New Norwich University website ready to launch after two years of work

A screenshot of Norwich’s current website. A total revamp of the site has been under way for two years and will launch soon.

After two years of work, Norwich is close to unveiling a completely new website that will “bring Norwich University, online, to the 21st century,” in the words of Norwich’s office of communications.

The revamped website, which is the digital face of the university, is expected to be rolled out to the public sometime this month.“It’s our front door to the world and we want to do NU proud,” said Loida Alvarez, the director of web services in the office of communications for the university. “This launch is just the beginning.”

The overhauled website will serve as an “integral part of recruiting new students, faculty, and staff. This will allow the university to build on the proud tradition that is already in place,” said Nick Fischer, the administrative assistant in office.

The theme behind the development of the new website was “three clicks or less,” according to Jeff Dobbin, one of the web developers who works in the office, which is located at the northern end of the campus in Flint Hall on Central Street.

“We want to make people explore as much as they want but also find what they want to find in three clicks or less,” Dobbin said. “That was a key. It was difficult, but it was something we emphasized.”

In the same vein, the OC focused heavily on making the website easier to access and use on mobile devices, something that is difficult to execute on the current site.

“There was a study recently that showed that 79 percent of prospective students in the next generation are looking for schools on their mobile device first before they would apply,” Dobbin said. “That was kind of the background behind, ‘okay, we need to redesign.’”

Norwich University’s current official website and design (www.norwich.edu) has been active for roughly half a decade and sports a black-and-grey look, and a format that is restricted by use of a template. This template is in place to insert specific pictures or videos.
The OC hopes to build and improve upon some of the issues that plagued the original design, ranging from ones that the web development team has noticed to changing things that the group received feedback on.

“Our current site is organized more akin to our organizational structure,” Alvarez said. “Even finding an academic program has a user guessing. A lot of clicks and fishing is asked of our user.”

The new website will feature a more simplistic look: a white background, “call-to-action” dropdown menus, and more support for images and videos.
“The cool thing about the (redesigned) platform is it’s not ‘static’, meaning it doesn’t stay as one thing. We can change it around, and it’s easy to do that,” Dobbin explained. “With the (current) website, we couldn’t. It was that one locked-in template and it’s so hard to change some things.”

The front page, for example, offers a look that is similar to those being used by other colleges and universities, such as the University of Virginia, Loyola Marymount University, and Hampshire College, whose institutions’ website layout served as inspiration for the revamped Norwich model,

“We did a lot of extensive testing. We talked to different schools and different programs, we looked at different websites, trying to figure out what worked, what didn’t work,” Dobbin said.

Alvarez noted the difficulty of maintaining the focus of prospective students interested in Norwich, and how that challenge played into determining what to do with the redesign.

“Today’s users are quick and tech-savvy. They will often judge within seconds if a site is worth their time,” Alvarez said. “(They’ll) question: is a site thoughtful, relevant, engaging? All elements adding up to trustworthiness.”

Alvarez added that there were other “layers of trustworthiness” integrated into the website revamp, particularly security, search engine optimization (SEO), compliance, and best practices.

A visitor to the redesigned front page will be welcomed by an automatically-played video, followed by several clickable pictures. Each picture belongs to a specific branch or facet of the University: admissions, Corps of Cadets, academics, research, athletics, news, campus life, alumni, and online.

This screenshot from the beta of the new website shows an example of how subsections are accessible to mobile users, a key element of the redesign.

Subsequently, each subpage features a similar, simple and organized design. The campus life page, for example, offers five different subsections: living on campus, student support, activities & events, health & safety, and services & resources, with each subsection containing “call-to-action” dropdown menus for each item in each subsection.

“Our new site, for example, puts programs front and center,” Alvarez said. “And once (a visitor enters) a program page, (it) shows the full breadth and scope that program offers through related news, student outcomes, faculty bios, research, centers, study abroad.”

Alvarez added, in keeping with the “three clicks or less” theme, that the web services team attempted to design the new website so that a visitor could “transact with us with the least friction as possible.”

“That level of scrutiny, looking at each page, form, and document with fresh eyes and asking tough questions was part of this process from day one,” Alvarez said.

The decision for the redesign largely came from the focus on how to attract students to Norwich, and how designs for other colleges and universities work to do that. “When it came to redesign, our primary focus is prospective students,” Dobbin said. “We did a lot of Q&As with the student body, prospective students, high school students, as well as current students, trying to figure out what works now and what isn’t working.”

Using pictures taken by NU photographers Mark Collier and Rebecca Friend, the web development staff in the OC have taken advantage of the “assets of images and video that we never knew (we had) before,” Dobbin said, adding that their research showed “there are more and more new schools that are redesigning and showing more emphasis on video and images.”

The creation of the new website was spearheaded by the web services team of Alvarez, Dobbin, and Sean Markey, the senior web editor, employing a “team effort ranging from photography, graphic design, and content,” according to Fischer.

Several departments on campus assisted in the redesign, providing feedback and guidance on what they wanted on their respective webpages. “For the new website, the process for forming the idea was that we had to reevaluate what is working with each department, what their needs are, how they’re serving the students now, and, for the current website, what they want to improve on,” Dobbin said.

The admissions office played a key role since a focus was on enrolling prospective students for the university. Celeste Karpf, the senior associate director of admissions, was one of the primary contacts for the designers and worked to “streamline” the site and make it “more navigable,” Karpf said. “That’s always kind of a goal when you’re trying to move into a new website.”

“I think we want to make it as easy as possible for students who aren’t familiar with Norwich or aren’t familiar with the admissions process,” Karpf said, noting the goal was for them to quickly and easily get the information that they need.

“You don’t want to have to be clicking around a website forever just to find out something like a deadline or something like that,” she said.
Fischer, a men’s lacrosse assistant, noted the new athletics section of the site will follow a similar design pattern and showcase several of the sports marketing photos that have been posted on the Norwich University Athletics Instagram account (https://www.instagram.com/norwichcadets/).

“I see the new website as an asset in recruiting potential student-athletes because it shows everything that Norwich has to offer, in a user-friendly and engaging way,” Fischer said.

The Career and Internship Center at Norwich has also been eagerly anticipating the redesign and has been actively involved in the overhaul of their section of the website.

Friend, a 21-year old senior communications major from Columbus, Ohio, assisted in the revamp; she has served as a four-year employee of the Career and Internship Center.

“Overall, I was here to help with aesthetics, basically,” Friend said, and also to get the website to work more smoothly and be up to date. “A lot of the times, the dropdowns don’t work as well as they should, or the links aren’t current, and especially the photos,” she noted of the current site.

Friend has been impressed by what the OC has accomplished with the new website, saying, “I like it overall, it’s more visually pleasing. It is more effective and aesthetically pleasing.”

Karpf agrees, saying she was “really excited” about the redesign and the “mobile-friendly side of it” for new students.
“It’s more dynamic of a website. It just has more features,” Karpf said. “There’s going to be some buttons that will just travel around the website with the students, major things like ‘apply’ or ‘visit the campus’, those kinds of buttons. They don’t necessarily have to go back a page if they decide, like, ‘yeah, I would like to visit,’ or they end up on, like, five clicks later and they’re like, ‘oh, I wanted to go fill out a registration form.’”

The updated website is a critical part of informing the larger world all about Norwich and its values. “A site has become a direct reflection of how an organization meets and serves all their constituents in an ever growing, complex, competitive global marketplace,” Alvarez said.

Or as Fischer put it, the purpose and mission behind the office is to “market the Norwich University brand, as well as promote the amazing things that are accomplished on campus. This website allows us to accomplish both of those, and will be a great recruiting tool.”

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