I went to Victoria university. Their website was a well known example among students of a black hole of information – you knew it was all in there somewhere, it was just virtually impossible to get to it. It was begging for an update, so I was happy to discover that very recently it had undergone a re-design.
The new site looks nice, but I feel like the point of the redesign was missed a little. It’s not actually much easier to find stuff. I realised quickly that I had ‘learned’ the old site – I knew where that random link to the graduation information was off by heart so had taught myself how to get to it. The new site, I had no idea.
Looking quickly through the site to try to understand who and what they were catering for, I started jotting a quick list of what I think are the building blocks of a successful website. It is by no means complete, but based on the things I think the new VUW site does well and not so well.
- Use menus to break the areas of your website up into large chunks. People use navigation only when necessary so keep your main menu small (only a few links) and prominent. I can then quickly get to the broad area I need to.
- If you have a big site (with more than 2-3 layers of content), have a search box. I can avoid a long path to my goal page, if I can quickly search for it.
- Too much small text in small chunks is confusing, especially when it looks the same – I ignore it. Maybe I assume they are ads? Clearly separate different content and give it some space and size!
- I think 4 columns may be a bit much. It’s too busy and hard to separate the content out, so makes me head back to the menus. Keep it simple, 2-3 columns maximum and keep the main content area a lot larger than the ‘module’ bars so I know where I’m meant to be getting my information from.
- Completely understand the REASON why someone is there. What are the things most people are trying to get to? Make sure it is as easy as possible to people to achieve their most common tasks. All information was not created equal. Do visitor requirements change over time? (i.e with a graduation ceremony coming up, make graduation prominent, at other times, leave it more ‘hidden’