As we make our way down the long and winding road that is a redesign, one of our goals has been making our academic pages easier to both navigate to and find information on once you’re there. I don’t think I’m speaking out of school when I say this University has struggled with this in the past.

I really want clean pages with nice photography and the ability to get a quick overview of programs/majors, with the ability to learn more and dig deeper.

We often try to cram as much information into a main academic area page as possible. I would like to do a better job at informing prospective students of the strengths of our academic programs.

I found a great post at Neven Mrgan’s Tumblr about how three companies present their all-in-one computers: Apple, Dell and HP. Here’s a side by side comparison:

This is not just me being an Apple fanboy. Apple has made their iMac page clean, compartmentalized and easy to get key points at a glance. They’ve used several photos of the actual product, the top marketing points and made it easy to buy. The HP page on the right was probably sent through a myriad of committees then through the marketing wringer. The best they came up with is a small image (in Flash no less) and 4 tabs of information, with the main one including 18 bullet points. 18. If I gave you the 10 second test with both of these pages, you’d be more apt to remember more points from Apple’s page.

I would guess that many academic pages have “18 bullet points.” Maybe not bullet points, but a ton of information thrown on the index page because some felt it needed to be there.

Mr. Mrgan also makes one other very good point.

Look at the URL’s for each of these products:

Apple’s iMac page URL: http://www.apple.com/imac

HP’s 200xt computer page: http://www.shopping.hp.com/webapp/shopping/computer_can_series.do?storeName=computer_store&category=desktops&a1=Category&v1=All-in-One+PCs&series_name=200xt_series&jumpid=in_R329_prodexp/hhoslp/psg/desktops/All-in-One_PCs/200xt_series

Which one do you think you (and your users) would be able to enter if they were looking for a specific program or area? Clean URLs are a very good thing. Many CMSes do an OK job at creating user-friendly URLs, but often I come across a college site with URLs like college.edu/29592.xml. That doesn’t help a user.

I’ll be honest, when I think about Spartans, I think about this guy:

Michigan State would rather I think about their nearly 500,000 alumni around the world and what they’re doing. This summer, they’re collecting stories from alumni and will be showcasing them on a new site, Spartan Sagas.

Here’s the video they’ve recently put out to solicit stories. It’s pretty nice.

The New York Times writes about the project here, noting:

In addition to the microsite, the campaign includes commercials, on television and YouTube; print ads; posters and signs in airports; and online ads. The budget for the media spending is estimated at a thrifty $478,000.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have that sort of budget. Here’s one more snippet from the NYT story that’s stuck out in my mind:

The campaign is indicative of how institutions of higher learning are trying to sell themselves in the marketplace with the kinds of tactics more commonly used to sell soap, soup or sedans.

Do you think that’s a fair statement? Yes, the pool of students to attend our colleges are getting smaller, and we need to set ourselves apart or ensure we’re reaching the right audience. That’s different, I think, than selling soap and soup – both of which are more common denominator type products and get common denominator type marketing.