The last time the University updated its website was 2007 — when there were no tablets and few mobile devices. On April 19, the University released a public preview of a new design for its main website. The new website fluidly adapts from a mobile to computer screen. Students, faculty, staff, and other visitors to the site are welcome to provide input and feedback on the new website design.
In 2015, the University administration signed a five-year plan to redesign the site, according to Daniel Day, assistant vice president of communications. This project brings together the Office of Communications and the Office of Information Technology in a joint collaboration effort with the New York-based firm Digital Pulp. Every page of the site was built by hand based on the designs that Digital Pulp provided to the University, Day said.
“We want the website to represent Princeton as it is today and where it’s heading. It’s one of the world’s great research universities,” Day said. “We have this outstanding mission of teaching and research, and we have extraordinary students, faculty, and staff who engage in that mission, and our website should reflect Princeton’s stature in academia and the world.”
Throughout the redesigning process, the team interviewed students, faculty members, University staff, and prospective students in order to collect concerns about the current site. They also hosted forums at residential colleges and gave presentations to various groups on campus, including the Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate Student Government, Day noted.
“It really has to convey Princeton for many audiences,” he explained.
In addition, research was performed using analytics and tracking software to better understand user behavior in order to optimize how people access the site, Day said.
“Tastes have changed over the last ten years,” Day said. The new site embodies a new philosophy that is more visually oriented, featuring prominent photo banners on each page, videos, and other multimedia content that enhances the browsing experience.
Atmospheric photos that reflect on the beauty of the campus, including expansive landscapes and architectural details, are also spread throughout the website.
“The site seems to enable a little more intimacy with what we sometimes take for granted at Princeton,” said University creative director Laurel Cantor.
“I see great potential for people sending us photos and sending us permission to use the photos that get us closer to areas of the University where we might not be sending a photographer routinely,” Cantor said.
“[The site] gives an overall truer picture of Princeton than we’ve been able to capture,” she added.
The front page of the new site displays news articles in grid format through photo thumbnails, with upcoming events and links regarding academics and work at the University smoothly weaved in. Headlines are in Princeton Monticello font, and Franklin Gothic is used for most body text. Featured events include links to maps displaying event locations, which the old site did not have the capacity to do.
The new site also aims to quickly get people where they need to go, Day said. Each page contains a fixed utility menu with quick links for students, and the new site now implements Google-based searches. The navigation has also been simplified to include five major tabs: Meet Princeton, Academics, Research, One Community, and Admission & Aid.
Another important design modification of the new website is its emphasis on accessibility and inclusion and creating improved user experiences for members of the community with varying abilities.
“In the University’s commitment to being inclusive, we want to produce a site that anyone should be able to read or access,” Day said. “For anyone with an impairment, we’ve set the site to the highest standards we can so anyone can access this site.”
Day also noted that the site will incorporate a lot of social media connectivity once it is fully launched, but these features are not currently active because the site is in test mode.
The preview site will be open for one month, with the goal of May 18 set as the date to formally switch to the new site. During this month, University staff will continue polishing the website. Feedback will be accepted in real time and changes will be made to best accommodate the comments and requests received, he said.
“The site really reflects the entire campus, so we had a lot of people making choices,” Day said.
“We’re hoping to lead the way with this site so that other offices and departments will be able to borrow components from this design and adapt them for their own uses,” Day explained, noting that the new website team has met with departments and offices across the campus community.
“We’re never really going to declare this site fully complete because we want to keep iterating and keep improving this site over time,” Day noted.