The rebirth of sfu.ca

November 03, 2006, Volume 37, no.5
By Don Maclachlan



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SFU's main website, www.sfu.ca, gets a new look today.

It's all about improving service to the more than eight million people who visit SFU webpages each year.

SFU has more than 700 separate websites. And almost no two look the same, work the same or present content the same way. Visitors often say they can't easily find what they're looking for.

But starting today with sfu.ca the goal is to bring to SFU websites a common navigation setup and expand use of the main site's new "look and feel."

SFU's webmasters, consultants, marketing experts — and the people who use SFU websites — all contributed to the new design.

Steve Ray and Annette De Vries, web strategists in public affairs and media relations (PAMR), the department that is the steward of sfu.ca, tested how customers actually use and navigate SFU sites.

"With web cameras mounted on their monitors and screen-capture software, we could watch how they got on," says Ray. "We could see that many had trouble, went looking for information but couldn't quickly find it, and got very frustrated. We learned a lot from them."

The new design is modern and sophisticated, but deliberately simple and uncluttered.

"That's because we also learned from outside surveys of millions of web users," says PAMR director Don MacLachlan. "They drove home powerful messages: content and consistency are more important to users than the packaging; and easy navigation is more important than fancy bells and whistles."

The new site incorporates many functions and features suggested by SFU's webmasters. Now SFU is counting on visitors to test the site and give feedback.

Says Ray: "We need people to tell us what works well and what can be improved. That will help us as we begin to bring other SFU websites into the new fold. People can email us at erwebmaster@sfu.ca."

That's where programming wizard Michael Roberts of SFU's Learning and Instructional Development Centre comes in. He designed templates and tools to help people who manage SFU websites adopt the new look and maintain their sites.

"The new design maximizes the opportunity for faculties, departments and schools to present their content creatively, in their own way, within the basic framework of the new look," says Roberts.

"Some sites have experienced webmasters who can handle such changes in their sleep. But many sites are maintained by people
who could really use some new tools that will make redesign and continuing maintenance much easier."

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