Clean & simple wins in web design… more on the Bucknell University example

Blowing the doors off university website design: innovation run wild at Bucknell

A couple of weeks ago someone posted a request on a higher education listserv… Could anyone recommend a firm to create a website design that would “blow the doors off” other university sites?

One of the first people to respond used a new Bucknell University site as an example of innovative university website design. 
While the Bucknell site is indeed different, it isn’t an example of a clean and simple site that makes it easy for future students to complete the top tasks that bring them to the site. Quickly finding content about academic programs and affordability was not a design priority. Last week I wrote about Bucknell and sites following a similar design path as well as two others taking a much different and visitor-friendly approach.
Opinion from Gerry McGovern and Gord Hopkins
I also sent a link to Bucknell to my Carewords partners and asked for their thoughts. After his visit to the site, Gerry McGovern wrote a column, “Revenge of the brochureware billboard designers.” Gord Hopkins at Neo Insight in Ottawa sent a detailed critique and I’ll share some of those points with you now. 
Open the Bucknell home page and view it as you read along.
Gord’s Reaction Points

“Very confusing design. So much is hidden and there are many confusing elements:
  1. Dates on the left — what are they for? What will happen if I click? What does ‘Now’ mean?
  2. What does the clock icon in the top right mean? Nothing happens on roll over. (You have to click the clock to get inside.)
  3. There is a line stating ‘What do you want to see?’ just before the banner with a close symbol far right. No indication of what to do with this feature or how to get it to help me specify what I want to see.
  4. The ‘Everything Directory’ looks like a dirty magnet but there is no menu associated with it. It’s really an A-Z index — why not call it what it is?
  5. Huge amount of real estate is taken up with a picture that does not help me with any task but pushes potentially valuable links below the fold to the point where the website has to tell me to scroll down. That effectively says ignore the top stuff and scroll to the stuff that might be useful.
  6. It invites me to Customize this homepage but there is no link to let me do that.
  7. It is not clear why some of the rectangles at the bottom of the page look like they are greyed out or inactive and why others are highlighted and say ON. When I click one of the greyed items it says it is changing page content but all that seems to change is that the indicator changes to ON. What is the purpose of this? How do you actually get to this content that they asked me to scroll down to?
  8. If I click on something of interest, like ‘Learning at Bucknell,’ it simply removes that option unless I close the confusing customization part.
  9. If I finally figure out how to get to some content, I have to both scroll vertically and horizontally and it is not clear what I will get if I ask to print the page.”
Clean & simple vs. Cute and clever
The main take away here: if you want to spend the time, you can figure out how the Bucknell home page works. But web visitors are very impatient. If they can’t connect in less than 5 seconds with content related to a top task and move along to complete that task, many will leave. 
“Cute and clever” fails against “clean and simple.” A “cute and clever” home page does not help you grow your brand strength, it just proves you can be cute and clever.
Clean and simple: University of Ottawa
To see a different approach to website design that gives center-page priority to just four top tasks, visit the University of Ottawa home page. The proverbial full disclosure: Neo Insight did the top task research essential to deciding what links were most important.
The innovative emphasis here on just four links truly does “blow the doors off” university website design.
That’s all for now.

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