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Dining Services Website

As mentioned in the comments, Williams Dining Services has a new website. Is it just me, or is this a totally different look-and-feel than we see in other new web pages like OCC and Admissions?

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#1 Comment By Guy Creese ’75 On August 28, 2007 @ 12:11 pm

Yup, it’s different. Balkanization still reigns. Heaven forbid every department in the college use the same template to enforce branding and help user navigation…

#2 Comment By Michael F. Brown On August 28, 2007 @ 12:23 pm

I can see Guy’s point, but on balance I still appreciate the variety in the Williams website. It makes us look less corporate but (I hope) more creative and playful. There may be a few units that lag behind others with respect to the quality of their pages, but IMHO the overall impression is preferable to that of comparable institutions that impose a draconian and ultimately boring set of design guidelines to protect their, uh, brand.

#3 Comment By David ’06 On August 28, 2007 @ 12:25 pm

#4 Comment By Ronit On August 28, 2007 @ 12:49 pm

What’s the problem with different departments using different designs? I would like to see them all follow basic guidelines of usability and accessibility,, and standardize to modern CSS-based design, but really I think the plurality of visual approaches lends personality and interest to these sites.

#5 Comment By Chotch On August 28, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

While I agree with Guy on the branding concerns for most Williams’ pages, I think that the Dining Services page is going to be almost entirely used by the students, staff, and faculty, so I do not think it is as much of a concern here.

That aside, I do like the new page and wish Dining Services would have had something that was that easy to navigate when I was there.

#6 Comment By PTC On August 28, 2007 @ 1:53 pm

Lol- I guess ephblog is becoming a dating service, and judging from this post, one that caters to former eastern block women!

#7 Comment By Anonymous On August 28, 2007 @ 5:59 pm

The math page looks a bit like a high school project, circa 1996.

#8 Comment By Guy Creese ’75 On August 28, 2007 @ 10:30 pm

In response to Prof. Brown’s comment about “draconian” design standards, I’m not advocating that. Look at Carleton’s site (www.carleton.edu). They have a nice, thin, top banner that offers standard navigation throughout the college community, and below that banner everybody does their thing.

Web analytics studies (watching how visitors click through a web site) and human factors studies make it clear that standard navigation and visual conventions make it easier for people to find their way around a site with fewer mistakes. Everyone has personal opinions on the matter, but the facts are that a set of standard conventions help users. The only reason an organization would ignore these facts is if it figures usability takes a backseat to the organization making a statement, showing off its creativity, etc.

#9 Comment By frank uible On August 28, 2007 @ 10:41 pm

Is it the consensus here that McLuhan was correct?

#10 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On August 29, 2007 @ 2:52 am

Guy has said essentially what I would– the distinction between unfettered ‘creativity and expression,’ and draconian fetters, is a false one, and often a few limits and common frameworks increase the possibilities of individuality, communication & expression.

So I’ll tell a different story.

The first time Roger brought Jakob over to the office to look at the 3D interface I had my team building, I had little idea whom I was getting free advice from, nor that the advice would normally cost a good portion of a semester at Williams, nor blather cold & dismissive evaluation of what I didn’t see & understand was in fact not nearly as dismissive as it could have been, because Roger had vouched that I had gotten a few small this right.

Jakob managed to get into my head, that I barely understood how another human being would see my work, and use what I was creating.

That Jakob took the time to explain to explain this respectfully and effectively to my young, arrogant & inexperienced rump was another lesson in what I don’t know.

A decade later, as I try to build much smaller systems well, the take-home lesson has been that we continually neglect how others, outsiders, interact with what seems clear & obvious to us –but is not.

Williams, sadly, still tends to forward such failures of communication and understanding as individual expression.

So too, our nations.

And each little thing we do & produce, such as the website above, has a global consequence.

#11 Comment By Michael F. Brown On August 29, 2007 @ 6:23 am

The points made by Guy and Ken are important, and I don’t doubt that consistency facilitates understanding. I looked at the Carleton site and liked it well enough, although I prefer Swarthmore’s design approach, which is a consistent header that changes slightly according to the page theme. (The websites of Swarthmore’s academic departments, though, still appear to be home-brewed affairs as they are at Williams, with mixed results.) For a more corporate–and to me, somewhat less appealing–approach, check out Albion College’s site, http://www.albion.edu. Every page looks like it was authored in the same shop.

My sense is that the root of the inconsistency in the Williams site is mostly the result of its organizational history. There is no central office that authors pages for academic departments; each one is responsible, financially and otherwise, for doing its own work. Many of the department pages, including ANSO’s, were created by Williams students working for OIT’s summer WIT program, and they reflect each team’s tastes and design skills. (Unless I’m mistaken, Ronit and some friends were responsible for the ANSO pages, for which I continue to be grateful.) For an educational institution, it seems like a terrific thing for students to get such practical experience, even if the results are less than consistent across the site. It would help, of course, if the College imposed slightly more stringent design standards.

Computer techies typically underestimate the difficulties of maintaining a complicated site once it’s created. Server-side applications, etc., seem elementary to GeekEphs, but they can be baffling to the secretaries (or 50-something professors!) tasked with updating them. Whenever I work on the ANSO or Oakley pages, I think, “I wasn’t trained to do this, so why am I doing it?” Of course, when I was trained, the Internet hadn’t yet been invented by Al Gore.

And yet if every page had to be undated by IT professionals, I guarantee that they wouldn’t get updated often, and their value would thereby be diminished.

I make no great claims for the Williams site, then, and perhaps the College could impose a higher level of coordination and consistency in the interests of navigational clarity. The best things one can say about the current approach: (1) it gives a visitor some sense of a department’s interests and style, and (2) you can find at least a few pages that aren’t based on the color purple.

#12 Comment By Guy Creese ’75 On August 29, 2007 @ 9:42 am

Well, the good news is that over the last decade web content management packages (1) have consistently gotten better at allowing end users to maintain their pages in a Microsoft Word-like interface and (2) have gotten cheaper. It used to be that organizations had to fork out $250,000+ for a web content management package (e.g., Interwoven, Vignette) and IT folks (or a webmaster at least) had to maintain the site, but that’s no longer true. Typically the organization agrees on a template (look, feel, colors) which is enforced, and then departments get to do their own thing.

The losers at the current time are organizations who think the old rules still apply and have users making changes via Word, FrontPage, Dreamweaver, or some other web editor. They’re both (1) making the end user’s editing job harder than it needs to be and (2) not offering a framework in which to make changes. For example, if the font style and size is enforced, that’s one less thing the user has to fiddle with.

I agree that Williams’ web site look is indicative of a history of distributed maintenance. However, that’s not unique. Every college and university I’ve talked to has had the same experience. That’s what makes Carlton’s and Swarthmore’s semi-standardization all the more impressive, especially given their popularity.

I think many colleges figure the web site works and only fix it when a crisis occurs. (I would put Williams in this category.) I know of a university in the Northeast who gave a high priority to fixing the web site once they realized it was hurting graduate school admissions. It turns out 50% of their grad students came from overseas, and the site was basically unusable for those set of prospects. They fixed the site, and applications went up. In this case, Williams dropping to number 10 in the U.S. News poll would be a good thing.