After eight months of extensive research and development, the Bates OMG (Online Media Group) released a fourth version of Bates’ Internet homepage on September 8, 2009. The Web site, which offers vibrant new features alongside helpful infrastructure from its previous model, is designed to showcase Bates’ rich and multifarious story.
The OMG team, a successor group to the previous web communications initiative formed in 2001, is comprised of two staff members and four Bates students. Jay Collier, in charge of strategy, management, social media and information architecture, explained that the previous page, while pragmatic in its prime, was in dire need of an upgrade.
“The face of a college is important. The system that was designed was good at the time, but the site’s appearance needs to feature the college as it is today”.
Before implementing a design strategy, Bates OMG worked to pinpoint Bates’ essential character. The group hosted open forums with students, faculty, parents and alumni starting in the winter of 2007 to gather a representative vision.
One theme of the sessions was recurring: community needs should frame the use and development of new technology, not vice versa. Ideas expressed in listening sessions signaled another outstanding consistency: the Bates experience revolves around welcoming and being open to each other. “It’s not really hospitality, but more about growth in the context of others. It’s about individuals letting down their guard and their assumptions, and paying attention and learning” said Collier.
“The home site is really a vessel, intended to hold many different perspectives about Bates and the world we live in. We are featuring student blog posts and videos, and hope to encourage more.”
These intentions are surfaced in the content and structure of the homepage, which links to stories, annotated images, and literature about students, faculty, and alumni. While the functions most frequently used by members of the community are present in “The Quad” tab, the homepage is meant to fulfill a higher purpose.
“Its not enough to just see the forest or study the individual trees. We wanted to do both: to connect the big picture with the realities of navigating life here, day to day … we wanted to connect the overall themes of the Bates education with the many different ways Bates people experience them” added Collier.
The Web team rejects the Three-Click Rule — which contends that site users are fulfilled and successful in finding media if desired content can be attained within three clicks — as the fundamental logic behind web navigation.
Instead, they place importance on the satisfaction users feel as they become incrementally closer to their terminus and build direction, regardless of their click count.
In a recent blog post web critic Karine Joly referred to the new homepage as “different and innovative … not because it uses fancy graphics or animations, but because Jay Collier and his team at Bates College have decided to make this redesigned homepage more than just a collection of the usual navigation scheme, useful links, and beautiful campus photos.”
Joly commended the site’s innovative approach to story sharing, explaining that what makes the site concept unique is “the way stories, real stories about students, faculty and staff told through blog posts, photos and news in a section called Bates Views, are featured on this homepage.”
Many students remarked on the page’s well-crafted aesthetics. Alex Friedman ‘12 said that “[the Web site] reflects the character of the college much better than the old website. [It] looks much more presentable”. Others remain loyal to the predecessor. “[The new homepage] is too polished. The old one was simple, modest and full of charm” said David Rahtz ‘12.
“I like it.” said Grif Peterson ‘09, a recent graduate. “It makes me feel like I’m still as much a part of Bates as when I was a student, which is good for those of us who are dating current students.”
The Bates OMG team holds that change is a necessary mechanism for Bates’ Internet media. “Bates requires us to be open to change. An important aspect of the site is that it’s evolutionary. We are constantly re-evaluating and reacting to criticisms.” explained Collier.
“We’re not going way out there. Some other schools need to be so far, far out; there needs to be a balance between practical and appealing, but not head-scratching. It’s a mix of practical and inspired.”