homepage or corresponding links, although he said “a forum where people could post topics” might be useful.
With the student perspective in mind and the goal of an early fall release date for the site, Pontius and his team recently launched a blog to gather feedback from students and faculty with whom they may not get the chance to interact: http://ww.whitewhale.net/usf With student engagement the blog could turn into a place where ideas can be tossed around and a dialogue between the university community and design nerds at White Whale can flourish, grow, and evolve into the web solution every Don deserves.