A New Face for BU, Virtually
Home page redesign uses more photos, less Flash
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Visit with Scott Dasse, creative director for New Media, who discusses the new BU.edu.
Boston University launched a new home page Tuesday, switching from a model that warehouses information to one that gathers it, according to chief designer Scott Dasse.
“The main goal is to make an impression on the people who are going to pass this way,” says Dasse, creative director for New Media, who likens the home page to billboards along a highway. “They aren’t coming to stay; they’re coming to find something else.”
A university’s home page is often the first glimpse that prospective students have of their future college, as well as the familiar face that current students, staff, and faculty regard as their home away from home. Dasse says his digital facelift uses less Flash and fewer interactive features than the earlier model and favors a more visual format, where users search and shuffle through points of interest around BU.
Stewart Foss, founder of eduStyle.net, a Web design gallery that analyzes higher education Web sites, says Web sites have become the primary public face of most universities “If you look at the volume of people that visit a college Web site versus brochures,” says Foss, whose readers had high praise for Dasse’s earlier design, “it just doesn’t even compare.”
The BU site, says Dasse, had 24 million visits in 2009.
In Foss’ opinion, universities tend to revamp their Web sites every two to three years. Some do it, he says, to appeal to a new audience of students, to reflect major institutional changes, or — with an eye on neighboring universities’ redesigns — simply to “keep up with the Joneses.”
Foss says current design of university home pages leans toward realistic textures and photography that create a natural look. Video is becoming standard. Designers are using less Flash, which doesn’t play on many smart phones, like the BlackBerry or the iPhone. He sees social networking taking center stage.
Dasse led BU’s last home page revamp, in 2006. The concept driving that redesign was to use the home page as a marketing tool to pump up the school’s finer points. Now, he says, University officials are interested in using the page as “a front door to not a single Web site, but a city of Web sites” around campus.
Like several other university sites, BU’s new look employs more still photography and offers social networking sites as one of many features viewers can shuffle through.
Part of Dasse’s job was to capture BU’s image as urban, progressive, gritty, and unapologetic “rock star in the city.” And while looks are important, function is key. “The home page has to be a window or windows,” he says, “from which you’re able to catch a glimpse of real things happening here.”
Some tweaking remains. Dasse says viewers can look for an archive feature in coming months. His office is also working on ambient video that draws users into a real-time BU experience — like a busy street scene in London for wannabe study abroaders — or an auto search function similar to texting that guesses the word being typed.
According to Foss, BU has been a leader in higher education Web design. The University has won several eduStyle.net awards in recent years, including best overall Web site, home page, and visual design.
“The community will be looking with interest as Boston University redesigns,” he says. “That might set some tone in where other schools go.”4 Comments