EDITORS NOTE: The original version of this story ran with the headline “Bowdoin website to see first major overhaul since 2005.” In our original reporting we missed the fact that the College launched a website overhaul in 2012 but after a little more than one month, reverted back to the old version. There’s no mention of those changes in the timeline included on the redesign website. More about that overhaul and its rollback can be found here and here.
The Office of Communications and Public Affairs has embarked on an initiative to redesign the College’s website, which has not undergone significant lasting changes since 2005. The project is expected to be completed in October of this year.
“That’s a long time in this world. It’s due,” said Senior Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood.
The impetus for the new site began in fall of 2015, when the office ran a comprehensive research project focused on how to attract students from outside of the New England region, where Bowdoin might be less familiar, Hood said. One conclusion that the team took from the project was that digital outreach is crucial in order to attract those demographics.
“Clearly, in this day and age, you can do some of that in print, but it’s a digital world now,” said Hood. “[That project] was an opportunity for us to figure out how to do that kind of work, and realize that it’s time to create a website.”
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs Mary Baumgartner added that in addition to strategic and aesthetic reasons for the redesign, the current website is practically flawed: there are many dead-ends on the site, it lacks accessibility and doesn’t have a mobile version.
Baumgartner, who began working at Bowdoin in September 2017 and is a leading figure in developing the new site, has extensive experience in digital communications through her work as vice president for digital initiatives at HBO, where she worked for 17 years. Baumgartner was key to transforming HBO.com into one of the most prominent websites in the TV industry, as well as launching “HBO On-Demand.”
“At HBO, what we were constantly trying to do was think about what our fans wanted and [what we] were doing from our website … so I will definitely bring that perspective to the website design,” said Baumgartner. “Understanding the different constituencies that want to use our site, whether that is prospective students and families, current students, staff.”
Hood highlighted that this wide range of users will present a challenge for the team as it starts designing a new site completely from scratch.
“It is a priority that this site be useful to people who don’t know about Bowdoin. But at the same time we also have to preserve the functionality internally. That’s a tricky balance,” said Hood. “It’s really a project about real estate in some ways. You have to make choices.”
In addition to Hood and Baumgartner, the team managing the overhaul includes Associate Vice President for Communications Alison Bennie, Director of News and Media Relations Doug Cook, Technology Integration Specialist Julie Haugen, Director of Editorial Services Scott Schaiberger ’95 and Director of Digital and Social Media Holly Sherburne. The management team has also formed a Steering Committee composed of students and staff in order to represent all aspects of campus.
“Those folks [on the committee] are charged with considering all of this, helping us move forward, but also with going back to their area in the college and make sure that every knows what is happening,” Hood said.
Communications ran focus groups on campus to gauge student interest with regards to the site.
“They wanted to get a feel about what Bowdoin students think about Bowdoin. They didn’t ask very specific questions,” said Cirkine Sherry ’18, who was part of a focus group.
Students responded with their experiences at Bowdoin and their opinions about the future website.
“Students said that the website shouldn’t be too chic or modern, because that’s not authentic to Bowdoin,” said Sherry. “But at the same time, it really needs to be updated. It needs to be easier to navigate. It’s so confusing. Values and those things are important too, but the basic essentials aren’t really there.”
In order to continue considering student input, Baumgartner said that the office will be holding bi-weekly drop in hours during which any member of the campus community can share their ideas for the new site. Communications has also begun a blog that will follow the progress of the site.
“The goal is that the entire campus can participate and really sees reflected what matters to them in the work that we’re doing,” Baumgartner said.
So far, the management team has gathered information and has not yet started design, so Hood and Baumgartner can’t begin to say what the new site will look like. However, Baumgartner noted that the new site will incorporate more video and graphics and provide a stronger platform to represent both student and faculty work.
“‘Show, don’t tell,’ is driving a lot of the design conversations we’re having right now, so I think it’s going to be a more visual site,” she said.
Hood emphasized that the October launch should be the culmination of a long collaboration between all parts of campus.
“This is not the kind of thing where you go off in a corner somewhere and you do [the redesign] and drop [it] in everybody’s lap,” he said. “It’s a lot of ownership, a lot of involvement. There’s a lot of people who understand what’s going on at the College, and we may not, so we need that input.”