Lauren Karch

A university Web site can be the face of the school for some prospective students, and Miami University’s has gotten a makeover.

Dionn Tron, associate vice president for university communications, said the first phase of the new version of launched in late December 2009. While the new site has a new appearance and fresh branding technique, Tron said the biggest changes are below the surface.

“It was a different project than just making it look different,” Tron said.

Tron said she put together a committee in early 2008, including faculty of the five academic divisions, admission personnel, student affairs staff, students and staff from housing and dining. The group worked with students, faculty and prospective students and parents to brainstorm ideas for improvements. They also selected and hired Boston-based interactive design agency BigBad to do the redesign project.

“They’ve done extensive work in web redesign,” Tron said. “We needed someone who had the technology to build it and build all the links in.”

BigBad continued with a kind of market research, meeting with students and prospective families and issuing surveys to students, faculty and staff to establish purposes of the new site.

“We began working with BigBad in June of 2008, most of that time has been spent building the infrastructure,” Tron said.

The old site had no uniform navigation system between Web pages, making the infrastructure difficult for viewers to navigate and for members of the Miami community to add content.

“It’s like building a house that has no foundation, no wiring, no plumbing,” Tron said. “On the outside it might look nice, but you need to build all that stuff on the inside.”

Tron said is an example of a site with common navigation features on each page meaning wherever one is on the site, one can find the “home” or “friends” tabs. Miami’s new navigation system allows a great deal of flexibility in the appearance of different pages while keeping a common set of tabs along the top, featuring major areas of university information such as “Student Life” and “Academics.” The left side of each page holds links for prospective students to admission, financial aid, an information request form and the online application.

The new design also allows more dynamic content changes, according to Tron. A Miami content management system has been put in place for the first time, allowing faculty, staff and students to put content online without writing in HTML. Information shown on multiple pages can be tagged, so an administrator can change that information on all pages upon which it appears.

“Say the date of graduation changes,” Tron said. “Before the new Web, it could change on one Web site and nowhere else. Now, everywhere the date is tagged, it changes throughout the Web.”

The new site is also friendlier to blogs, videos and other forms of interactive media as well.

“We wanted to build a Web infrastructure that would accommodate these technologies and be flexible to allow new technologies that may come along,” Tron said.

Tron said the new home page and major content areas is aimed at the site’s primary audience: prospective students and their families. She said the committee decided to focus the home content on “the Miami experience.”

The home page contains a slide show of featured students with photos, quotes and links to more information about them. Each student’s page features personal information, his or her academic major and on-campus activities and quotes about favorite dining places, favorite off-campus activities, ways to connect to other students and why Miami was his or her school of choice.

“Prospective students want to know, what’s it going to be like here?” Tron said. “Will I fit in here? Will I find what’s important to me here? Am I going to leave Miami able to succeed in life?”

Senior Danny Sauter is one featured student. As a member of student government, he worked with Tron and the redesign committee, representing student organizations’ interests. When Tron learned he was also involved in Edun LIVE, she asked him to be a “Miami Experience” student. Sauter said he met with a freelance writer hired to do student write-ups and a photographer.

Sauter said he thought the new site would attract prospective students and make it easier for current students to navigate the system.

“I think it’s a big improvement, kind of long overdue,” Sauter said. “I think once everyone gets familiar with the new layout, everyone will really appreciate the change.”

More changes will be coming soon, according to Tron.

“What you see now is the first phase, over the next week or so we’ll be working out all the bugs,” Tron said.

More students will be added to the homepage and more content will be added around the site. Tron said faculty pages, similar to the student pages, may also be included in the coming months. Academic divisions will be setting up more content and Tron said tools for adding online content would be made available to student organizations.