Defining Phase II

The launch of our new site in OmniUpdate Monday marks the conclusion of Phase I of our redesign. Now we move into Phase II in which we’ll focus on about two dozen key projects over the next two to three months.  These include implementation of a mobile platform, a customized news module and a major upgrade of our events calendar.

Also on our list is the conversion and upgrade of the following pages and sites:

  • Academics
  • Sustainability
  • Career Development Center
  • Advancement
  • Alumni
  • Creative Thought Works
  • Health Professions Advisory Committee
  • Celebration Weekend
  • Zankel Music Center
  • Campus Safety
  • Office of the Dean of Special Programs / MALS
  • Human Resources
  • First-Year Experience
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Vice President for Academic Affairs / Dean of Faculty
  • Social Media page
  • Writing Center
  • Commencement
  • HEOP
  • A-Z index
  • Skidmore Cares


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Our new site has been up and running since about 6:30 a.m. The system is requiring a few edits, fixes, and tweaks, but all is proceeding pretty much as expected. We’ve made it into orbit. Whew.

It’s been a long road and we still have a ways to go. High on our list, for example, are  our new mobile platform and new custom news module, both of which should roll out next month. We also must transfer thousands of pages from our old content management system into our new one, redesigning along the way a number of key sites (including “Creative Thought at Work” and the Zankel Music Center page).

But this is a major milestone. All of us in Communications have been involved in this project in various ways over the last year, but it’s our Web team that has really driven this, addressing myriad issues, devising solutions, and keeping us on schedule. In just a few months, Andy Camp, Liz Katzman, Jenn Crewell and Idalia Sepulveda not only implemented a wholly new design but also mastered a new content management system.  Special congratulations and thanks to you all.

Nearly 1,000 students, faculty and staff colleagues, alumni and parents participated either in our surveys or focus groups, so the list of people we’d like to thank is actually that long. The contributions of those who really stand out we acknowledge in this piece we’ve just posted on our site.

We of course are continuing to listen closely to all who, visiting the new site, come away with suggestions for further improvements. Toward that end, we’ll be posting  on the site soon this brief user survey. It has only a half-dozen questions and will take only a minute to complete. Please tell us what you think.





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Sharing a Link

Nice report here by Adrian Appleman of The Skidmore News on our Web site redesign.


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The New Skidmore Home Page: Finished

Following a series of presentations this week to the President’s Cabinet, SGA, and trustees and members of the Alumni Association board of directors, we’re pleased to announce that our design for the new Skidmore home page is finished.

Here are several links that show the new design in action:

Home Page 1

Home Page 2

Home Page 3

Home Page 4

Home Page 5 (Shows student “quick links”)

Home Page 6 (Shows extended CTM tab)

All audiences with whom we’ve shared the new design have responded enthusiastically. We were confident they would because our surveys and focus groups had indicated very clearly which features in our “round 2” designs resonated most strongly with our audiences. Andy Camp has skillfully pulled them together in a distinctive new design that everyone seems to agree says “Skidmore.”

Now that our basic approach to the home page is defined, we’ll move on to designing  other  top-level pages. Here, for example, is a draft design for our new “About Skidmore” page. We’re conferring with SGA’s Ad Hoc Committee on the design of our new “Student Life” and “Students” pages, and we’ll soon schedule an online focus group with alumni to get their input on our new “Alumni page.”  We’re also mapping out our new “News and Events” page, which OmniUpdate will start custom-building for us next month.

[Note: To browse additional images of the new home-page design, click here.]

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Round 2 Results Are In

More than 600 students, alumni, parents, faculty and staff participated either in our recent “round 2” survey or open forums. We’re delighted that so many members of the Skidmore community are interested in the challenge of designing a new Skidmore home page and we appreciate the input.

Here are the survey results:

As we’ve mentioned, we’re fortunate to have as advisors in this process three visually astute faculty members in John Weber, Deb Hall, and Flip Phillips. Reviewing the results with them Thursday in our second design review meeting, we agreed that our challenge is to come up with a design that satisfies both the College’s attachment to tradition and its “CTM” essence – its readiness to experiment and take risks. Design A appears to appeal most to those who value tradition and predictable navigation, while Design C speaks most strongly to those who value Skidmore’s pursuit of the new and different.

