Alex Schneider: Rethink GW’s web presence

The new “Only At GW” website launched last week advertises the University and gives prospective students a glimpse at campus life and culture. Built fresh from the bottom up, the site is not only well designed, but it is also helpful to those who want to learn more about GW.

What a stark contrast it is to the University’s home page.

Just this past month, the main GW website received a makeover, timed to coincide with the unveiling of what the administration has called a new visual identity.

Unlike “Only At GW,” this redesign isn’t an improvement. What it does is create yet another template for the University’s sloppy construction of web portals and publicity.

It is remarkable that the same administration that signed off on “Only At GW” is content with this new confusing and visually unappealing home page design. The University needs to develop a plan that mimics the creativity of the “Only At GW” page, and apply it to create a network of websites that are accessible and user-friendly, unlike the confusing, haphazard construction of web portals that exists now.

The new design has lost the academic feel of the old website.

The fonts now lack serifs, visual characteristics that indicate substantive content, which makes the lettering look unprofessional and amateur. And the layout is more confusing, with elements compartmentalized into inconsistently sized columns that do not relate to one another.

Visitors to the site are met with a rather oversized slideshow that presents the school’s new advertising campaign. But the slides are difficult to read, due to inconsistent font sizes and poor choice of hallmark fonts. By comparison, the old site gave prominence to concrete news or feature items that represented the reach of programs taking place at GW.

The University’s home page is also far too long, with a massive slideshow, a strangely designed news module with a grainy image that links to GW Today and a series of “University highlights” that are actually useful and interesting but buried at the bottom of the page.

More generally, there is a lack of cohesion to the design. The administration should have focused on standardizing the look and feel of the entire GW online infrastructure.

Then of course there’s MyGW, a useful page with a template that has no resemblance to the rest of the domain. There are different templates for the GW Law School, the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Alumni and GW Housing. The Parent Services site resembles websites built a decade ago. These sites require immediate attention.

GW’s first website available via online archives was simple: a welcome banner and 13 text links for visitors to navigate what was then a limited online presence.

That was nearly 16 years ago. By now, GW has fallen prey to a difficulty plaguing large institutions with burgeoning websites. Standards in web development continue to change, but organizations often do not have the resources to update and maintain websites, despite growth in content.

GW has taken the first step, though. It allocated resources and developed a new front page. But this emphasis on the front page was merely cosmetic and did not address issues with the rest of the domain.

Alex Schneider is a first year student in the GW Law School.

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