Digital Navigation

While shopping on the internet for resources to develop or tropical teaching glasshouse over the past few weeks I began to realise  how much a matter of personal taste the website design for small businesses is.  Some businesses go for a clean simple and rather clinical look to their web sites while others use much greater levels of complexity and even attempt jokes.  Whichever approach is taken, the main issue for me is whether I can find what I need on the web site.  Sometimes the search tool on the site suggests virtually nothing is there due to poor indexing, sometimes some of the links are very well hidden – even basic ones like ‘Buy me’.

Our University has a much more complex site than the small businesses I was looking at, and has been through several rounds of professional redesign and development.  It now has a very corporate look and is full of information but it is trying to serve many different audiences with differing demands.  The staff and student home pages help tailor visits from internal users but even then the complexity of the site can lead to confusion.

In disscussion with my first year tutees yesterday I raised the issue of how they found their way around the University web site and all gave the same answer: “we don’t, we use ‘Reading Links‘”.

Home page for the Reading Links web site

Home page for the Reading Links web site

This web site has a very ‘apps’ feel to it and looks rather like a large mobile phone screen.   Very different from our own CMS.  Is it better or worse?  It is certainly used by 100% of the small sample of students I asked, in preference to the student home page.  Should we be trying to emulate it?  I don’t know.  Fashions will change and it could be a very time consuming and expensive task to stay current.  But perhaps we should put the decision on which information is a ‘student essential’ in the hands of the students to a greater extent than we do?  Together with ‘UniApp’ for phones and iPads, the ‘Reading links’ web site offers a refreshing simplicty that seems very popular.  Perhaps we can learn from this at corporate level?

Having now revisited the site on my iPad I notice it has a version for mobile devices but it’s designed for small screens & not the iPad – rather a disappointment to me:-(. The nice little images are replaced by a single column of text.


About Alastair Culham

A professional botanist and biologist with an interest in promoting biological knowledge and awareness to all.
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4 Responses to Digital Navigation

  1. Just an FYI, after reading this I decided to change the styling for the iPad so it will now display the same as a computer.

  2. The redesign of the iPad interface is good. It now fits the screen much better. Thanks!

  3. Andy Owen says:

    perhaps we should put the decision on which information is a ‘student essential’ in the hands of the students to a greater extent than we do?

    We are looking at ways to do just that.

    As an example, Luke and I recently ran a quick round of guerilla user testing to find out how people look for course information from the University home page. This produced some unexpected results – no participant made use of the ‘course finder’ search box; and all participants experienced some confusion about the purpose of pages labelled ‘subjects’ and ‘courses’. We’re now looking at how this should inform any changes that we make to the corporate site.

    • Great work Andy! You just need to be in RUSU handing out leaflets advertising ‘your’ web page during freshers’ week – that’s the approach Reading Links has used according to the student users I spoke to.

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