First impressions are made online

Screen capture of the www.niu.edu homepageYou never get a second chance to make a first impression.

With websites playing a critical role in NIU’s initial communication with its many audiences, having a consistent university-wide message has never been more important.

“The NIU website is a retention and recruitment tool for the university,” said Webmaster Jeannine East, of NIU’s Office of Creative Services. “Current and future students will enter our website on any one of thousands of pages, so our goal is to make every page a consistent and enjoyable experience for them.”

NIU web pages represent and promote the entire university, as well as many specific programs and departments. For that reason, newly designed university-wide templates were introduced to create a cohesive experience for all online visitors.

“The new templates ensure a consistent brand for the university,” said Jennice O’Brien, director of the Office of Creative Services. “Many prospective students come to our site using a search engine; the templates guarantee that no matter what page they land on, they know they are at NIU and can access important links like ‘Visit Campus’ and ‘Apply’ in a single click.”

O’Brien said the templates are built using an approach called responsive web design, which adapts the layout and the navigation to a view best-suited for a particular device, be it a smart phone, tablet, laptop or a desktop computer. In addition, the templates comply with the Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act, making them user-friendly for everyone.

“The new templates ensure that our website is accessible,” O’Brien said. “They employ things like skip navigation, alternative text and other principles of accessible design, and are tested with both focus groups and code validators.”

In addition to the new templates, web standards were implemented to expand upon NIU’s original web policy, and are outlined in NIU’s Web Standards manual. East said the enhancements were necessary, considering the increased role NIU’s website plays in recruitment and retention.

e Guide and Best Practices“NIU’s website is the face of the university 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” East said. “The new web standards address the need for a consistent look, feel and voice across all domains on the NIU website while creating a unified web experience for our online visitors.”

Cascade Server is NIU’s official web content management system, and is supported by the Office of Creative Services web team. Any user can request help from the web team by submitting a website update request form, and the web team will make the requested changes.

A committee, consisting of pagemasters from all colleges and several divisions of the university, meets regularly to provide an open dialogue to address web-related topics, teach best practices within the industry and learn from one another.

“Our team works quickly and makes sure that the changes align with our web standards and best practices,” East said. “As we move sites over to the new website templates, this is an ideal time to follow the updated standards to create a uniform style across all NIU web properties.”

Whether your goal is to communicate with future NIU students, current Huskies or the many alumni, there are tools in place to ensure a unified approach.

Need more information? Call the Cascade Help Line at (815) 753-1326. The web team also offers one-on-one training to NIU pagemasters as needed.

by Jane Donahue

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