The Dash Gets a Makeover

A screenshot of the college's redesigned version of the Dash.

As most Swarthmore students know by now, the Swarthmore Dash got a makeover and was officially rolled out at the start of the Spring 2022 semester. A team including members of the Swarthmore Communications office and ITS created the new version with the intention of making it possible for users to customize their Dash experience and easily access it on their mobile devices. 

The Swarthmore Dash is a place where students can find information and news about what’s going on on campus. It has the Sharples menu, information about events and transportation, and links to websites many students frequently use. 

After seeing the new version of the Dash, some students have had complaints, mostly about finding the new version less user-friendly. In an interview with The Phoenix, Sofie Pelayo ’24 expressed her struggles navigating the new Dash.

“It is so hard to find stuff now,” said Pelayo. “I always used the old Dash to get to Moodle or MySwarthmore, and now the new Dash makes it so hard.”

In addition to difficulties navigating the Dash, other students like Frannie Richardson ’23 described the inconveniences of the new Dash layout.

“I liked how in the old Dash you could see everything at once on one screen, and now you have to toggle around. Also, the stuff at the top is articles and stuff that isn’t relevant to me,” she said.

When asked about their experiences with the new Dash, students consistently cited challenges in accessing the Sharples menu. 

“I only use the Dash for the Sharples menu. The old dash the menu was just right up top, but now you have to scroll down to get to it each time,” said Helen Stafford ’24. 

Erin Kelly ’24 agreed, reiterating her desire for the Dash to feature the menu first.

“The main thing I use the Dash for is to look at the Sharples menu each day, and the new Dash makes it so much more inconvenient.”

One student, Jesse Li ’22, found that the Sharples menu was so difficult to access on the new Dash that he created a website that featured just the Sharples menu. 

“I only use the Dash to look at the Sharples menu, and the new one is too complicated for me, so I made the shittiest website possible as an alternative. It loads really fast and only shows information that I care about, so I like it better than the [new] Dash,” he said.

With many students annoyed with the changes to the Swarthmore Dash — especially as it pertains to the Sharples menu — many community members are questioning the college’s motivations in transforming the Dash. 

The project to create a new Dash was kicked off in 2020 based on survey responses from students who wanted a better Dash. 

In an email to The Phoenix, Alex Sastre, Associate Director of Campus Communications, explained the timeline and reasoning behind the roll-out.

“In Spring 2020, Communications issued a campus survey to all students, faculty, and staff members that covered a range of topics. The results showed strong and explicit support from each group for a redesigned, streamlined Dash that would be less cluttered and congested,” she wrote.

Additionally, the creation of the new Dash was motivated by concerns that the old Dash was not as mobile-friendly as other Swarthmore websites and had become difficult to manage. 

“It was not mobile friendly and did not reflect a mobile-first design, which is a standard requirement of all Swarthmore College websites. It had grown unwieldy, was cumbersome to keep resources and information up to date, and was difficult to manage on the backend — generally, the process people had to use before was really not sustainable,” wrote Sastre.

With these goals in mind, work on the new Dash began in 2021. By October, a beta site was launched. 

“We shared the beta site late last fall and made changes — such as accessibility improvements and adjustments to the color palette, the presentation of events information, and the scroll function, among others — based on the valuable feedback we received,” wrote Sastre.

The reimagined Dash features a new presentation for information, a dark mode, the ability to subscribe to events listed on the Dash through Google Calendar, and, most importantly, the ability to customize the Dash. This means that students can, in fact, put the Sharples menu as the first thing they see. After discovering the customizable feature on the Dash, some students changed their opinions on the new Dash.

“I did not like the new Dash at first, but then I found out I could hide some of the segments and move them around the way I like it, so it’s better now. I only really use the Dash for the menu, so once I figured out you could put the menu first, I liked it much better,” said Becca Keating ’23 in an interview with The Phoenix. 

When asked if they knew about the ability to move things around, most students interviewed were not aware that they could put the Sharples menus first or change the layout of the Dash. 

“I [would have] liked the Dash better if I knew I could’ve moved things around,” said Stafford.

So far, the team that created the new Dash has had generally positive feedback from students. 

“We’ve heard from a number of people who love the new design and like that it is easier to customize what they see and use on a regular basis,” wrote Sastre.

Sastre also specifically emphasized in her email that statistics show more mobile users are accessing the Dash now compared to before with the old Dash. 

“There has also been a nearly even split between users accessing the Dash on their computer and on mobile devices … in 2019, the majority of users were engaging with the Dash on their desktop, with almost twice as many desktop users versus mobile,” Sastre explained.

Interestingly, though, some students who were interviewed noted that they found the new Dash harder to use when accessing it on their mobile devices. 

“I personally feel like it is harder to use … particularly on the phone when you can’t click on something to bring it to a different screen,” said Sophia Becker ’24. 

Becker wasn’t the only student who found the Dash harder to use on a mobile device.

“It just feels like it wasn’t meant to be used on the phone,” added Cassie Marquis ’23. 

While the team that created the new Dash highlighted features that have received positive feedback from students, Sastre is also very aware that students have complaints. 

She wrote, “Of course, some people are still fans of the previous Dash, and a few have told us they really just want to see the menus, and we appreciate that — and note that customizing your Dash view will make menus more prominent.” 

Sastre noted that the team who created the new Dash is still looking for feedback. Students can submit suggestions directly through the link on the Dash footer or by emailing the communications team at dash@swarthmore.edu.

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