The university homepage has changed a lot since this version from 1996. But does it actually improve?

Upgrading the usask.ca homepage

Oh no, not again.

The usask.ca homepage has existed in its current state since January 2011. While it has quietly gone about its business for over five years, lots of things have changed. Technology is an obvious one. So many devices. We interact in digital spaces in entirely different ways than we did even five years ago. New Drake memes all the time.

The university is also changing. We have new leadership and new spaces. A new vision is being defined. New groups of students, faculty, and staff join the community every year, each one with new ideas, new expectations.

We need to upgrade the homepage so that it’s in a better position to evolve not only with the university, but with the rest of the web, too. That means upgrading technology, sure. Luckily we already have that technology in place. The technology we have now was designed specifically for improvement, not for disposal. We’ve never been in that position on the web before at the university.

We also need to upgrade the processes surrounding the homepage. The homepage is stuck in an old paradigm where overhaul-style redesigns happen every 3-5 years rather than a steady stream of iterative improvement. That needs to change. The homepage should not be a treated as an immovable building trapped in concrete and steel. It needs to continuously improve to ensure it meets user needs while reflecting university priorities.

The homepage has had a major overhaul every few years since the mid-90s. Setting it up for continuous improvement means less disruption down the road and a better user experience.

Upgrading the homepage to this extent means changing it. However, we don’t want the sudden disruptive change of past redesigns. People use the homepage in routine ways every day and we don’t want to create frustration.

That’s why this time we’re designing in public. You will be able to: 

  • Try early prototypes and provide the feedback that informs how they improve
  • Watch those prototypes change and learn what went into those changes
  • View the data we’re using to help inform decisions
  • Spend time with something new and unfamiliar before it replaces something old and familiar

We’re also designing in a cross-campus team. The homepage, after all, impacts everyone who has any type of interaction with our campus.

A steering committee exists to oversee that team. Membership is:

  • Shari Baraniuk, CIO and AVP Information & Communications Technology
  • Gregory Power, COO of College of Medicine
  • Sharon Scott, Senior Communications Director
  • Candace Wasacase-Lafferty, Director of Aboriginal Initiatives
  • Monisha Shukla, Director of ICT Administrative and Data Systems
  • Kyla Hoffman, Manager of ICT Web and Collaboration Systems
  • Jeff Drake, Director of Marketing, University Relations

This group has laid out five basic principles that will guide team decisions.

Decisions must:

  1. Be informed by user research
  2. Reflect university priorities
  3. Be measurable
  4. Align with university technology standards
  5. Align with university brand standards

That’s a pretty straightforward checklist. And we’re putting it here so that you can make sure we’re adhering to it along the way.

We’re not working towards a firm deadline. A new homepage will replace our current homepage when user feedback suggests that it’s ready. We think we can get there in a few months. Just in time for another Drake meme.

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