The College recently finished an 18-month process of redesigning its website, the first major change to the site’s theme since 2012. The new website features a reimagined look, ambient video of the campus, and new content in order to highlight the student experience.
Swarthmore’s Communications Office and Information Technology Services team worked on the site in conjunction with Bluecadet, a web design company that has built websites for Princeton Admissions and NASA, and interactive displays for The Franklin Institute. The Communications Department led the effort, performing focus group research on the ways that students, prospective students, faculty, parents, and alumni engage with the website, said Alisa Giardinelli, Interim Vice President of Communications. The ITS team had weekly to monthly meetings with Bluecadet, during which the company presented a proposed design and received feedback, said Mensah. Once Bluecadet finished most of the design, framework, and structure, they handed the site over to The Communications Department for information design, writing, photography, and videography.
The previous version of the website, known to students and faculty by its garnet banner and maze of tabs, went online in 2012. According to Giardinelli, the website was significantly updated in 2015 because it wasn’t responsive on mobile devices. This time around, designers at ITS and Bluecadet prioritized a mobile-first approach so the site would look great on phones, iPads, and smaller laptops, said Front-End Developer Michael Kappeler. There was also a need to clean up and modernize the look of the website, said computer science student Richmond Mensah ’21. Mensah participated in the SPEED program this past summer, during which a variety of groups and individuals, including students, administration, and academic departments, previewed the website.
“They wanted to have that new, cleaner type of website that’s really chic and really powerful,” said Mensah ’21.
Another main goal for the site was to showcase the college community and the uniqueness of the campus, said Giardinelli. The new website makes use of a full-width, borderless display and high definition ambient video to achieve this goal.
“We wanted to make a beautiful engaging website that showcased some of the things on campus that were hard to express on our previous website,” said Kappeler. “First of all, how beautiful it is here. It’s hard to explain that and express that without large imagery.”
The site also offers more content and easier navigation for current and prospective students said Mensah.
“I definitely didn’t go to the website as much as I do now,” said Mensah. “It’s just more organized and structured with a much cleaner look. It brings out more things that were hidden in the old website….It’s easier to navigate; I think prospective students will be more amazed by it, especially with a lot of the imagery.”
According to Kappeler, the design team sought to refocus the content on students and prospective students. They worked on surfacing information about campus life such as clubs and activities which was more difficult to find on the old website.
“The previous version of the site reflected a lot of the organizational chart of the College, which the staff use a lot,” said Kappeler. “We’re probably some of the primary users of the site, whether it’s finding contact information for other departments to coordinate things, but we wanted to make sure that we were surfacing information that the student body was interested in.”
The website is now complete and online; however, ITS and Communications are still working to integrate the site with other platforms such as The Dash and course catalog. The Dash runs on Drupal, the system that keeps the website up and running behind the scenes. The course catalog, however, is stored on a separate system which still has the look and feel of the old website. ITS and Communications are in the process of migrating that information over to the new system, as well as creating a resource for browsing courses throughout the Trico.
“We are pulling that information in from the course catalog but at the moment there are two separate things,” said Kappeler. “We are definitely working to make that a more unified experience. It used to be that you would see Swarthmore courses separate from Haverford and Bryn Mawr courses if you are looking for a Trico course to take, and that’s something that’s something outside the scope of the redesign.”
As for the webpages of individual departments, ITS gives each department control over their own content, said Kappelar.
“We have an approach that is slightly different than many of our peers and some other institutions everything is controlled by a Communications office,” said Kappelar. “Here we offer training to all of the academic and internal departments on campus and they really have control over their own sites.”
Now that the main website is finished and online, ITS can evaluate how the new design influences the way prospective students, parents, and alumni view the community. With the BEP building nearing completion and the process of building a new dining hall set in motion, the website seems to be a step towards modernizing the college for the twenty-first century.
This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the process of creating the new website.