Duke gets a new homepage powered by Drupal and… campus stories

October 14th, 2009 Karine Joly 3 Comments

After Bates College last month, Duke University unveiled its new homepage on October 1st.

The last design was done in 2006 and had definitely a Google-ish kind of look.

With the new design Duke’s homepage look and feel is less unique, but it is definitely more user- and content-friendly. Stories – told through text, photos and videos – are a big part of this new homepage (like for Bates).

What is also great about this new homepage is that it is running on the open source CMS, Drupal and was mostly developed internally. Ben Riseling from the Office of News and Communication, Samantha Earp from the Office of IT and Blyth Morrell of Duke Web Services oversaw the technical development and deployment of the new site.

You can read more about the redesign in the press release about the redesign launch or the blog set up to keep the community informed about this project.

Ben Riseling was kind enough to answer the few questions I had about the redesign.

1) How long did the whole process took and how did you approach this redesign?
The whole process, from strategy/planning to design to build and launch took 9 months. Duke’s new VP for Public Affairs, Michael Schoenfeld, and also new Director for Brand Strategy, Denise Haviland, set the initial goal that the new site should visually align itself with the branding standards set by our undergraduate admissions viewbooks. Mike also made very clear that we needed to deliver dynamic content, utilizing our many news and event feeds effectively while also showcasing our growing number of videos.

We knew we wanted to utilize internal resources more than in the past and, from the start, involved our central IT office in all levels of planning. Aside from that we followed the traditional route of gathering strategic needs of the university, creating functional requirements and then making design and technical decisions to meet our needs. Despite this being one of the most complex sites we’ve built everything went so smoothly.

2) Duke has already done a lot of work with WordPress, why did you choose Drupal over WP for this implementation?

The main reason we chose Drupal is that it met the functional requirements for the proposed site perfectly. Drupal is also used widely across Duke and supported by our central IT office. Creating editorially rich sub pages was a key deliverable for the new site and Drupal gives you the flexibility to build pages as distinct sites. We knew we wanted to port over our existing Arts and Research sites as new secondary pages for Duke.edu and wanted to leave the door open to expand other sub pages in the future.

WordPress has proven to be a very flexible platform for many types of sites but we had experienced some challenges in how that tool handles everything as a distinct piece of content with a unique url.
Customizing with new plugins then created challenges of backwards compatibility when addressing critical security patches. We still use WordPress and WordPress MU for many sites at Duke but, again, Drupal met both the functional and technical needs for this new site and has proven to be very easy to use.

3) Some of the main navigation tabs directs to differently branded websites, don’t you think it might be confusing for a first-time visitor?

Can you or should you develop a unified visual brand across every unit of a higher ed institution? We pursued the alternative track of duplicating content and links to services on Duke-branded sub pages and this was a resource drain while also not meeting the need of the first-time visitors who really just wanted to find a doctor or clinic or purchase basketball tickets.

The majority of first-time web traffic comes directly from search engines and visitors are entering sites from the basement window vs. the front door, right? Our user testing with incoming freshman has certainly confirmed this trend at Duke. One approach we’ve developed is our expandable brand bar which can be easily added to a site and unobtrusively lend that extension of Duke’s brand. It is safe to say that this is an ongoing conversation at Duke.

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