For the first time since 2005, Bowdoin’s primary website, bowdoin.edu, is getting a sleek new redesign. The work is more than just a facelift. Three years in the making, the overhaul will completely change both how users interact with the site and how content creators can do their jobs.
The launch, which is scheduled for Wednesday, will reveal changes to almost every facet of the website. Each academic department’s page on the site will be both personalized and standardized. For example, the visual arts page will include artwork, whereas the philosophy page will have published works, but the physical placement of tabs like “Major Requirements” and “Course Offerings” will be the same on both pages.
Students will be sent a link to a draft version of the new site at some point, which will include a feedback form. The Office of Communications, which has largely been responsible for oversight of the project along with private firm White Whale Web Services, hopes that this will afford students the chance to play around with the new functionality and detect any remaining bugs before the official launch.
A new tab, made specifically for current Bowdoin students, will hopefully provide easier access to frequently used resources and drive more traffic. However, the website is very much outward-facing. According to Scott Hood, senior vice president for communications and public affairs, it is primarily used by prospective students and families as well as alumni of the College.
Thus, in addition to doing its due diligence in speaking with academic department chairs and current students about their needs and wants, the website building team considered how students from a diverse set of backgrounds could easily utilize the site. Janie Porche, content director and former creative director at White Whale, said that the old site has facts without much perspective, which led at times to a kind of implicit elitism, because the design assumed an understanding of both the traditional college application process and the way academics and social life at colleges like Bowdoin are structured. The redesign provides clearer, more detailed explanations in more casual language that is meant to engage its audience.
The search functionality was also overhauled. The generation of students currently in college and applying to college use the search bars on websites dramatically more than any other group, which prefers to access information through tabs. Thus, the team thought a lot about ways to streamline the process. A particularly pertinent example: if “newspaper” is typed into the new website’s search bar, “The Bowdoin Orient” will come up in a drop-down menu and can be accessed without having to go to a “Search Results” page.
The Communications Office and website team took many of their cues from admissions officers in considering how empathy plays into the college application process and how it should thus be included in the new website. If the designers achieve their goals, the site will be streamlined and user friendly and will highlight the unique character and warmth of Bowdoin.
In return, Bowdoin’s admissions officers will likely be forced to retire one of their more popular jokes in information sessions—namely, that our website looks like it was built in 1997.
Nina McKay contributed to this report.