IT Revamps Divisional Web Site
Workgroup Addresses Administrative Unit Review Recommendations
by Donna Justice
The Division of Information Technology (IT) has a new Web site. To be launched on November 29, IT's new divisional Web pages will provide intuitive, user-centered navigation and content.
Over the years, various IT units have developed their own Web pages in an effort to make information available to the campus. Consequently, IT ended up with multiple versions of the same information and a fragmented image. Users are sometimes unaware they are viewing information about IT, unable to discern the connections between departments within the Division or to find the services they need.
Certainly this problem is not unique to IT. Any Web surfer knows that most Web pages leave a lot to be desired. Most sites lack a coherent navigation scheme, and far too many emphasize snazzy graphics at the expense of clear and relevant content. But, like UC Davis' Public Communications Office who recently revamped the main campus site, IT has come to understand how crucial the Web is to its communication efforts. More and more, the public (and IT clients specifically) relies on the Web as the primary path to information.
Based on recommendations from the Five-Year Administrative Unit Review (AUR) (http://it.ucdavis.edu/adminrev/report/) and feedback from students, faculty, and staff, IT initiated Project Swordfish last February. "It was clear that the way we had organized our services and information on IT's Web pages was not meeting the needs of faculty and students," says John Bruno, Vice Provost-Information and Educational Technology. "Project Swordfish is a direct outcome of our efforts to be responsive to the recommendations in the AUR Report."
David Shelby, Chair of IT's Administrative Unit Review Committee and Assistant Dean, Biological Sciences concurs. "The reorganized Web site makes a significant contribution to addressing the spirit and the letter of the AUR recommendations and should help people unfamiliar with IT better navigate through the organization to access the services and resources they need," says Shelby.
The primary goal has been to develop a site that is easy to navigate and provides information that users want in the way they want it. "An intelligent design can go a long way to decreasing the amount of 'surfing' people have to do and reducing the level of frustration our clients have with finding all sorts of useful information," says Kent Kuo, Swordfish Project Sponsor and Associate Director of IT-Communications Resources.
The first step will be accomplished with the launching of division-level Web pages (http://it.ucdavis.edu/). This winter all of the departmental Web pages will be redesigned as well. Eventually, every unit within IT will restructure its pages to ensure consistent navigation and accessibility on all IT Web pages.
"One of our biggest challenges was meeting the need to be many things to many people," says Babette Schmitt, Swordfish Project Manager and IT-Information and Events Manager. "We wanted to create a site that could serve the needs of the novice and the knowledgeable 'techie'." To meet this challenge, the Swordfish team created new content pages and audience-specific menus and provided context and orientation cues on all pages.
Among the most important improvements to the site is an emphasis on a broad and shallow navigation scheme. "We felt it was important to set a 'three-click' standard," says Ellen Guttadauro, member of the Swordfish Project Team and IT-Creative Communication Services. "Now when someone goes to the Division's home page, they have lots of choices from the beginning."
The realization of the three-click standard is evident in the site's emphasis on IT services rather than departments. As the AUR report pointed out, IT's Web site has been perceived by many on campus as "difficult to understand and to navigate . . . and of little help to those seeking to identify and access IT services." The site's new home page includes a list of links to IT services as a primary gateway to the information users have identified as most important.
"In redesigning the divisional site, we made a concerted effort to put the user first," says Schmitt. "Our redesign is based on consistency, predictability, thoughtful page design, and ease of navigation. We also wanted to provide fast access to accurate and relevant content." The team's concern for meeting the needs of the user included considerations for disabled users (see "Making the Web Accessible to All").
To improve the site's accessibility, the Swordfish team decided to refrain from using flashy graphics, such as animation and pop-up windows, that increase download time and prevent many users from gaining access to the site. "We were concerned that developing a technology-laden site would affect download times and set the wrong example for other Web developers to follow," says Schmitt.
Instead, the site employs technologies that enhance the site's functionality. For example, mouse-overs (short pieces of text that appear when a mouse is dragged over a link) on the home page provide a preview of the information available before clicking on a particular link. Try placing the mouse over the "instructional support" link on the home page, and the following text will appear: "faculty consulting, computer labs for instruction, media support."
The site also makes judicious use of several industry-standard navigation tools: an internal search engine, frequently asked questions, index, site map, glossary, links to related sites, and feedback mechanisms such as online surveys.
Setting design, navigation, and content management standards for all IT Web pages is another important achievement for the Swordfish team. A common set of standards will enable all IT Webmasters to work from the same assumptions and templates.
The Swordfish team hopes the site will serve as an example for others. "We are developing standards and templates for use by our Webmasters, but much of that information will also be made public in an effort to help other campus units," says Schmitt.
Once all of the IT Web pages have been redesigned, many challenges remain: keeping the content fresh and informative, meeting the changing needs and knowledge base of users, and tracking the rapidly evolving technology of the Web.
"This will be a 'work in progress' but I believe it's off to a very good start. I hope those who felt particularly strongly about the need to improve the IT Division's home page will take a look at these revisions and continue to provide comments for ongoing refinements," says Shelby.
The focus over the next two months will continue to be on gathering and analyzing feedback from users. Preliminary reactions have been positive. IT encourages all of its site visitors to provide feedback via email to email@example.com. "We really want to know what our visitors think," says Schmitt. "Without feedback, it will be very difficult to know if the site is truly meeting the needs of the campus."
"We still face some challenges, but this site is a major improvement over the old one," says Swordfish team member Lora Delwiche, IT- Advanced Network and Scientific Applications. "In fact, I rarely used the old site. I will certainly use the new one."