Website wars

The site’s designer defends the old site, but professors are more critical

By on April 26, 2019

President Olian has approved a plan to rebuild QU.edu, according to the man who designed Quinnipiac’s current website from the ground up.

“It made no sense to me when I found out that they were planning to spend $1.3 million to do that,” said Keith Rhodes, the former chief digital officer of the university. “We spent $1.6 [million] to build the website. We built it to be future proof. We built it with a responsive design, scaled over multiple platforms, mobile devices, we built it to be on-brand.”

Lynn Bushnell, vice president for public affairs, confirmed the university’s plans to create a new website over the next several months, but would not name a price. She said the new website will be aimed towards a broader audience, rather than just targeting prospective students.

“It is really just aimed to prospective students and while that is a very important part since most prospective students make their decisions based on websites I think that we need to make ours more accessible for everyone,” Bushnell said. “In the next year to 18 months that will be a major project that we are working on.”

Rhodes said that the website was built after considering all aspects of the university, but he said its appeal to prospective students is why it is so effective.

“That university website is a communications flagship,” Rhodes said. “That is the source, the zero moment of truth. That is the truth for you as a student, before you arrive on campus you say is this a place for me? You look at the website, it speaks to you.”

Emily DiSalvo | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
Molly Yanity, associate professor of journalism, said the current website has many more flaws than Rhodes let on to.

“It is really hard to use,” Yanity said in an email. “Go to the [School of Communications] page. Can you find the curriculum from the links on that splash page to find out about the classes you will take? No. How about information on the profs you will take? Nope. I try to find phone numbers of colleagues and even that is a challenge.”

Aileen Dever, professor of modern languages, agrees that the website is difficult to use, which she said masks the great content Quinnipiac has to offer.

“I find the Quinnipiac website cumbersome to navigate,” Dever stated in an email. “You have to be exceptionally persistent to find the stellar programs, students, staff, professors and opportunities hidden within it.”

In contrast, Dever said the CAS360 website is much more user-friendly. CAS360 was created by Rick DelVecchio as an advising website for students and faculty.

“The Quinnipiac website is more general whereas CAS360 is more specific but it really stands as a model for easily navigable websites,” Dever stated.

Rhodes pointed out that when he joined the university team in 2014, numbers were down but after working on the Quinnipiac.edu we see today, the university experienced tremendous growth.

“We would not have been building a new dorm in 2014,” Rhodes said. “We are building a new dorm because our brand strategy, our brand identity.”

Cassidy Anderegg, a freshman political science major from South Dakota, was unable to make the trek across the country to visit Quinnipiac before committing. She said the website was ultimately what helped her make the decision.

“I wasn’t able to visit campus before deciding to go to school at Quinnipiac,” Anderegg said. “I used the website to find out information about the school. The website was super easy to use and really illustrated what the Quinnipiac was about and ultimately it was the Quinnipiac website that helped me find a home here at QU.”

Faculty have noticed that the website is more for “external” users like prospective students and as a result tend to avoid visiting it.

“I don’t particularly use the website since it seems to be externally focused,” said Hilary Fussell Sisco, chair of the department of strategic communication. “I will say that as a member of the search committee for the new Dean of the School of Communications, I was contacted by many potential candidates who were frustrated that they could not find information about the faculty or staff working in the School of Communications as that information is not available on the website.”

Rhodes believes the the chances of the new website failing are “about 70 %” because of the inexperience of the team working on it.

“I believe Dr. Olian has challenged the team on why things are the way they are with the website itself, what is the strategy behind it and those individuals aren’t able to articulate the strategy to defend the vision and properly deliver what we set out to do,” Rhodes said.

Yanity said since this will be the second massive expenditure on a website in the recent past, it is important this website succeeds.

“I understand these projects are complex and cumbersome, but that’s why they are extensive and expensive,” Yanity said in an email. “Because it is such a challenge, the university will fork out another seven-figure number. They need to get it right this time.”

In an informal survey conducted by the Chronicle with 66 respondents, 57.6% of respondents agreed that Quinnipiac should redesign QU.edu.

“It’s not very easy to navigate and I don’t like the formatting of the scrolling,” wrote one respondent. “I think it should be fixed so that things are easier to find upon entering the website.”

Students were more dissatisfied with the MyQ section of the website which includes a hub of resources for current students.

“The only part that needs to be redone is the main MyQ page,” wrote another respondent. “That is the only section of the website that doesn’t look as new and professional than the rest. Otherwise, everything else is modern and up to date.”

Rhodes left the university before the work on the MyQ branch of the current site was completed and he said this website is a “failure.” He points to MyQ as proof the new website will fail.

“They spend closer to $700,000 redesigning MyQ which desperately needed to be redesigned and they failed because the team that is leading it won’t be able to do it,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said MyQ is outdated and this demonstrates that the team slated to create the new website lacks an understanding of user experience.

“MyQ is a disaster,” Rhodes said. “It is like stepping back in time to before your current students were born. That website is based on technology and a look that. MyQ is what you get when an IT team designs a web experience which is a complete lack of understanding of user experience design.”

Bushnell said the new website will be designed with input from all aspects of the university.

“As we move forward in developing our new university digital ecosystem, we will embark on a highly collaborative process that will include all university stakeholders, (students, faculty, staff and alumni), who we believe will be better served by an improved web experience that can adapt to the current and future needs of the university,” Bushnell said.

While the plans to invest in a new website have not yet been disclosed to the student body, Rhodes believes President Olian had no plans of sharing it. He said that in the past she has only disclosed expenditures after they are uncovered by an outside source.

“The way that she acts, I think is condescending to the students,” Rhodes said. “I think the students are much smarter that she gives on to.”

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