A new and improved Vanderbilt homepage and top-level pages launched the evening of Aug. 20, with a focus on the four pillars of the university’s Academic Strategic Plan while also showcasing the institution’s dynamic academic, research and campus life offerings.
The new homepage is designed to show, rather than tell, how the university’s strategic plan is coming to life on campus through new programs, opportunities, partnerships and investments through a mix of stories, videos and images.
“In the past, our homepage was focused on what Vanderbilt was doing at the moment – the new approach is designed to communicate what the university’s values and priorities are and what Vanderbilt represents at all times,” Beth Fortune, vice chancellor for public affairs, said. “At the same time, we’ve preserved the navigation features that have proven so valuable to users in getting them quickly from the homepage to the specific content they seek on our site.”
The new design, created and implemented by University Web Communications in the Division of Public Affairs, leverages some of the most creative current trends in Web design – ambient video, mobile-first design, and an emphasis on brand identity – while maintaining the university’s unique voice and culture.
Strategic initiatives and ambient video
The most prominent feature on the new homepage and top levels is ambient video. Unlike traditional videos, which typically have a narrative, ambient video is used to give a virtual window on a moment in time on the university’s campus, in its laboratories, in Nashville, at events, and more. Ambient videos produced by Vanderbilt Video display in a slideshow, each relating to one of the university’s strategic initiatives. The videos link to new webpages for each initiative. On mobile devices, a photo is displayed in lieu of the video, to ensure mobile users’ data plans are not impacted by the video.
University Web Communications has re-imagined the way it presents news, events, social media and other highlights on the homepage with the Vanderbilt Now section. This section provides several ways to display many different types of content, while highlighting the accompanying dynamic photography and graphics that often accompany the stories shared on the site. This section of the site will be updated daily to reflect the latest news and events.
Navigation, tools and search
The majority of the navigation throughout the site has not changed from the previous version. In the last redesign, which launched in May 2010, University Web Communications introduced “mega dropdowns”–large menus of key links available from the primary navigation bar. Site analytics have consistently shown that users heavily use all of those links, and so the new design maintains that menu style. “Bonus content” is now available on some of those menus. For example, in the Research dropdown, a small slideshow of the most recently featured Research stories is featured; on the Admissions dropdown, several Calls to Action are featured (Find a Major, Tour Our Campus, etc.); on the Athletics dropdown, visitors can easily link off to all of Athletics’ social media presences.
Frequently accessed links are available in the top right of the screen as they are currently. These include links for email, YES, Blackboard, c2HR, Anchor Link, Peoplefinder, Libraries, Maps, A-Z. One addition to the top right navigation is the “Get Social” dropdown. Social media has become an increasingly important method of communicating with the VU community, and thus those links have been moved to a more prominent location on the page.
Visitors can easily search the entire Vanderbilt Web presence via the search box in the top bar. The site’s search is powered by Google search appliances.
Below the Vanderbilt Now section, the site hightlights links to the university’s various audiences, just as on the previous iteration of the site. These include Alumni, Current/Prospective/International Students, Researchers, Parents and Families, Media, etc.
The updated footer features a unique Vanderbilt campus skyline illustration. (A version of the illustration originally appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Vanderbilt Magazine.)
The new site, built on Twitter’s Bootstrap framework, has been designed to be viewed by all modern standards-compliant Web browsers, accessible by those with disabilities, and minimally readable by all Web-reading software and looks great on any device, including tablets and mobile devices.