Responsive Design… implementing change at Dartmouth College

Responsive design… from a marketing perspective
Today an occasional series on the implementation of Responsive Design at higher education websites starts. Responsive design is one answer (and a popular one) to the reality that websites built for large screen viewing do not work well on smartphone screens.
I’m skeptical of any “solution” that quickly is adopted with evangelical zeal. That skepticism increased last May after insane, frothing-at-the-mouth responses on Twitter to an Alertbox article by Jakob Nielsen suggesting that Responsive Design might not be the right solution in every case for “going mobile.”
Later in the series I’ll add notes from a marketer’s perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of Responsive Design. So far I’ve visited about 25 “responsive” higher education. I’ll visit more to prepare for a Responsive Design presentation at the J.Boye Web and Intranet Conference in May.
Dartmouth College… Planning, Process, and Progress
An interview with Gene Lewis, creative director at Digital Pulp, opens the series.
In late January Mitchell Caplan, managing director at Digital Pulp, wrote to introduce me to the RD work underway for Dartmouth College. After visiting the site on my iPhone and laptop, I asked Gene if he’d agree to answer a few questions about the Dartmouth work. He agreed. Today we have answers to two questions. More will follow next week.

REJ Question: Dartmouth is off to a good start with Responsive Design. That said, it is obvious from the “Phase I” label that you plan to go further into the site so that there are fewer occasions when smartphone visitors find themselves on regular web pages. The medical school and the business school, for instance, are not yet mobile-friendly while the engineering school is.
How far down the Responsive Design trail does Dartmouth plans to go? On your blog you refer to “full depth” content. Is the plan to transform the entire site? If not, how will decisions be made about what content to delete or just leave alone?
Gene Lewis Answer
“We’ve come to realize that “Phase I” is overstating it. I might re-classify it as a .5 release. For a number of reasons, Dartmouth wanted to demonstrate progress as early as possible, so we worked with the internal team to quickly implement 3 templates that were integrated into the architecture and content (no substantive changes were made). A very light version of a Responsive approach was implemented to hint at what would be coming down the road.
“In the coming months, a entirely new architecture will debut – and with it more than 40 unique RD templates that will have been fully integrated into Drupal. Nearly every area of will be affected.”
REJ Question: The RD home page opens with four primary topics: Academics, Campus Life, Research, and About. How was the decision made to highlight those four areas?
Gene Lewis Answer
“Those sections actually weren’t touched in Phase I – they’ve remained unchanged for many years. We worked with the Dartmouth team for several months to completely re-think the entire site architecture, consolidating several hundred sites into a single cohesive structure and user experience that balances simplicity and the school’s ethos.
“While we can’t share the specific architecture until launch, we can tell you that everything has been consolidated and language has been re-tooled to more effectively balance Dartmouth’s pedagogy and relevance to the world. We think it’s going to have a big impact on how Dartmouth connects with its many audiences.”
Next week: Barriers to success and reading recommendations

“Writing Right for the Web”… for any screen size

May 30-31, Boston: “Writing Right for the Web: Improving Your Web Content,” Academic Impressions Conference. Review the topics and register.

That’s all for now.

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