Sneak Preview of Carleton's New Home Page

January 18, 2008
By Jaye Lawrence

Next week, Carleton College will launch a redesigned home page and other new web site features. We invite you to check out a sneak preview of the new look at:

http://apps.carleton.edu/home

About the Project

Next week's launch is the first phase of a complete web site redesign. This stage includes the new home page, improved site navigation, improved search features, and several new content sections including About Carleton, Campus Life, and Academics.

These changes are designed to make it easier for prospective students and their families to learn about Carleton College and find the content they want most--and easier for all of us to browse and search Carleton.edu. The new approach also captures some of Carleton's unique personality, which even the College's most fervent advocates sometimes find difficult to put into words.

What's Next?

After this launch of Phase I, we'll continue our redesign work with the Admissions site, Alumni Gateway, and Faculty/Staff and Student pages. Watch for new features and improvements to those sections in months to come. We'll also be working on new templates for College offices and departments to adopt on their sites.

As always, your opinions matter every step of the way. Please feel free to send us your feedback and suggestions. You can email the Web Services Group at web@carleton.edu, or see our team’s staff page for individual contact information.

About the Redesign Process

Many of you saw early design concepts and provided feedback on them during the research and testing stages. The Web Services Group invited feedback and ideas from prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty and staff. Many thanks to all who shared their opinions with us.

We'd like to answer some common questions that came up during the design testing:

1) Why did you choose that building photo? We have nicer buildings.

The designs we tested all featured a photo of Evans Hall. However, the real home page features a slideshow of many campus buildings with captions and animated callouts--features that it was impossible to demonstrate in the still images used for the design testing. So you’ll see a variety of campus scenes on the real page, and we’ll add more as the seasons change.

We also wanted to be sure that the choice of photos fairly reflected the true variety of campus buildings. Showing only the beautiful historic buildings gives a very different impression of our campus than a mixture of old and new, which is a more honest portrayal. You'll also see a mix of seasons reflected in the photos for the same reason.

2) Where are the people?

Many of you who viewed our preliminary designs wondered why we chose to feature images with campus buildings rather than Carleton people. Many college web sites feature groups of friendly, smiling students or profiles of individual students; why not ours? The short answer is that our research showed that prospective students were actually turned off by student pictures. Prospective students and their parents unanimously preferred design concepts that showed the campus instead of the people. High school students are extremely cynical about people pictures. Typical comments were:

  • "Everybody has the same pictures of students studying under a tree."
  • "They look like models."
  • "The people look posed."
  • "This doesn't tell me anything about the school. It could be anywhere."

We saw this reaction consistently, whether we were testing first impressions of competing college web sites or testing early versions of our own design concepts. The first thing our prospective students seem to want is a sense of place, and that means campus photos rather than people.

3) Where's the fun? Where's the Carleton personality?

These questions tended to come up on the more formal, less "quirky" designs that we tested (including the winning design). However, the home page slideshow adds a lot of Carleton personality and creativity that couldn't be conveyed by the static images used in the design test. Each building photo is accompanied by a set of callouts that point out things happening inside, some factual, some silly, all true to what actually goes on at Carleton.

Overall, the more formal designs were preferred by all audiences who participated in our final round of design testing. This is perhaps because Carleton, while it is a lively and, yes, often quirky place, is also a renowned and highly ranked liberal arts institution. Feedback from all audiences told us that it was important that Carleton’s web site look like it belonged to a college with a stellar reputation, even though it’s also a college with more of a sense of humor than most.

4) The new home page is missing important links. Why?

The question is, important to whom? Just about every office, department, and group at Carleton could make a case for needing a home page link! But do we really want our home page to be nothing but a crowded collection of links? A home page that tries simultaneously to be everything to everyone usually ends up not serving anyone especially well.

Also, we made a conscious decision to focus the new home page on the needs of prospective students. All our other audiences--current students, faculty, staff, alumni, etc.--have their own gateway pages tailored to their needs. (All of which will also get a facelift and improvements as this redesign project continues in months to come.) The home page is, first and foremost, the place where prospective students and other external audiences get their first impression of Carleton. It needs to be clear, not crowded, and it needs to help them quickly find the sections of the site of most interest to them.

Feedback Welcome

Keep those questions and feedback coming! We learn something from every site visitor who contacts us, and we will take all those comments into consideration as we continue our work to improve the Carleton site.

Thanks and regards,
The Carleton Web Services Group

  • Jaye Lawrence, Director of Web Communications and Development
  • Matt Ryan, Associate Director of Web Communications and Development
  • Mark Heiman, Senior Web Application Developer
  • Matt Bockol, Web Technical Administrator
  • Nathan White, Web Application Developer
  • Doug Bratland, Web Writer