A Different Perspective on Colorado College’s Web Redesign
On the cusp of summer vacation, a hot story made the front page of the final issue of The Catalyst, Colorado College’s weekly student newspaper. The article, called “Web redesign sparks debate over larger virtues,” was written by Kate Hoffman ’14, who opened the piece with a great question: “What kind of an impression is Colorado College looking to send out to those who browse its new website?”
As Hoffman points out, this question is of paramount importance for a variety of groups affiliated with the college. The form and functionality of an institution’s website must appeal not only to that institution’s current students, but also to parents of students, prospective students, parents of prospective students, alumni, faculty, and staff.
Consequently, the new site and those involved in its redesign – namely, White Whale Web Services in Oakland, California, and CC’s Redesign Working Group – face a substantial amount of pressure to please everyone in an acutely diverse audience.
The new website, projected to “go live” by the start of the 2011-2012 academic year, must meet or exceed a mixed bag of criteria. Functionality and efficiency are most important for those who access the website on a regular basis, like current CC students and staff, while presentation and layout are of more concern to faculty, admissions specialists, and the Alumni Association. Streamlined search features are in the interests of students and parents, who must navigate the site quickly and easily, while the degree to which academic department pages appear reputable and informative is critical for professors, who want contemporaries at other institutions to recognize the excellence of their own. To an extent, the admissions and communications offices are advertisers, and must adequately intrigue and inform prospective students and their parents.
Needless to say, pressures are high for all, and the burden of assuaging them is heavy.
Which is as it should be. White Whale Web Services and the Redesign Working Group certainly have a responsibility to each and every one of these factions. As a result, those of us involved in the process must engage in a delicate balancing act, careful not to prioritize the aesthetics of presentation over the quality of information and vice versa.
The three individuals quoted in the Catalyst piece include a CC student on the Design Review Board and two professors, one of whom is also on the Board and another who elected to be quoted anonymously. All three interviewees express discontent with the redesign process and with the design itself. They complain about a lack of faculty involvement and assert that the site will not appear “academic” enough. They’re concerned that it will not seem as highbrow and “timeless” as other sites. They’re worried that it won’t look like Harvard’s, which “has a very simple design” and “promotes [itself] as the sophisticated and serious academic institution that it is.” White Whale’s design is too creative, they say. It’s too fun. It’s not simple enough.
Unquestionably, these three people are entitled to their opinion. But by restricting its review to those “expressing disappointment in the [website’s] almost-final result,” The Catalyst has generalized three opinions to the whole community. What’s worse – they’ve effectively silenced an entire perspective. Not only does the piece lack the viewpoints of supportive Review Board members, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and students, but it also neglects the insights of those most directly involved with the design process – representatives from the White Whale design company, and the committee of digital construction workers in the Redesign Working Group.
As a rising senior, I admittedly have a crushing bias about the way I’d like my school to be represented. My graduation from Colorado College will continue to carry weight throughout my career. Its name will be printed on my résumé for the rest of my life. I need it to be consistently presented as a serious academic institution; my admission to grad school, if nothing else, depends on it.
For all of these reasons, I couldn’t be more supportive of the redesign.
Controversially, White Whale has encouraged the Working Group to utilize as much student material as possible in constructing the new site. The committee has therefore made the decision to hire its web writers and new media specialists directly from the CC student body. A few members of the community have since expressed certain doubts regarding this idea, and thus doubts about the capabilities of CC students. As a CC student and writer, this personally saddens me, but as a critical thinker-in-training, it has inspired me on principle. In coming to terms with the influx of skepticism, I’ve re-learned an important lesson: to rely on the old “show, don’t tell” mantra in order to stand by my own opinion – that these doubts are completely unfounded.
Throughout my career at CC, I’ve experienced a more concentrated body of sheer talent than I have ever seen, at the college level or otherwise. Student writers (like Laurie Laker ’12 and Kelly Varian ’13), photographers (like Stanley Sigalov ’13), and filmmakers (like Arielle Mari ’12 and Sarah White ’11), have contributed unthinkably impressive work to the community and to the website, demonstrating creative prowess of a professional grade.
I’m also dazzled by White Whale Web Services. White Whale’s webpage mock-ups – including top-level and academic department pages – are nothing short of beautiful. Information is easily accessible, presented creatively, and accented with stunning videos and photographs that only a CC student, who sees the angles of this place through the nuanced lens of one who calls it “home,” could have taken (but don’t take my word for it – see for yourself at blog.coloradocollege.edu/redesign).
Why exclude such talents as these in favor of so-called “professional” writers and photographers? Why distrust us to accurately and organically convey the essence of our home? What better way to showcase the value of a CC education than to display student accomplishments for the world to see?
My pride and confidence in these sentiments is overwhelming.
Hoffman writes, “A website that only highlights some of the greatness that CC has to offer … will not paint a full picture of all that makes up the CC experience,” and points out that “we all chose CC for different reasons.” She’s absolutely right. Colorado College is an exceptional academic institution – a “unique intellectual adventure,” if you will – and it should be wholly and elegantly represented as such.
But like it or not, Colorado College is not Harvard University, and the “larger virtues” we should share with the world cannot be reduced to those that put us on par: we must highlight those values that make us extraordinary. Autonomy. Rigor. Individuality. Progressiveness. Passion. And yes – fun. For what is passion – CC has taught me – but an incite to productivity, fueled by immersion and fun in your field?
There is a reason that past and present students have declined such titans as Yale and Harvard in favor of Colorado College, and an attempt to force the beautiful idiosyncrasies of our values into an Ivy League-shaped box would disappoint me more than any webpage ever could.
Hoffman’s right – we did all choose CC for different reasons.
And come August, we will finally have a face that reflects that.
By Katie Rogers ‘12