McGill's web revamped: Website redesign offers smooth sailing to navigators

McGill's web revamped: Website redesign offers smooth sailing to navigators McGill University

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McGill Reporter
August 24, 2006 - Volume 39 Number 01
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McGill's web revamped

Caption follows

The website redesign team takes a breather after months of hard work. LEFT TO RIGHT: Karl Jarosiewicz, Susan Murley, Stephane Daury and Eric Smith.
Owen Egan

Website redesign offers smooth sailing to navigators

"I love it! It's fun, it's fresh, it's user friendly." That's what Lina Di Genova said to Sheri South about McGill's new website. The two planning analysts in the Office of Planning and Institutional Analysis had nothing but raves for the "great" look when they turned on their computers yesterday morning. "It's easy on the eyes," South agreed. "There's more functionality and we can be more creative in how we group information."

The new site, launched August 23, presents a more dynamic, informative and user-friendly face to the world. It is the first of an ongoing website make-over of a staggering 25,000 webpages designed to freshen the look, provide more and better organized information and make it easier for people to find what they are looking for.

Better photos, new information, better display space for special events and activities, announcements on the homepage, more flexibility — these are just a few of the upgrades of phase one. Phase two will focus on a badly needed revamp of the search engine, expected in the coming months, and on global navigation.

The redesign has been in the works for almost a year and is the result of a team drawn from McGill's Web Service Group, Information Systems Resources (WSG) and the Office of the Associate Vice-Principal (Communications).

The mandate was clear. Make the site more efficient, easier to navigate, and look great. With about 3.5 million page views per week, www.mcgill.ca is increasingly the University's first point of contact with people from around the world and is an essential tool for students, professors and employees, said Jennifer Robinson, Associate Vice-Principal.

Karl Jarosiewicz, WSG manager, said the challenge was considerable, and there is still more work to be done. "When taking into account all of the people who hold sites within our system, it was a challenge to get a consensus on change. But by listening to people, we were able to come up with fresh ideas, build on the lessons of the past, and launch a site that is both graphically and functionally pleasing."

With a preliminary design in hand, Jarosiewicz and Susan Murley, director of special projects in communications, consulted on the design with members of the McGill community over several months.

"People were looking for a simpler design. They wanted as much information as is on the current page but presented more cleanly," said Murley. Together with WSG information architect and designer Eric Smith, and Stephane Daury, WSG lead programmer and web system architect, the result is the slick site you see today.

Gone are the long lists of links once found on the university's pages. In their place Smith designed a QuickLinks tool that allows links to be grouped into categories that users can easily scan and is simpler to navigate. Faculties and schools, and staff directories and maps are conveniently grouped in drop-down menus. The new pages also carry photo slideshows of university life, and a catchy Features box that is capable of videostreaming and showcasing special events, initiatives, publications and other important items.

The new slide show feature with its cool transition between images and captions was created using up-to-date dynamic HTML, which allows for smooth, Flash-like graphics and for the crucial function of wide accessibility.

The webpages must be accessible to everyone, including people with visual impairments. By separating the content and style formatting, the information can be read independently of the graphic elements, which makes McGill's sites one of the leading sites in Canada for accessibility. "For people with disabilities who are using special assistive technologies such as text-to-speech browsers, they're able to interact with the pages easily," said Jarosiewicz.

"A big challenge was programming, because every design change creates changes at the program level," said Jarosiewicz. "Daury and programmer Konstantin Ryabitsev were brilliant in laying the technological foundation for the new tools. They knew the kind of things we'd ask them to do, and made sure everything we could throw at them could be accommodated. Meanwhile, Ed Bilodeau worked on creating beautiful clean templates and style sheets. What people see is just the tip of the iceberg."

"Part of what we have managed to solve is helped by advances in technology," explained Smith. "With the type of layout we are using right now, we are able to have a lot of information on the page without all of it appearing at the same time."

"The revamped site will allow McGill to further reach out using the most innovative technology," said Associate Vice-Principal Robinson.

"We are exploring more dynamic uses for the site, such as virtual tours and podcasting the Mini lectures in law, medicine and other disciplines," said Robinson. "The possibilities for multimedia and interactive communications for McGill are exciting."

Over the next few months in phase two, templates will be put in place to make the site compatible with other devices with smaller screens such as cell phones, PDAs or those yet to be invented. In addition to focusing on global navigation and the search tool, individual staff pages will be overhauled. Jarosiewicz said that the team will tackle the functionality of the entire site's three major tools — news, events and announcements. Of course, further consultation with the community will take place.

"The beauty of a website is that you can constantly upgrade and improve it," added Robinson. "That's really what we are doing now — it is a very dynamic and evolving medium.

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