The web moves fast, very fast. Websites that were fresh a few years ago now look like they are from the ’90s. (in case you were not sure, in web years that is around the time the pyramids where built) I have a theory that a website lasts about as long as an iPhone. Sure you can make that old iPhone 3GS keep running, but it has started to feel pretty old hasn’t it? What? Your iPhone does not handle LTE? Time for an upgrade! I admit there is a delicate balance between a complete overhaul and a redesign. Google cannot completely redesign their search page every year or two or they will lose the consistency they need to maintain their customer base. But for schools things are different. I think a “new look” every 5 years or so (okay so that is a little longer than the lifespan of an iPhone) is a necessity and here at AES our website is overdue for an upgrade.
Even though my first instinct is to start working on the look of the website, I know we need to first tackle its purpose. It seems like the current website was “designed by committee”. Sure there are lots of advantages to that. The workload is shared. People all feel heard and get their needs met. But in the end sometimes the “designed by committee” concept fails to pack the punch that a simpler, targeted website can provide. Our new website will not meet the same set of needs in the same ways. The current website was designed to be an all-in-one portal but our new goal is to simplify things. The first step for us was to identify the audience. We have decided at this point that this is primarily prospective families and faculty. This will be somewhat of a shift for us since the old/current website seeks to be everything for everyone. The new site will be simple in design and in it’s purpose. Yes, we will have to deal with a lot of that old content in some way and that will be a part of this overhaul.
Simple design is King
I truly want the new website to make everyone sees it say, “Wow”! Part of this, for me is to make the website simple with good hierarchy in mind. I am fascinated by the research out there on eye tracking and design. Specifically I am interested to see that people’s eyes are drawn not only to images, which is what I would have assumed, but also to text. Even the subtle differences in text styles, spacing etc. make a difference. I have to say, honestly I am struggling with the work of designing of our new website. In particular I am deciding whether to hire an outside designer or “go it alone” and handle the design internally. Many of the professional designs I see are not that appealing. They look like the same old designs just recycled, recolored, and reordered. I don’t mind using my previous school as an example. The new design is fantastic, but the basics are the same. New photos, a little shifting of links, etc. but the design is not radically different. I want radical and I am not sure the average professional web designer will be willing to take the risk to design what I want.
My plan is to fill the home screen with a nice bold image, with some “thrilling” elements as well. Some of my favorite inspiration comes from Apple’s “30 years” site and a BRCK. I love the simple design, with nearly zero clicking required for the primary content. You just scroll and things are revealed. You’ve heard that all the content on a website should be no more than two clicks away. My goal is zero clicks, just a scroll or hover for the primary content.
An evolution of the AES website
To get an idea of where you are headed, it’s always nice to take a look at where you have come from. I thought it might be nice to see what the AES website has looked like over the years. Below you’ll see snapshots of four different AES websites since 2000. I’ve have to say the design has been changed for the better over the years. Personally I cannot wait to see where we end up in this evolution!
So the process has just begun, but I think things will move along nicely once we get the basic purpose and design agreed upon. Our current timeline has the content and design issues solved before the end of May, then gives us a semester (until Dec. 2014) to get the actual site designed and built. Keep your eyes out for www.aes.ac.in in Jan 2015. Let’s hope you take a look and say, “Wow”!