Centre to ring in new year with new website
November 27, 2013 By Mariel Smith
Communications Michael Strysick says. "We want a beautiful,
compelling site that is sure to highlight what differentiates
Centre from other national liberal arts colleges."
The new website will utilize responsive web design, which
automatically resizes webpages for accurate display across any
platform, from laptop and tablet to smartphone and desktop computer.
Many welcome the New Year as a time for change, and the Centre College Communications Office will certainly be doing so this January when it unveils a brand new website.
Director of Communications Michael Strysick explains the need for a complete redesign.
"The last major redesign of the Centre website was completed in 2009," he says. "Mobile technology in particular has evolved at a rapid pace over that period, and we want to provide a positive web presence for the constantly increasing number of smartphone users."
For Visual and Web Designer Ryan Lanigan, who spearheaded the massive redesign, one of the most necessary updates was the implementation of a content management system (CMS), which automates many web functions.
"Instead of painstakingly editing one page at a time, contributors will now be able to edit content once and see it propagate throughout the site in various feeds, posts and pages," he explains.
Strysick is particularly excited about the responsive web design of the new website, which automatically resizes webpages for accurate display across any platform, from laptop and tablet to smartphone and desktop computer.
One of the biggest challenges of the redesign has been ensuring that the website remains a functional resource for the many audiences (faculty, current students, alumni, parents and prospective students) who use it.
"Our website analytics make clear that our most significant traffic is recruitment-oriented," Strysick explains. "The higher education landscape is increasingly competitive, and we don't want to be at a disadvantage from the standpoint of our electronic presence. As such, we must be extra sensitive to designing for an audience of 16- and 17-year-olds."
Some of the new web features used to showcase Centre are the RebelMouse social media aggregate, which gathers multiple social media platforms in one place; use of parallax, a scrolling billboard function, to highlight what sets Centre apart from other institutions; and an increase in video and still photography to highlight the eye-catching essence of Centre.
Aside from the bells and whistles that make the new website sleek and modern, major work was done to understand the overall logic of the website, including how various visitors might navigate to different sections of content.
"Currently, we have navigation options both across the top and along the side of the Centre homepage, along with several big buttons," Strysick says. "We're moving toward a single global navigational structure that will be used as a more intuitive hierarchy of information."
This streamlined navigation also requires consolidation of the website's main content.
"Over time, the current website has become a bit cluttered," Strysick says, "and we're using this opportunity to pare and prune; we want to address repetition and redundancy where possible."
For Lanigan, the process of paring and pruning has been one of the most challenging.
"The existing site is based on individual HTML pages that have to be edited individually," he explains. "Transferring all that information into a more dynamic system has taken a lot of time and a lot of help from within the department."
Strysick is most proud of the cooperative and coordinated effort among offices across campus and within Communications to make the website compelling and functional for the many people who use it.
"It's been a team effort," he says. "While Ryan Lanigan is doing the heavy lifting and may deserve a statue once all is said and done, multiple members of our team, including Mary Kay Jones, John Rusnak and Mariel Smith, have pitched in. We've also had great cooperation from the team at ITS and many offices across campus."
Lanigan has enjoyed the process of researching what other successful college websites are doing well and what they could do better.
"It's allowed us to pick and choose features from existing sites," he says. "I find the task of collecting various successful features and tailoring them for a given message both challenging and rewarding. It's like making internet burgoo."
Indeed, the burgoo metaphor is one that works fairly well for Lanigan in describing the redesign process in general.
"We're taking a variety of new and old elements, seasoning them to fit our taste, and mixing them all together," he says. "We feel like we've created a pretty balanced, and hopefully tasty, stew."
Ultimately, the redesign ensures that Centre puts its best foot forward, whether for students physically visiting campus or those virtually exploring Centre from a phone or tablet.
"It's all about rethinking our virtual front door," Strysick says. "We want a beautiful, compelling site that is sure to highlight what differentiates Centre from other national liberal arts colleges."
The new Centre website is scheduled to launch at noon on January 6, 2014. Two campus-wide meetings are being held: the first is on Wednesday, December 4, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. The second is on Thursday, December 5, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. All members of the Centre community are invited to preview the website, ask questions and give feedback.
Centre College, founded in 1819, offers its students a world of opportunities, highlighted by one of the nation's premier study abroad programs and a faculty ranked #5 in the nation for "Best Undergraduate Teaching" at a liberal arts college by U.S. News & World Report in 2013. Centre graduates enjoy extraordinary success, with entrance to top graduate and professional schools, prestigious fellowships for further study abroad (Rhodes, Rotary, Fulbright), and rewarding jobs (on average, 97 percent are employed or in advanced study within 10 months of graduation).