Much of our discussion focused on ways from a design standpoint to resolve this tension between these two competing values. We aim to have new designs to share soon.


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Heading into Round 2

Nearly 400 faculty, staff members, alumni, students, parents and prospective students gave us their perspectives on the two home-page designs we started testing in January. We heard several consistent themes and have been reworking our designs accordingly.  Today we begin distributing another round of surveys to faculty and staff members, alumni, parents, and all students. We’ll also invite the entire campus community to two open forums we’ve scheduled in Murray-Aikins Rooms 1 and 2 on Tuesday, March 20 at 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

We’ve revised Designs A and B and added a third ‘Design C’ that departs significantly from both by positioning its top-level navigation down the left side of the home pager rather than across the top of the page. Click any of these images to view them full size.

Design A

Design B

Design C

Our surveys will be distributed by email. You also may respond by clicking the appropriate link below:

The input you provide us in this round of surveys and focus groups will be incorporated in a third round of design modifications leading ultimately to a final recommendation that we will make to SGA, President’s Cabinet, Alumni Board, and Board of Trustees. Throughout this process, we have appreciated the counsel of three of Skidmore’s most visually astute faculty members: John Weber, Dayton Director of the Tang Museum; Deb Hall, associate professor of art; and Flip Phillips, professor of psychology.

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The Redesign Process

A website redesign is often shrouded in mystery, so I wanted to take a few minutes to demystify the process for you. Below is an image of the process in its most basic form without dates. As you can see from the graphic, there are 4 phases before launch—Initial Design and Research, Interactive, Redesign, and Implementation and Testing.

(Click the image to see it at the full size.)



The Initial Design and Research Phase

The Initial Design and Research Phase works pretty much how it sounds—a starting design is created based on a lot of research. Often the research consists of talking with people, analyzing web statistics, and looking at other sites to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what would work for your site. In order to make further design discussions easier,  a design is built from the research giving less room for interpretation of ideas and getting everyone on the same page for discussions. This design is by no means the final design. It’s simply a starting point to begin the broader discussions.

This important step began for Skidmore in early April 2011. The Web Operations team met for almost 3 months to build a starting design for discussions. The initial design was created after following all three parts of this phase. The group researched designs, snippets, and trends  being used by other websites at the time. The focus wasn’t just college sites, but rather any site on the web with interesting ides so a broad scope of ideas could be evaluated. The group also analyzed web statistics on Skidmore’s site to determine visitors’ behaviors, and a survey was sent to a select group on campus with face-to-face discussions added to the mix.

A new group (the Web Update Group or WUG) was formed in October and  included people from the Office of Communications. Their intent was to build a second version of the initial design. Two designs (A and B) were created for a full campus review.

Interactive Phase

The Interactive Phase is the point in the process where the designs are shown to a large audience for comments and concerns. WUG began the Interactive Phase on January 20 by sending surveys out to faculty and staff. In the weeks that followed, surveys went to SGA members, JAWs participants, Early Decision students, interested prospective students, local high school students, and alumni. In addition, discussions were held with Advancement, Admissions, and SGA.

Skidmore’s redesign is in the early stages of the Interactive Phase. The Web Update Group will begin focus groups with different constituents to discuss the designs and the needs of each group in March. Don’t worry if you don’t want to be part of the focus groups, but still want to participate in a broader discussion. This blog is part of the Interactive Phase and you can use it to add your comments, ask questions, or simply follow the process. The Interactive Phase overlaps the Redesign Phase which we get into next.

Redesign Phase

The Redesign Phase is short compared to the other phases. In this phase, the comments from the Interactive Phase are discussed, debated, and used to create a new version of the design. The two phases overlap because there is often limited discussion and interaction once the new design is created. The discussions on the newest design are much more limited at this point, otherwise, the process runs the risk of becoming an infinite loop of design and discussion.

