College Homepage March Madness: First Round, Part III

The race for the homepage championship marches madly on. The next round of first-round contests:

Syracuse v Vermont
Syracuse goes with the “big picture,” while Vermont tries to get two bites at the cherry with two photo features side-by-side with the result of a loss of impact for both. Syracuse is one of the longer pages I’ve seen, but it’s clean white-and-grey grid layout looks infinitely flexible. Vermont’s page seems a little land-locked, but Vermont mounts an impressive late-game run with its link to “Majors, Minors, and Graduate Programs” right on the homepage. Syracuse featured links to both “Academic Departments” and “Departments and Offices.” I think I know the difference, but that’s ‘cuz I work in higher ed.
Winner: Syracuse

Gonzaga v Florida State
Gonzaga is one of the more navigation-focused homepages I’ve seen. Beyond the narrow photo feature “banner” at the top, the rest of the page is given over to a neat and tidy grid of headings and links. One issue: two slightly different  ”Programs” links go off to different pages with different lists. Is there an Advertising major or isn’t there? Florida State on the other hand has precious little in the way of navigation — six links on a left-hand menu — and it doesn’t really work. A ton of stuff has been crammed into a “Key Links” dumping ground, and the large area of real estate given over to text stories about faculty and student honors is in my view wasted.
Winner: Gonzaga

Xavier v Minnesota
This was a close match. Right off the heals of Gonzaga, Minnesota presents a very similar top-photo-then-grid-of-links approach, and again it’s very effective and flexible. Both schools have a link to majors and minors right off their homepage, and Xavier’s top links are obviously aimed at prospective students with prime real estate given over to financial aid and campus visits. But I found Xavier’s Flash top-third feature slider is a little jarring; the features zip by pretty fast with no way to control them that I could find. And Xavier doesn’t come close to validating, where Minnesota falls just short (pesky ampersand!)
Winner: Minnesota

PIttsburgh v Oakland
I don’t mean to pick on Pitt, but my first thought when looking at their site is that it’s a pretty good microcosm of everything that is wrong with conventional higher ed homepages: tiny graphic buttons for links, text-y news sections heavy on the faculty awards, multiple postage stamp-sized photos. And riddle me this: I’m a 17-year-old in Erie; why exactly do I care about your chancellor’s speeches or your provost search? Oakland’s page has its issues — a clunky top feature slider and no real list of majors that I could find — but the focus is obviously on an external audience. I especially like the timely link to info for admitted students.
Winner: Oakland

Kentucky v East Tennessee
Kentucky’s is the first homepage with marketing intro text that I actually read. Must have been the combination of clean typography and honesty that drew me in. They also make heavy use of video on their homepage, and I’m not sure that works. I think video should be supplementary, not primary. It’s asking a lot of users to expect them to watch multiple videos when a simple scannable Web page would do. Over on East Tennessee State, I could not two, not three, but four different navigation schemes each competing for primacy.
Winner: Kentucky

Texas v Wake Forest
Texas and Wake Forest present an opportunity to compare two different approaches to presenting lots of information on a homepage: put some “up front” and let the user click through to see the rest (Texas) or just put it all up front to begin with (Wake Forest). With the first, you run the risk that the user never bothers with the “hidden” stuff; with the second you run the risk of creating a busy overloaded page. The Wake Forest site is not busy or overloaded.  It’s a lot cleaner and simpler to parse than the Texas site because it’s not trying to do too much at once.
Winner: Wake Forest

Cornell v Temple
Cornell’s homepage is a solid if conventional grid layout with lots of info wrapped up in a tidy presentation. The focus is a bit institutional for my taste, but the pages and navigation are remarkably consistent and the admissions process feels friendly. Over at Temple, the homepage is also fairly conventional but a bit less solid. The rotating feature slideshow doesn’t allow me to click through to any additional info if I were interested in learning more. And clicking through to the Admissions site on Temple, my first reaction is that the process looks scary.
Winner: Cornell

Wisconsin v Wofford
Ok, there is a lot going on on the Wofford homepge, but not any more than there is on the Ohio State homepage, for example. It’s just that nothing is given any space to breathe and so a similar amount of content is made to look dense and daunting instead of parsable and compelling. Wisconsin’s site is pretty standard higher ed fare, but the navigation is clean and atleast my eyeball can focus enough to find the links to the list of majors, housing, etc. And it validates to XHTML 1.0 Strict!
Winner: Wisconsin

One more set of first round match-ups to go. Will my alma mater Washington upset Marquette like it did on the court? Stay tuned…

–lori.

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