The University of Arizona's website is due for its biennial redesign, much to the surprise of our panelists who have praised the site in its current state. Tracey Hummel, the site's developer, says the site's success is due to its usable interfaces. Her favorite site features include the "In the News" and "Highlights" section found on the news page. "I like how it gives fresh content that changes daily and targets news and information to specific user groups," she says. While the redesign process has been delayed due to short staffing, Hummel says that ultimately her goal is to improve communication to all of her user groups.
Never far from home. No matter which page visitors have clicked onto, there will always be an icon leading them back to the home page. This facilitates quick navigation from main to deeper pages.
Smooth navigation. The navigation features in the upper-right corner are consistent and helpful.
Comprehensive news site. Connected to, but separate from the UA site is the UANews.org site, which is easy to access from the home page. It illustrates the high quality of activities happening on campus.
Attractive home page. The home page features beautiful, vibrant campus photos, including a nice mix of students, facilities, and environment. It is not overdone, however. The changing photos also keep the site fresh.
Effective companion site. One of the site's greatest features is its companion website, uaweb.arizona.edu/uaweb.shtml, which gives an overview of the site, highlighting its features and explaining its intentions. Web masters, students, faculty, and staff can all take some valuable information away from this.
Nice packaging of information. While each page is chock-full of information and links, it never feels overcrowded. The pages are clean, readable, and effective.
Unified Layout. Common graphics on most pages serve to unify the site and in turn help UA present itself as an organized and professional university.
Friendly financial aid. The financial aid page is very informative.
Addresses multiple users. The site caters to every type of visitor. As opposed to focusing its contents on what the university wants people to know, it focuses on what each specific visitor would want to know.
Se habla espanol. This site offers a home page and about eight to 10 critical secondary pages in Spanish. This is a great way to appeal to Hispanic students.
Parent-pleasing. The parent page is a wonderful resource for parents, full of links that answer every parent's questions, from tuition information to visiting campus to supporting the emotional needs of their students.
Understanding its users. The site is designed with its time-pressed visitors in mind. The icon located on the top right of the site's pages gives the option to "show more detail" or "show less detail." This is a nice service, especially because some users might find the site's many options overwhelming.
Too much white space. The background is plain white and the fonts are anything but fancy.
Unfamiliar lingo used. On the Visiting UA page there is no link for "campus tours." Rather, there's a link for "ambassador" tours. This is not a household term and might confuse visitors. Times and days for these tours are also not listed.
Buried link. The link to Financial Aid is buried. It should be a main secondary link considering its importance. Also, the calendar, which is a vital resource for both students and parents, is buried at the bottom of the home page.
Inconsistent style. The Admissions page does not follow the same style guide as the rest of the site, which takes away from the cohesiveness of the site.
Dull design. The design of the site is centered around information, which is not very enticing from an aesthetic perspective.
Crowded home page. Links on the home page could easily be consolidated. For example, the Employee Link can be grouped under Employees.
Where are the students? The photos, while lovely, look like vacation shots of Tuscon. There aren't enough photos of actual, involved students.
Minor inconsistencies. If you're going to go to the trouble of posting the Tuscon weather on more than one page, then at least be consistent. The weather posted on the home page differs from that on the athletics page.
Applying online could be easier. There is no way to save an in-progress online application. This forces students to complete it in one sitting which is unrealistic.
Add friendly faces. Students are more interested in seeing the faces of their future classmates and peers, rather than empty buildings. More people photos are needed.
Redesign text-heavy pages. Many of the pages do not scream "read me" because they are long lists of information. Create text boxes or add graphics to hold visitors' interest.
Make applying online easier. As it is, the online application fee must be paid by Visa or MasterCard. This excludes students who don't have access to a major credit card. The site should offer the opportunity for students to pay via e-check.
Separate alumni users. The site, like many university websites, groups alumni and visitors together. But alumni should be targeted separately to increase opportunities to solicit donations.
Enlarge photos. Larger photos would work especially well on pages that have lots of white space and plain fonts.
Make specific links. Some links are too vague, such as Help and Information. Because the site offers so many links, it must spell out exactly what the link will lead to.
Easier access to important pages. More direct access to the Admissions page is needed. It is one of the most important parts of the site and looks great, so it should be brought to the forefront.
Reprioritize information. On the Visiting UA page, the virtual reality tour should be at the top of the online tours list and not at the bottom. While the artwork tour (which is listed first) is beautiful, the virtual reality tour is the one that tells the story of the campus.
Joanne Fawcett is a college counselor at North Shore High School (N.Y.).
Mayta Spitz is the parent of a college student.
Sara Lindholm is a freshman at Tufts University (Mass.).
Keith Moore is the principal of Keith Moore Associates (www.keith-mooreassociates.com), a marketing and communications consulting firm specializing in higher education.
Kirk Snedeker is web manager for University Business and former webmaster for Southern Connecticut State University.