Much-anticipated web project gets under way
Everyone is in agreement - LiU needs a new website. And now that the “New LiU Web 2015” project team is set up, the work is beginning in earnest.
There are great expectations for the project team, who will be working through 2015 to construct a completely new LiU website. No one is happy with the current website; everyone wants a new one.
“That is a very good foundation to build on,” says Director of Communications Mariethe Larsson, who commissioned the new site. “Many people will be involved working on the project in different ways: reference groups, working groups and the like.”
The current LiU website originated in the mid-1990s. To a great extent it grew as a function of the organisational structure of the university, in the same way as all companies and organisations built websites at that time. Since then it has grown organically up to the present, with approximately 3.5 million pages in total on liu.se. A large part of the website actually resembles an archive.
“It’s not the organisation that should determine the structure of the website, but the need of the users to find and use information. There are other, better solutions for storing data.”
What Larsson has commissioned is a user-friendly, easily accessible website adapted to the needs of its target audience. The focus is on the users - the students, the world of research and society at large – the people we work together with.
“The website should in part be a tool we can use ourselves. But above all it should be relevant and helpful for its users,” Larsson says. “People nowadays don’t pick up the telephone to find out things, they check online first. And young people today are demanding; they don't have patience with websites that don't work, take too long or have difficult structures. Target group analyses are thus becoming an important part of the work – like looking at how others, in particular other universities, have constructed their websites.”
The person keeping this whole grand project together is Jan Svensson. He has been working with websites and website development since 2000, mainly in the various public services. Most recently at the County Administrative Board of Östergötland, where he coordinated a national intranet project and launched the new intranet just before the summer holidays. He has also developed a number of external websites, most notably for the Swedish National Heritage Board. At heart, Svensson is a student of culture specialising in journalism, which he has continually supplemented with courses in such subjects as web marketing.
“I have to begin by finding my way around, seeing as I have no previous connection to Linköping University. There is an upside to this as I complement the others in the project who were recruited internally and who know the operation very well.”
What will then happen is a needs inventory, an analysis phase, of both content and technology. We have to find out who the users are and what they need to get out of the website. But the site also has to work for our colleagues who will be maintaining it and filling it with content.
“It’s important not to go up blind alleys as it were, by, for example, getting committed to a particular technological solution too early,” Svensson believes.
User-friendliness and usability are two buzz words that he often happily returns to. The focus these days is on the users, on being able to carry out and accomplish things on the web, services and functionality. One example is the search function.
“This can easily be neglected as constructing is such a complex task. But these days users place great demands on the search function; they shouldn’t only just find what they are looking for but also be guided the way Google does it.”
Another thing Svensson emphasizes is that the website should ultimately support the strategic aims of the university.
“It provides good support in the development work and is a sort of way to make the strategies a reality in practice,” he says. “The website is not an isolated island, it should be linked to strategies, action plans and web policy. If there is a clear line from the organisation’s goals and the strategies for achieving them right through to the current web policy and daily publication, then it is possible, in principle, to determine what should be highlighted weekly on the home page – a space there is often a lot of competition for. The website should also reflect the activities of the university and be a place where university employees can establish their identity.”
“Those working here should be able to present an identity based on everything they do, and to feel an overall responsibility,” Svensson says.
In the project there is also a need to take social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, into account. And the fact that more and more people use mobile telephones and tablets. The website has to work well on other platform types of platform than computers alone.
“Should we include everything or select certain things for mobiles and tablets? Which target groups use what? We have to think about these kinds of things too,” Svensson says.
Graphic design and style is another important question that will come in later in the project. The design should support the function and lead the users in the right direction without them being aware of it. It might, for example, mean having different colours for different types of activities.
“But it should be easy and quick to get around,” Svensson concludes. The website is the first impression of the university for many people. From there, they go on to form their overall idea of the university’s operations.
One part of the current website that is not included in the project is the internal part – the pages specifically for our employees and students.
“The intranet will follow, naturally, but it will have to be the next stage,” says Larsson. “I don’t know exactly when. It’s a question of resources and energy. What we are doing now is separating out what should be on the internal and the external pages. But I am gradually realising that it will have to be a personalised intranet for all of LiU.”
On the other hand there is an organisational part of the work - reviewing the website organisation. Currently there is no real administrative plan or administrative structure.
Mariethe Larsson wants to have a more professional website organisation, to combine forces. Those who are good at it will get to work on the website, but they must be given the conditions to integrate it more with their work.
“To be a web administrator is nowadays a profession in itself, and the website is our most important communications channel, especially when reaching out internationally,” Larsson says. “Many people will be able to write for the website, but for managing information, packaging, administering, building, developing and maintaining the structure we will have trained staff who have the time and the right qualifications. In order to afford this and to efficiently develop the skill sets of the people who are going to work on the website we also need a more flexible structure, with a suitable number of people. Otherwise we will find it difficult to keep up in this world where new steps are taken all the time.”
During the year it will take to produce a new website, the old one must of course live on and maintain a high standard. On the other hand the development costs have to be weighed very carefully.
One challenge from Larsson is to start pruning the current structure straight away.
“This will make the job easier later on, when we have to decide what should be transferred to the new website.
Whatever is old and not topical will go. Look at the statistics! If a page has only had one visitor over the last few years, perhaps it should be taken off.”
There will need to be a whole lot of work done by many people out in the departments and faculties to get the new website up and running, so many will be getting involved this coming year.
One further challenge from Larsson to those who want to help contribute to the new LiU website is to take part in the working groups and reference groups that will be formed.
“Take the opportunity! If you think it sounds fun then get in touch with project leader Jan Svensson. Now is when the opportunity exists to take part and have an influence.”
Text: Elisabet Wahrby
Last updated: 2013-09-12