A Web Makeover

Another project I wrapped up post-graduation — The Middlebury Web Makeover.

In Fall 2008, I was invited to be part of a small group overseeing Middlebury College’s website “redo.” The school needed a major overhaul of their website, particularly on the “back end” content management system (CMS) that allows uploading and management of content. But a major CMS change would leave room for a significant “front end” change to the design and structure of the site. It’s hard to justify a website overhaul in times of recession, but I would argue that the website both is one of the most public-facing elements of a higher education institution and also internally an essential communication tool.

The past year and a half have been an immense learning experience. I used January 2009 as a month-long internship to run a bunch of focus groups, understand stakeholders, and grasp the excitement/fear of what a new website will bring. The Spring of 2009 yielded a process of choosing a company to work with Middlebury on design. White Whale proved themselves not only fun individuals but also particularly adept at working with Middlebury to craft a functional and special higher ed site. This is what the latest school newspaper editorial had to say:

Cosmetic critiques aside, we find the College’s boldness with respect to the Web refreshing. It aims to redefine Middlebury at a time when many liberal arts institutions are undergoing painful changes that will have profound effects on their character and composition. Middlebury’s new Web site, distinctive as it is from the cookie-cutter pages of its peers, puts the College in a good position not only to compete with those peers, but to lead them by breaking from the pack.

These days, web makeovers happen all the time. The “new” NPR.org launched last summer while I was there too. My thought is that web design skills are not a must but “web leadership” is. I would guess that redesigns occur much more frequently than fresh launches of brand new websites. The ability to take the old and shift the way people approach it is valuable. For that, I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity be part of Middlebury’s Web Makeover.