Our Higher Ed Web Journey

February 10, 2011

Posted in Higher Ed and Web Industry.

When I joined higher ed in 2005, marketing seemed to be a dirty word. Web designers were starting to add reflections and big rounded corners. Many developers were still building with tables and font tags ran rampant. To many, terms like “information architecture” and “content strategy” were foreign concepts. And for most of us, usability testing was little more than a dream.

Higher ed web has grown up.

For designers, the higher ed web gallery eduStyle opened eyes to design possibilities and what the competition was doing. We started consciously thinking about user experience. Our bosses pointed to other schools and asked, “why can’t we do that?” Designs became astonishingly beautiful and increasingly effective.

Developers pushed themselves to adopt web standards. The emergence of solid Javascript frameworks like Prototype, mooTools, and jQuery opened the door to “cool” website interactions that didn’t have to produce awful code. Development standards leapt forward.

Climbing wall by http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonynewell/3907799460/

Information architecture and content strategy are no longer “nice-to-haves,” but required steps for any project. Content became king. Why have a website if you don’t have a strategy?

Our entire approach to the web got smarter. For decades, marketers have tested their campaigns, headlines, slogans, and ads against focus groups, A/B tests, and research. Guerrilla usability testing and a growing dependence on web analytics have helped us become more accountable and more confident in our work.

Speaking of user experience, we started caring about accessibility and mobile experience. Those require thinking from the user’s perspective and creating an experience tailored to how your visitors will consume the site. And it’s considered unacceptable to require a particular browser.

I mark these improvements partly in the lexicon of our time. We readily use the terms user experience and ROI. It’s not uncommon to start projects by determining the role of the website in a larger integrated campaign, including direct mail, advertising, email, social media, and more.

Where does higher ed go next?

Chas looking ahead; Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/oaknd1/2769057689/

Today, we have a bunch of conferences, newsletters, Ning and LinkedIn groups, a fanatic Twitter community, and an explosion of higher ed blogs. There are video blogs and live chats and #beerwithfriends. Join in the conversation and you’ll be opened up to freely shared ideas, code, advice, and opportunities.

We’ve come a long way, but we’re not done. That’s part of what attracts us to working online—it’s always changing and anyone can jump right in. Today, there are visionaries, experimenters, trailblazers, and testers, all working hard to create the next thing we’ll all be rushing to add to our own toolboxes.