This week I had my first experience developing a website prototype. While it was surprising to me how straightforward it was to access free website templates, it was still time consuming and challenging to build an esthetically pleasing site with all of the information that is recommended for a nonprofit site. In developing a website prototype for the course Mass Communication in Public Health I came across 3 elements in designing the site that were particularly challenging for me.
- Easy navigation of essential information: When putting together the site, I thought about the aspects of course websites that are usually most important to me, such as resources/readings, Information about how to connect with professors and other course facilitators, information about grades, and more. What was challenging for me, however, was to figure out if it was too much to have all of those items on the Home page, or if that’s too much. In the process of working towards my MPH online, I always feel like the first week of each course requires an adjustment period to learning how each professor organizes the website. It usually becomes clear pretty quickly who has more and less experience with website design. It can be very frustrating when visiting a site and having to spend a lot of time searching for information that should be obvious at first glance of the home page.
- Creating an esthetically appealing, yet not overwhelming site: I am not the designer type. I know what I like, but I don’t know how to make it and I get lost in the process of trying to create something that I believe others will appreciate. Even when using the extremely simple templates available at wix.com I found myself spending hours playing with structural templates, color palates, searching for images, writing paragraphs, deleting them etc. etc. etc. When it comes to striking the balance between too much and not enough, I always lean towards the too much end of the spectrum. This is true in many aspects of my life and its clear if you ever see my apartment – there is stuff all over the walls, every shelf is full and there are designs everywhere. So, when playing with developing the course site prototype, I pushed myself to eliminate the clutter and make something as clean as possible.
- Catchy writing without being too wordy: I have always considered course websites to be a place that I go to in order to find information quickly. Typically I don’t spend a lot of time looking at them other than the syllabus, assignments and interesting resources. It can be frustrating to me when I can’t find what I need where I’m looking for it under the correct titles, or if I have to read through long descriptions of assignments. It seems there is a delicate balance between keeping the site personal and ensuring that the information offered is complete, and offering too much information, to the point that people can’t find what they need fast enough. What I saw in the template I appreciated that there was a space to add a ‘More’ button so that on the Home page you could add a couple sentences about a given topic without taking up too much space. That said, it’s important to make sure that the two to three sentences that are going to be kept on the home page, accurately describe whatever will be found on the other side of the ‘More’ button, and actually relate to whatever the subtitle labels.
It was a good experience to learn how to use web site templates. Now that I know how accessible these sites are and have had the experience of exploring templates, I believe I can figure out what content to publish to create a quality site in the future. However, I think I’ll leave the design, graphics and images to someone more artistically inclined!