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Website for Lane Community College

While at Lane Community College, which then had around 40,000 students, I was on the planning committee that planned and managed the college website.

Not long after being appointed to the college’s website steering committee, and seeing major deficiencies in the design, navigation, content and photographs on the very dated-looking site, I made the recommendation to the committee that resulted in a total overhaul of the website a decade ago that gave the website a completely new look and improved navigation.

During this multi-year overhaul, design standards were developed, every page of the website was transformed to provide a fresh and consistent look, text and photos were updated and improved, and navigation was tested and upgraded to improve the experience of users.

I’d seen a quote from a college president as we were starting this effort that said that the most important college building was no longer a physical building but a college’s website, and this was a quote that I used often during the long process involved in transforming the college website from a liability into one of our strongest assets. One of my most satisfying projects while at the college was being one of the architects of this complex project.

In order to determine best practices for college websites, I and others on the steering committee examined what were rated as the top websites in the nation for both two-year and four-year colleges. I read several books by authors who were considered the leaders in website design.

When I attended conferences, I sought out the sessions on websites. I then shared what I’d learned with other members of the website steering committee so that we had a shared knowledge of what the best college websites looked like and what the best website design involved.

We also brought in high school students who were planning to attend college to computer labs on campus and had them visit several college websites, tell us what they liked, and we had them do usability tests with our website and the University of Oregon’s to determine how easily they could find information on topics such as the cost of tuition

The process for this immense effort was similar to the key components used for other large marketing efforts:

  1. Determine best practices through seeking out the colleges who are currently the best. Read articles and books by the best writers on the subject. Attend conferences and workshops and hear directly from experts and those who have already accomplished what you are currently planning.
  2. Assemble a team that brings an assortment of needed skills, an interest in the project, and an ability to contribute and meet their responsibilities. Then set a timeline, listen to everyone, and then get the process moving forward and be sure to maintain momentum.
  3. We brought in one outside consultant with extensive knowledge in designing college websites to provide his expert advice along with an outsider’s perspective and credibility.
  4. We kept things moving forward while avoiding the temptation to rush things in order to get it done more quickly. Inertia and impatience are equal obstacles to quality.
  5. We established graphic standards and procedures that were clear, concise, and as comprehensive as needed.
  6. When we were finished, we were clear to college staff about the improvements that had been made and why we made them. We solicited feedback from staff, students, and the public after the new design was implemented, and then we used that input to fine-tune the new design, content and navigation. And we were upfront to ourselves and others that a website is always a work in progress and that all college employees can play a role in making the website better by reporting inaccurate or outdated information. At the end of the overhaul, the college president moved the responsibility for the website from IT to my department, and the two people with ultimate responsibility for the entire college website were the head of my area and myself.