January 31, 2003
Duke officials are overhauling the top pages of the university's website to create cleaner navigation and more effective online communication. Under the ambitious revamping program, which has been going on for several months, online designers and content developers are crafting a totally new look and feel for Duke's highest-level Web pages.
" We're aiming to produce a much richer site that steers visitors quickly to their destinations while highlighting the liveliness and intellectual vitality of the Duke community," says David Jarmul, associate vice president for news and communications. "We started from scratch, trying to bring order to the mass of information that's now on the site. It's been like taking many decks of cards, throwing them on the table, and then reorganizing them again and again until they make sense."
Jarmul, who was hired last year, is spearheading the Web project with news office web manager Ben Riseling, a veteran of salon.com who previously redesigned sites for several organizations. The lead designer is Elizabeth Kairys, a freelancer who created new sites for organizations ranging from the World Health Organization to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. News and Communications and other campus communications offices have been huddling with faculty members, students, professional schools, and representatives from the admissions, alumni affairs, student affairs, technology transfer, and other offices across campus for ideas.
The overhaul responds to repeated complaints by Duke's cyberspace visitors that the university's six-year-old site is obsolete, confusing, and frustrating to use. Up to now, the main pages have largely featured haphazardly organized information lists and online links instead of helpful descriptions and crisp navigation tools, says Jarmul. "It's not organized in a rational hierarchy. We hear all the time that people can't find what they're looking for, that the search engine doesn't work the way it should, that the site doesn't reflect the vitality of Duke."
The makeover campaign also responds to research showing that websites have a growing influence on how prospective students and other visitors perceive the university. "In the new world, Duke's home page is its front door to the world," says Jarmul. "It's the closest thing Duke has to a commons. People are forming opinions about Duke based on what they see there."