I was taking a look at Paul Nixon’s web site, and his links to the work they are doing redesigning the University of Arizona’s web site. They used to have a blog on which they described their work and solicited comments, and one of the comments struck me. “Put a big logo and a Google search box. Done. Next project.”
One of the most vexing of problems for a university web designer, especially one tasked with a dense web site, is how to facilitate navigation on that site. You have two audiences to cater to, the group that knows what it wants to find (current students and staff), and the group that has just come to browse (the all important prospective students and their parents).
Traditionally, the designs produced to solve this dilemma go one way: provide a ton of links and let the user find what they want. Links by constituency, links by topic area, links for non-interested parties. You end up with 15 or 20 links, often with submenus, and then a smattering of other “important” links like news, or the foundation, or whatnot.
But one of the important, and often neglected aims of a University’s home page is to sell the place. To prospective students, donors, news organizations. Frankly, to anyone for whom a good experience is important to the University’s future.
How does the flippant comment I quoted above solve this problem?
Well, I’m not sure. But it is an interesting perspective. What if… what if you created a University home page for the public. It was gorgeous to look at, and described the recent successes of the University, while also letting the public know what was happening on campus, what the University is all about, and how they can join the community (either by donating, enrolling, or just attending an event, be it sports or theater or graduation or something else).
Then, also on that page, is a “navigation box.” On load, the focus of the cursor goes there. Start typing, and it autofills what you might be looking for (see Google), get off the autofill track and hit return, and it searches the University intelligently, returning relevant hits.
I imagine that search being as intuitive, useful, and smart as say, the LaunchBar search. Visit the University’s web site. Start typing a few letters, hit return, and there you are, where you wanted to be.
I don’t have a freakin’ clue how to do it. But I think it could be done. More importantly, I think it should be done.