Implementation and Testing Phase

Once the design is finalized, it’s time to begin programming. In many ways, this is the phase most shrouded in mystery for non-programmers. I once explained programming as writing a letter in French to a browser. In the letter, I describe how I want the page to look and give directions on how the browser and server should talk to each other. Different browsers speak different dialects and as in any communication, there are going to be times when things are misunderstood. We’ve complicated the process a bit because we’re switching to a new CMS and implementing HTML 5 with CSS3. If you use the analogy of writing the letter in French, then we are switching the paper and pen we use (new CMS) and writing the letter in a newer version of French (HTML 5 and CSS 3).

All of those issues are why we test after we finish programming. Something in Firefox may not work in Chrome or the logic in the directions may be off. The testing phase does not catch every bug in the system, but it’s intent is to weed out the bulk of them. The best testing uses several people going through the site and tracking what they did to cause errors. If you are interested in testing the site down the road, please leave a comment or email me.

I hope this clears up the process for you. Periodically, I will post with a new graphic so you can see where we are. And as always, send us your questions or concerns by leaving a comment or sending me an email.

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Presentation of Designs to SGA

Dan Forbush and I met with student government on 1/31 to go over the proposed design. We introduced the designs and went over each of them. We sampled each function on the designs – the drop-downs, drop-ups, creative space, large image area, etc. We also explained the color palette in that we used the ctm (creative thought matters) color palette to compliment the Skidmore colors (green and gold).

Going over the designs was very beneficial as the students did tell us that there wasn’t enough documentation about the designs and what set them apart from each other. We received a number of questions from the students about the designs, which will be posted in a faq section soon. This section will answer questions about the designs, how we arrived at them and what we will be doing going forward.

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Progress Update for January

With January almost over, I wanted to post a quick update on our progress. The Office of Communications sent surveys to faculty and staff last week asking for opinions on the two home page designs and will soon be sending surveys to current students and a select group of prospective students. We’ve gotten a lot of excellent feedback and it will help us improve the design to meet what Skidmore needs. If you haven’t taken the survey yet, please do so.

There’s not much yet movement on the new CMS. It is in the early planning stages. We are working with the vendor on the implementation timeline, determining the migration methods, and planning the best way to set up the process.

To help with the transition if you have any questions on the process or the CMS, leave a comment and we’ll try to answer it in a post.

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First Steps

Today marks the beginning of what we’re calling the “interactive” phase of our effort to design and launch by mid-year a major upgrade of Skidmore’s Web site.

For the next few months, a six-member team in Communications will consult widely with prospective students, current students, faculty, staff and alumni on the design of a new Web site. In February, we’ll conduct focus groups with interested volunteers representing each of these groups. Today, we emailed surveys to all faculty, staff and current students and activated a Web-embedded survey that asks visitors to our site to evaluate their experience with it. (If you received the survey, we hope you’ll complete it.)

In starting our discussions with the Skidmore community, we’re sharing two possible designs for a new Skidmore home page, which you’ll find here and here.

Design B

Design B

Design A

Design A

Research completed last spring by Boston-based consultants Holland Mark points clearly to changes we can make to the site to better engage prospective students. In addition to simply updating the appearance of our site — which has not had a thorough redesign since 2006 — we must articulate more boldly the distinctive qualities of Skidmore that underlie Creative Thought Matters. Also, as Holland Mark put it, we must “connect CTM to consequence,” showing how students leverage their Skidmore experiences into successful careers and noteworthy social, artistic, and civic contributions.

In keeping with the rapid shift toward social media, we likewise must shift from static institutional “copy” on our site to stories told dynamically by our students, alumni and faculty. We also must implement a well-conceived mobile platform that makes the Skidmore site easy to navigate for those who access it with tablets and phones.

All of this will be facilitated by our simultaneous implementation of a new content management system offered by OmniUpdate, an advanced platform adopted by more than 600 colleges and universities. Among the many advantages that OmniUpdate offers over our current content management system is the fact that it operates in the “cloud” on OmniUpdate servers, not Skidmore servers. That means our site always will be running on the latest version of their software. OmniUpdate also offers a more intuitive user interface and a superior news management system.

We’re really looking forward to making the move.

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