December 21, 2013

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by Molly O'Brien-Foelsch

 LEWISBURG, Pa. – Like the elves in Santa's shop, Bucknell's Division of Communications has been busy this fall, building a new University website set to launch at the end of January 2014 — and the changes are dramatic.

"The new site will offer a special combination of design, user customization, navigation and content. We haven't seen anything like it in higher education," said Pete Mackey, vice president for communications and community relations. Mackey said the site will demonstrate Bucknell's entrepreneurial spirit. "Our great team built this site around what users want, not the University's structure. It's a site for the future, not yesterday."

Each page of the site, starting with the homepage, will include multiple vertical tiers and sliding horizontal screens that allow users to explore extensive content with one click. Users will be able to identify the content they want, and it will remain that way for their every visit until they choose different content. The site will also include a dramatically simplified navigation scheme, full-screen photos and videos, intuitive search and a user-oriented friendly tone, marking a complete transformation of the site we know today.

According to Bucknell's director of digital communications, Roberta Diehl, the bold layout and innovative functionality incorporate a responsive design that will make the site easy to use on any device, including smartphones and tablets. One of the most useful new features will be the role-based navigation option.

"If you indicate you are interested in attending Bucknell, you will get information about majors and minors, campus life, admissions and financial aid, for instance," said Diehl. "But if you're a faculty member, a student, parent or alum, you can get something different. You'll get the content that's useful and relevant to you." In addition, the site will also keep track of recently visited pages, allowing visitors to "pin" any of those pages, creating a personalized set of quick links.

The site will also become more streamlined. "University websites, including our own, tend to become dry and dense, and grow over time," said Mackey. "Our new site will do the opposite. It will be informative, lively and concise - and we think all our audiences, especially admissions prospects, will find it intriguing to explore, even as any visitor will be able to get a task done or find information they want."

The site is the product of a year of planning in collaboration with Fastspot, a Baltimore-based agency that has created award-winning websites and interactive features for higher education, arts and cultural organizations, nonprofits and more. Fastspot gathered input from across the campus community, including a website advisory team of students, faculty and staff that advised Fastspot as the site evolved.

"We turned our focus exclusively on the users of the site, and asked ourselves: What do they really want and need to do here?" said Tracey Halvorsen, president and chief visionary officer at Fastspot. Halvorsen said the new site straddles both sides of the usability scale, with one set of tools focused exclusively on searching, sorting and information finding, and another set focused on storytelling and exploration. "We hope users will fall in love with the bold, efficient and vibrant new approach and feel a sense of joy while exploring the site."

Mackey and Diehl presented samples of the site this fall to the Board of Trustees, Parents Board, Alumni Board and academic chairs, and held open forums for the broader campus community. Communications' editorial team is now revising and preparing content, even as the web team immerses itself in the massive amount of design and coding work required to launch the site. "The response has been overwhelmingly positive," said Diehl. "Everyone seems to appreciate the dramatic change we're making. Now we just have to bring it to life."

What to expect and how to prepare for the new site: FAQs for students, faculty and staff