Since FGCU invited thousands of students, faculty and staff and other key audience members to preview the first phase of its new website —which has now gone live — responses have been overwhelmingly complimentary and yielded a number of suggestions that already have been implemented.
Three-quarters of the nearly 200 people who explored the redesigned pages since March 1 and provided feedback through an online survey rated their initial impressions as either “positive” or “very positive.” About 13% said they had a “neutral” reaction, while about 12% said their first experience was “negative” or “very negative.”
The university will continue to welcome and respond to feedback as all web users on campus and off navigate these highest-traffic pages, which include the FGCU.edu homepage, About, Admissions, Academics, Student Life, The FGCU Effect and Community & Culture. In the meantime, the redesign team will collaborate with colleagues across campus on the gradual rollout of revamped web pages for the university’s colleges, departments and programs over the next year. Until the entire site update is completed, new and old pages will function together, with the new header and footer on all pages for navigation continuity.
Asked to describe the first set of new web pages in one word, survey respondents offered many encouraging comments: impressive, inviting, interactive, intuitive, ingenious, exciting, eye-catching, engaging, accessible, advanced, awesome, dynamic, rejuvenated, uncluttered, simple, streamlined, stylish, easier, different, fluid, fresh, modern, upbeat, navigable, bold, better.
On the flip side: confusing, cumbersome, chaotic, bland, big, bulky, oversized, overwhelming, oversimplified, different, difficult, sales-pitchy, inappropriate, incomplete, not practical, meh and why?
With this feedback in mind, we have already made a few last minute changes that reduced the size of page elements and will continue to refine the site as it grows.
“We read every word in the survey feedback and will continue to do so as more pages are completed and published,” says Jeff Garner, Director of Digital Communications, who leads the website redesign team under University Advancement. “We realize, and the feedback confirms this, that we’re not going to please everyone. There are people who’ve been accustomed to the old site for many years who don’t feel the need to change anything. We must do what’s best for the university by making it more mobile friendly and more accessible for all users.”
Some survey respondents said they were frustrated by the degree of page scrolling the new design entails; other commenters, as well as FGCU students who served as usability testers, were not put off by this design functionality, which has become prevalent on higher education, commercial and personal websites.
The web team already has addressed some site reviewers’ suggestions for changes that are in line with best practices in responsive web design and user experience as well as research and data analytics for FGCU’s website, Garner says. For instance, graphic icons were added to the display of the homepage header navigation menu on mobile phones to more clearly identify commonly used links to email, the university directory and Gulfline and Canvas portals.
“We want to ensure that users can find exactly what they want with the least amount of clicking while also creating a more inviting experience through vibrant display of content,” he says. “Although the website navigation has changed significantly, the audiences we’re trying to serve have reaffirmed that this is what they want and that they can find information easily.”
In the first-phase survey, 76% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “homepage navigation links capture key audiences and critical pathways for users” and 68% said they found the new site easy or very easy to navigate.
In the next stage of the redesign project, the college, department and program web pages will be updated and rolled out as soon as they are developed, tested and approved, with the goal of completing the remainder of the site over the next year. During this time, training will continue for about 200 website editors across campus who will manage and update pages they oversee.
The introduction of the first redesigned pages is just one step in a long, complex process that commenced in September 2015, when the university’s Website Redesign Advisory Committee began meeting to determine how to make FGCU’s web presence more current, accessible and engaging.
Among the project’s goals were:
- To design and build a website that is highly functional, inspiring as well as informative and well-suited to different audiences.
- To meet industry and legal standards by complying with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.
- To achieve responsive design that displays and operates effectively on desktop computers and tablets as well as cell phones — which now account for 66% of web users.
While FGCU’s internal users will still find the paths and information they’ve relied on in the past, the redesign intentionally steers away from acting by default as a hybrid of intranet and public-facing website. By streamlining content and making it more engaging, it strategically positions FGCU as a dynamic, forward-looking institution attractive to top students, faculty and staff.
“We have to be as strong as or stronger than our peer institutions,” Garner says. “The online impression has to show prospective students that FGCU is a place where they can fit in and enjoy their journey as they earn a degree. The focus is on serving current and prospective students and telling the FGCU story.”