Purchase Launches Completely Revamped Website for 2017 and Beyond
We kicked off the redesign in early 2016, working with White Whale Web Services (a California-based design firm specializing in higher education). When we began, we didn’t know exactly where we’d end up. But we had a few concrete goals in mind for the project.
Consistency across devices and platforms
College websites get almost as much traffic on mobile devices as they do on desktops; so of course, consistent usability across devices and platforms was one of our top priorities. But “usable on a phone” is a pretty low bar in 2017; we have hoped to create a site that feels intuitive and native on a phone, that’s every bit as easy to use as it is on a computer. Responsive web design is an ongoing process, and our site will continue to evolve as the web does, but we believe we’re off to a good start.
Our site needs to work not just for a range of devices, but for a range of human beings as well. People with disabilities are just as welcome at Purchase as anyone else, and we want our site to be welcoming and usable when accessed with assistive technologies. This is another area where there’ll always be room for improvement, and we’re committed to keeping up with best practices and new opportunities.
User-oriented content strategy
We began this process by considering the needs of all our site’s audiences, both here at Purchase (students, faculty, staff) and beyond (prospective students, alumni, and everyone else). We’ve worked hard to reorganize the content and structure of our site to better suit the needs of our audiences; our new site is much easier to navigate and use, whether you’re a first-time visitor or someone who uses it every day.
There are examples of this new strategy throughout the site. But the best way we can demonstrate our site’s content strategy is to invite you to click around and try it for yourself. If you’re looking for something specific and you can’t find it, let us know.
A design that matches Purchase: unconventional, colorful, constantly changing
There’s more to Purchase than our arts programs— much more, in fact— but we are known as a powerhouse in the visual and performing arts. And the creativity and sense of experimentation that permeates our curriculum needs to drive our website as well.
When our design partners at White Whale visited campus for the first time, they were surprised at how often Purchase people asked what color the site was going to be. People who know Purchase know why that is. Our school colors are heliotrope and puce, and our “official palette” has 16 colors in it. (This just isn’t a “Go Blue!” kind of school.) White Whale found an ingenious and unusual way to honor this aspect of Purchase culture: by literally creating the site’s color palette from Purchase itself.
The color scheme of the entire Purchase core site is pulled dynamically from the large feature photo used on the homepage. Users can select from a set of feature photos (which change regularly); this choice determines the colors used for the site’s links, headers, and even the Purchase logo and website favicon. We know of no other website, in higher education or elsewhere, that uses color like this.
Homepage photos are curated by our Communications & Creative Services office; we welcome contributions from Purchase staff, faculty, and students as well.
Putting academic programs front and center
Young people considering applying to Purchase aren’t just prospective students: they’re prospective chemists, sculptors, historians, and dancers. They’ll visit our academic and conservatory program sites wanting answers to questions about courses, facilities, faculty, and student work. As part of this redesign, we want our academic program homepages to be some of the most engaging and informative pages on our site.
Purchase has lots of programs, and our faculty already have a lot on their plates. We’ve employed a few strategies to keep these departmental sites dynamic and informative without requiring more time than our content managers have to spend on them:
- Content sharing allows great stories to be used in several places. If there’s a story about Purchase that’s relevant to more than one program or area at Purchase— like Kat Griefen ’04’s recent award from the Women’s Caucus for Art— you can find that story in the Art History department, on our Alumni site, and on today’s homepage. The sharing features of our web content management system (CMS), LiveWhale, reduce the burden on individual programs to tell the whole story.
- Standardized information on program sites is managed by our Academic Affairs team. We maintain structured content about all our programs, which is typically used for reporting and accreditation purposes and in our college catalog. On our new site this content does double duty; each program has an About the Program page and a Requirements page, which are managed from our provost’s office. Course information is centralized as well, pulled dynamically from our internal information systems. This frees up time for program staff to post stories and events to departmental homepages, and for faculty to keep their own profile pages up to date.
- Faculty profiles give our faculty a nicer place to stay at Purchase.edu. The LiveWhale CMS includes a powerful and flexible system for faculty profiles. Past iterations of our site haven’t included profiles that professors could edit themselves; as a result, there were a variety of systems being used by Purchase faculty. Offering easy-to-use tools for creating and managing profiles means that our faculty can quickly and easily keep their own pages up to date in a consistent and attractive framework.
A site with more stories from more places
We knew from the beginning of this process that we needed the help of our entire Purchase community to keep our site content fresh, and “crowdsourcing” of events and stories was a high priority. The content sharing mentioned above has made that possible, and the most visible example of community-generated content on our site is the “Think Wide Open bar,” used on our homepage and several other important landing pages on the site. This horizontal strip of features will bring stories together from all over campus, and change as frequently as possible. We encourage everyone at Purchase to create great stories about what you, your friends, and your colleagues are working on, and share them with the community.
And now for the real test
The work we’ve done to get our new site off the ground is just the beginning. Going forward in 2017 and beyond, we’re committed to making this site work for you. We hope you’ll visit every day to see what’s happening on our campus and what Purchase people are up to. If there’s anything we can do to make it a better resource for you, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
The Purchase web team:
Additional thanks to Mary-Jo Valentino and Esther Chak of Imaginary Office; Ronald Ladouceur and the team at POSTMKTG; Purchase power users Theresa McElwaine, Anthony Pellegrino, and Marie Sciangula; and President Schwarz and the Cabinet.