Higher Education Websites: A Few of the Best

Colleges and universities are in the business of attracting new students, maintaining their current student population and faculty, recruiting talented faculty and support staff,  and perhaps most importantly, fundraising to ensure their institution has the resources to provide their constituents with a first-rate education and experience. A key outlet to address all these parties is through a website. Unfortunately,  many colleges and universities lack powerful websites (which is absurd considering their own faculty teach web design and online communication). Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of what I believe are the leading higher education websites today, and have highlighted their strengths in the caption boxes.

W&M

The College of William & Mary. What I like: simple layout, vivid imagery, straightforward navigation bars, uncluttered, and easy on the eyes

Bates

Bates College. What I like: beautiful imagery, large image, white space, many quick links, and clear navigation bar

Hampshire

Hampshire College. What I like: ample white space, easy on the eye, straight to the point, non-busy, and simple

McGill

McGill University. What I like: unusually placed navigation bar, list of popular pages and tools, succinct list of news and events, and background imagery on the footer

Alberta

University of Alberta. What I like: prominent “apply now”, “careers”, and “give back” buttons, and interesting button navigation bar

NYU

New York University. What I like: minimalist design, lots of white space, extensive list of links, and color balance

WPC

Warner Pacific College. What I like: tailored to student users, tabs for faculty and parents, non-busy design, even balance between the header and the main content (news, links, and events)

OSU

Oregon State University. What I like: extensive footer with relevant links and easy-to-absorb events list

Depauw

DePauw University. What I like: header and footers are balanced, simple design, lots of white space, listing of key stats, and beautiful imagery

Loyola_accepted students page

Loyola University Maryland’s page for accepted students. What I like about this: innovative way to engage with students before they even step on campus, fresh colors, inviting, clear layout, big buttons, and lots of white space

Tufts_virtual tour

Tufts University’s virtual tour page. What I like about this: innovative idea (let’s face it, few prospective students can afford the road trips/flights required to visit schools), and eye-catching landing page

WordPress is going to be my BFF

wordpress-logoFor the last year I’ve been somewhat of a regular blogger on WordPress. I was tossed into the blogosphere back in January 2012 when I was required to post on specific topics each week per course requirements.

naseemspeaks-blog

 

A year later, I’ve had a few thousand hits to my blog and some semi-interesting content for readers to explore. While I’m not a WordPress expert, I’m becoming more comfortable with the tool and its ability to become a pretty powerful Content Management System. However, this semester I will become a master at WordPress and learn how to customize the tools and system. As much as I’m excited about this new journey, I’m terrified about the PHP, HTML, and CSS involved. Thankfully, I have Lynda.com and great instructors this semester who will help me through this process and within a few months I should be a WordPress master! A girl can dream…

Taking Critique Like a Champ

ImageHearing feedback is not always easy or fun. In fact, it’s a bit tough, especially, when you’re a new web designer and after painstakingly learning the ins and outs of Photoshop and Illustrator you’ve created a decent mock up of your website only to have it torn to pieces. Well, it actually wasn’t that bad. In fact, I learned so much from hearing my colleagues’ feedback on my web design (and from seeing the designs they were working on).

ImageMost importantly, my colleagues and instructor were able to give me a fresh perspective on the design and could catch things that I couldn’t (or wasn’t trained to see). That was definitely a benefit and I’ll be incorporating some new changes into the design. However, I say that feedback is tough to take because when you get so far along with a design, it’s sometimes hard to have yet another go at it. Sometimes you just want to move forward and get on with it (probably not the best approach!). But that’s life and I know first-hand from my job as an editor that the more times text goes back and forth in the revision process, the better. I guess I will just have to get used to it!

“Criticism is a necessary evil for growth. We all get it, and we all unfortunately need it.”

Why in the World Am I Learning Outdated Code?! I’ll tell you.

ImageFor the past several months I’ve been learning the basics of HTML and CSS. From making ordered lists to reworking cells, I’ve gained an intense amount of information that seems to be of some use to an aspiring web designer and developer like me. However, with HTML5 and CSS3 quickly gaining more speed and acceptance by the web’s governing bodies, it would seem that my coursework will be positioning me for failure as the HTML and CSS code that I’ve learned will not even be in practice soon.

So for people like me that are in the early stages of their journey to understand web design and development—should we continue with the other soon-to-be-outdated code like XHTML and CSS2 when there is a very good chance that it too will no longer be of use in the near future? While I’m no expert, I believe that laying down a solid foundation is the key to success in learning new skills or gaining knowledge.

ImageWhile some of the code may be out of use by the time we become full-fledged web developers, I believe learning what other, more successful coders learned is a wise path to follow. It doesn’t hurt to learn the basics and build on it! That said, I’m not looking forward to learning several versions of HTML and CSS just because of the time consuming, mind-numbing process of it. And knowing my luck, by the time I get caught up to HTML5 and CSS3, the latest versions of the code–HTML6 and CSS4–will be on the horizon!

 

Is it Possible to Determine a Website’s Success?

While there are millions of sites on the Internet today, not all of them are successful. How does one determine a website’s success? Some might consider a website successful if it makes a “Best Designed” list. Others might deem a website appropriate if it shows up in the top ten page results for Google searches. Lastly, some might judge a website’s success based on whether enough people know it and recognize it (i.e. Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc.).

Sure, it’s important to be searchable via Google, be recognized by the public, and have a web design that is worthy of being mentioned by fellow designers online, but I think that a successful website is based on a few other things, such as: a) the website reaches its target audience b) the website’s users’ experience is at least satisfactory c) the website’s content is clearly organized.

Some web designers get caught up in the hype of creating something that will draw attention. I think that creativity is a great addition to a website but its main purpose is to reach and serve its target audience while providing them with an extraordinary user experience that includes information that is laid out in a logical way. I’m fully aware that my personal portfolio website may only reach a few people and may not be easily searchable via Google, but as long as the right people are able to find my website and have an enjoyable time seeing my work and reading my material, I would consider it a success!

HTML5 Redefined

The original HTML5 brand and corresponding logo was meant to encompass HTML5 plus CSS, SVG, WOFF, and others. Because the brand covered more than its namesake, there was some controversy among web designer and developers. Those against HTML5 being all-inclusive were web designers and developers who felt that the brand and logo were “blurring the lines between separate technologies” that were already being bundled together and mixed up.

I’d have to agree on this one. As a novice web designer and developer (and I’m using those titles very loosely), I know first-hand that HTML5 is already a pretty complex concept and field. Adding more technologies under its umbrella makes it that much more confusing. Today, I think HTML5 is more clearly defined as just that—the latest version of hyper text markup language—which works for me.

Web Design/ Developer Tools—Good or Bad?

The instructor of my web design course has filled us students in on a little secret—there’s a tab generator! So basically, instead of learning the code needed to create tabs, I could just generate a custom one. How cool is that?!

Well it is pretty neat and not really the only thing that can help a web designer never have to learn how to code. In fact, there are ready-to-go web templates and other types of generators out there for whatever you need—colors, fonts, forms, etc. But are these helpful or hurtful to web designers?

I think that they are helpful because they save web designers and developers time. But a web designer shouldn’t rely on this and should be capable of creating a tab or whatever it may be without a generator. For increased efficiency I would employ generators if I’m on a tight deadline but would try to do them on my own if possible because that ensures 100% creativity with no confines to generator boundaries.