After five years, NU site set to undergo redesign

Rani Gupta

To prepare for a complete overhaul of Northwestern’s Web site, University Relations staff is gauging student opinion on the site with an online survey.

More than 1,000 people have responded to the survey, which can be accessed through a link on the site’s front page, said Staci Roberts, director of communications.

The site is being redesigned because it hasn’t been changed since 1996, she said.

“That’s a significant period of time for no work to have been done on the Web site,” Roberts said. “We want to make the site more dynamic, more intuitive and more technologically appealing to our target audience.”

NU hired Web designer Carolyn Silva to analyze the survey and design the site. She will work with staff from Information Technology and University Relations.

Since March, the site’s redesign team also has conducted one-on-one interviews with undergraduates, graduate students, prospective students, faculty and staff to find out what they want out in a new site.

According to Roberts, staff will analyze the survey’s responses in the next few weeks. The responses have identified a number of problems that most likely will be addressed in the new site.

The most pressing problem, noted by about 85 percent of the surveys received so far, is that the site’s search engine is ineffective, Roberts said.

“I find myself using outside search engines to find things on the Northwestern site,” said McCormick senior Mike Lietz.

Survey responses also said the site is confusing, the design is outdated, and campus news is hard to find.

The same survey will be administered after the new site is completed to measure whether the design’s effectiveness.

The time frame and cost of the redesign cannot be determined until the survey has been analyzed, Roberts said, because the results will determine what kind of technology will be used on the top-level pages. Improvements might include a new search engine and site index, customizable options and a clickable university map, she said.

“The features will be determined by need and, based on need, we will determine cost,” Roberts said.

The redesign team hopes to work on the site over the summer so the top-level pages will be done by the start of next school year, Roberts said.

The Web site redesign comes on the heels of the revamped HereAndNow Web site, which was updated Winter Quarter.

Associated Student Government IT Liaison Ken Suh said the page was changed because “it had the look of a page that was three or four years old.”

The HereandNow Committee tracked student activity on its site and used the results to make improvements. Unused links were removed, while frequently accessed links, such as Web e-mail, were given prominent icons.

Weinberg freshman Alex Chavez said the university’s current Web site is not user-friendly.

“It’s very confusing because if you click on one link, it takes you to other stuff that you don’t want,” Chavez said. “They cram a lot of stuff onto one (section) instead of making different ones, so you get a lot of stuff you don’t need.”

Other students said they don’t have any problems navigating the site.

“I like it,” said Justin Mosier, a McCormick senior. “I’ve heard it’s one of the best university Web sites.”