I’ll see you and raise you.

I get the point of this post by Matt Klawitter. Like Matt, I also bemoan the default position of colleges and universities to serve everyone, and no one, with their websites. Still, I think there’s a bit more to the story. So to @mattklawitter I say, I’ll see you and raise you.

I’d like to make two points: 1) an .edu homepage offers the chance to influence more than prospectives and donors, and 2) complexity and simplicity are two extremes of the same continuum.

Point 1: I like the idea of having a laser sharp focus on primary audience and the initial wireframe and IA for an .edu website should be the underpinning for delivering content to [put your primary audience here]. Still, I think that an exceptional design presents an opportunity to deliver information to additional constituent and stakeholder groups without compromising the focus on “Give” and “Get.” Here are a couple of ideas to demonstrate:

Audience Gateways
A plan for webpages that offer links to resources and information that the internal community uses on an almost daily basis is a good idea. More than once, I’ve seen the convenience offered by an audience gateway trump a concern (or worse, an attitude) that the website should offer more for the internal stakeholders. Keep this idea in your back pocket if you are in the middle of a web redesign project. Faculty, staff and students will give up stakes on the homepage when they see the value of a well-constructed audience gateway.

News & Events
All content that appears are on .edu homepages should be curated. News you feature and events you highlight should be based on editorial decisions that are consistent with the messaging platform outlined in your communication strategy. When you choose well, the campus community, parents, legislators, and other ancillary audiences will also be influenced by this content. Your homepage can offer points of pride for many audiences without muddying the focus on prospectives and donors.

Point 2: What comes first? Simplicity or complexity.
I guess I want to stand up in support of the idea that colleges and universities are incredibly complex organizations. I understand firsthand the challenges that fact presents for communication. My point is that there is complexity before and after the simple (and effective) wireframe for an .edu site. Even making it simple by a focus on prospectives is complex because the changing nature of higher education means a larger number of segments exist within the prospective student constituency: undergraduates, part-time, graduates, online programs, and the list goes on. The donor audience is also multi-faceted and includes young alumni who might respond to annual appeals via social media and are thus potential visitors to .edu sites and older alumni who expect a personal visit from a development officer and therefore are not influenced by even the most effective university homepage.

And frankly, don’t we want the complex at the same time we’re going for the simple? How many times do you choose option B even though you came in looking for option A? (That’s what Target means for me.) Likewise, we want our .edu visitors to find what they are looking for but we also want to subtly get in their way with useful and compelling content that is outside the scope of what they came in to see.

Thanks for inspiring my responses, Matt. Chalk another one up for Twitter, where I first saw the link to your post.

4 thoughts on “I’ll see you and raise you.

  1. Very good article Susan; thanks for articulating some of the things I’ve been wondering and thinking about, even for print communications.

    “…we want our .edu visitors to find what they are looking for but we also want to subtly get in their way with useful and compelling content that is outside the scope of what they came in to see.” I wholeheartedly agree! Give the folks what they want but always make relevant suggestions as to what they may not yet know.

  2. Very thought provoking – I love the idea of simplicity and complexity on the same continuum. Seems to me that the ultimate goal is elegance – the point where complex structures and ideas are presented in their simplest, most intuitive form.

  3. My apologies to @mattklawitter. I originally included the image created by Matt for his post I and did not request his advance permission to do so. By my “courtesy of” caption, I implied that I used the image with his knowledge. At Matt’s request, I have removed the image but I include this comment for those of you who saw it here prior to 3:45PM on March 6, 2012.

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