College Homepage March Madness: First Round, Part II

Here’s my second batch of first-round picks in the NCAA bracket of homepages. Will the crazy run of upset wins continue? Let’s take it to the paint and find out!

Kansas v Lehigh
I suppose it would be folly to ask why the University of Kansas is called “KU?” No matter. The #1 seed does have a lot of great content on its homepage. I especially like the March Madness fan banners available for easy download. But the site suffers from a bout of “squished-itis” with lots of tiny photos and graphics competing for scarce breathing room.  The condition is even more pronounced over on the Lehigh site, with all the navigation text rendered as tiny graphic buttons. Lehigh’s site does not even try to validate to its declared HTML 4.01 DOCTYPE; KU does validate to XHTML 1.0 Transitional.
Winner: Kansas

UNLV v Northern Iowa
These two schools are pretty evenly matched. Both schools employ the rotating features in the top third — UNLV’s is a little more polished looking, but both a run too small to have much impact in my opinion (sensing a trend: maybe I just like big pictures). Northern Iowa has a very nice presentation of its majors right off its Academics page (both an alpha list and organized by interest area) but UNLV’s list is easily found and scanned, too. And both schools employ one of my pet peeves: links to both “Prospective Students” and “Admissions” on the homepage that take you to two different places. The UNI page is a lot friendlier though, with slightly cheesy but endearingly earnest videos from students acting as guides to different aspects of the process.
Winner: Northern Iowa

Michigan State v New Mexico State
Michigan State seems to be playing homage to Cornell with their homepage design, but doesn’t quite pull it off. There’s way too much text on the page; text that isn’t given enough room to stand on its own (that’s the key, I think. I’m not so much “text is bad” as I am “text needs space.”) New Mexico emphasizes the “big picture,” has a lot less in the way of news on its homepage, and a much simpler navigation structure.
Winner: New Mexico State

Maryland v Houston
My immediate impression when looking at the University of Maryland site is that they don’t seem to have prospective students in mind as their primary audience. As someone who knows nothing about the University of Maryland, I don’t even know what some of the features in their top feature slider are about. Maybe they have more meaning for an internal audience?  The features on Houston’s site are a mix of student and alumni profiles. The Houston site has a list of majors in its dropdown navigation, and it’s the first school I’ve seen so far with a list of required high school courses prominently featured on its Admissions page.
Winner: Houston

Tennessee v San Diego State
The UT site is very clean looking and consistent when clicking through several top-level pages. SDSU is a little less polished looking, with several small images competing for attention. Both schools’ Admissions sites commit some flagrant fouls. UT still prominently features a link to a 2009 open house event, and SDSU has a link on its Freshman page for those who seeking admission in Spring 2010 that returns a page with this message: “San Diego State University’s is not accepting first-time freshmen undergraduate applications for spring 2010.” Um, thanks.
Winner: Tennessee

Georgetown v Ohio
I don’t mean to be unkind, but I really hope there is a redesign effort afoot at Georgetown. The site is a blast from the past: a 750-pixel wide table with tiny tiny tiny rollover graphics as navigation buttons. The Admissions site manages to look both spare and complicated, with not much in the way of guidance, friendliness, or specifics. The Ohio site on the other hand does a great job I think at presenting a lot of information while still looking clean and streamlined. The top rotating features are both photo- and student-friendly. My one issue: The “Future Students” page is nice and succinct and direct, but most of the links take me off to another “Undergraduate Admissions” site that was obviously *not* included in whatever recent redesign process Ohio went through.
Winner: Ohio

Oklahoma State v Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech’s site is pretty sweet! It’s another example of a site that manages to pack a big punch in terms of sheer amount of content without feeling heavy and confused. They use a rotating feature area — which I think is the new “girls under trees” in terms of its ubiquity — but they make the smartest use of headlines and photos that I’ve seen. I actually clicked on a couple! Also nice: a list of degree programs is one of the main links off the homepage. Oklahoma embraces the “big picture” idea — which initially gives the homepage a clean, dramatic look — but their drop-down menus are crammed and confusing. I looked around for about seven minutes and never found a list of majors. And why does the freshman admissions page feature a story about the “Campaign for Oklahoma State” right at the top?
Winner: Georgia Tech

Ohio State v UC Santa Barbara
UCSB’s fixed width table optimized for 800×600 screen resolutions and its PDF summaries of its majors just did not stand a chance. Wow, Ohio State! Such a variety of content in such a smooth and multi-faceted presentation. Love love love the tag clouds for most popular sites by audience — gets me to the list of majors right away. Love the user-generated content, the image of the day, the simple and consistent top-level navigation.
Winner: Ohio State

So we’re now halfway through the first-round games and we’ve already seen some stunning upsets and some solid performances. More March Madness (Web Weirdness? DOCTYPE Dementia?) to come.

–lori

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