A good website should convey the personality of the organization it represents, be consistent with its design and content, and most importantly, be easy to use. Yet despite having the resources to make a great website, when UM changed its main miami.edu website last year, it failed to hit the mark in these three areas. Rather than phasing in changes gradually to allow users the chance to get accustomed to them, the University took us by surprise last semester and did a complete revamp immediately. Now that we’ve had time to try them out, many of us are disappointed. When users click on the site they’re greeted not by Hurricane orange and green, but with blue and pea green. Users clicking on one of the links are taken to a page that doesn’t look anything like the home page except for the appearance of some seemingly random variation on orange and green. Each page has its own set of colors and layout and lacks consistency. It reminds us of Hecht Residential College-you walk in the lobby and see one thing, but upon further investigation find that the rest of the building certainly doesn’t match the welcome mat laid out.
This inconsistency doesn’t just contain itself to the main links off the home page. In fact, the more links you hit, the more random the pages that appear. Each school and college, and even some departments within schools, have their own drastically different sites. Not all of these pages are bad, but none of them follow the format of the main miami.edu page. The School of Communication site is visually pleasing and user friendly, with information being exactly where you’d expect it to be-but then again, this School offers a major in visual communication. The Miller School of Medicine has a professional, up-to-date homepage, even though its color-scheme is blue. These pages are, unfortunately, the exception, not the rule. The College of Arts and Sciences, which houses the greatest number of programs at UM, has some departments that follow its format and others that do not. The Biology page looks like something you would learn to do in CIS 120. There are quite a few departments that follow a standard format, and that look quite professional, but not all the pages are up to par.
The School of Business’ page hasn’t been updated in ages, with content issues such as Dr. June Teufel Dreyer still being listed as the department chair for political science. Finding information on this site is difficult and ends with the random clicking of links in the hopes of coming to the page you need. Anybody trying to gain information on any program in the School of Business has a high chance of leaving frustrated and empty-handed.
While students attending UM can always walk to an office on campus to get the information they can’t find on the Internet (even though they shouldn’t have to), potential students don’t have that same luxury. In an age where almost everyone has grown up with the Internet, we’ve come to view an organization’s web site as a pretty good indicator of what that organization is really like. The messages that our site is sending to seems to be that our individual schools and colleges are out doing their own thing without communicating with each other or the main University, that we aren’t up-to-date, able to offer assistance or provide useful information.
Prospective students looking at a variety of colleges and universities to apply to will consciously or unconsciously be attracted to those they find most attractive and friendly. Where does that leave us? Not to mention that current students, community members, staff and faculty deserve a site that’s easy to maneuver around and that doesn’t cause us to pull our hair out while looking for information. For a school that was named as one of the top places to work in information technology, our web site is in need of some serious help.