“Get your #highered content ready for responsive design” says Sara Wachter-Boettcher, book author & @alistapart editor-in-chief

April 16th, 2013 Karine Joly No Comments

Sara Wachter-Boettcher to present about Higher Ed Responsive Websites

According to the 2013 State of Mobile & Responsive Web in Higher Ed report, 51% of surveyed institutions have already embraced responsive web design techniques as a mobile solution.

While responsive websites offer a flexible device-independent solution, they do come with their own set of content challenges.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher Developing content to be consumed on tiny and big screens (and anything in between) is probably the most important challenge for universities and colleges. That’s why I asked Sara Wachter-Boettcher, editor in chief at A List Apart and author of “Content Everywhere” to prepare an online class on the content pre-requisites for responsive web design in higher education.

Next week, as part of the Higher Ed Responsive Websites Summit (April 23-25, 2013), Sara will provide a roadmap to get content ready for higher ed responsive websites.

The summit is a unique opportunity for you to rally everybody on your team (or your campus) around this important topic. Sara’s session will follow a presentation from Stewart Foss on the top 10 challenges of higher ed responsive websites and 2 case studies from smaller teams (University of Vermont and LeMoyne College).

Whether or not you plan to attend the online summit next week (there are only a few seats left, so make sure you register as soon as possible to reserve your spot), you need to be aware of what Sara Wachter-Boettcher has to say. That’s why I asked her to answer a few questions about content, higher education and web trends.

1) Your book “Content Everywhere” was published last December. Would you say that content is more ubiquitous today than it was 10 years ago? What happened?

Content Everywhere by Sara Wachter-BoettcherBlogs happened. Social media happened. Content management tools happened. This was just beginning 10 years ago: Blogging was starting to take off, Myspace had launched. But today, it’s so easy to publish online that we’re all doing it, constantly. So not only is it incredibly easy for the average person to publish content, but the way people find and consume content has changed as well.

Many organizations have attempted to keep up with all these developments by producing more content: new blogs, social media accounts, news sections, infographics, press releases, etc. As they have, their templates, content management systems, governance practices, and information architecture haven’t been able to keep up.

The result is that many organizations are trying to produce as much content as they can, without necessarily focusing on what’s sustainable, and what’s most important for their audiences.

2) What could the higher ed industry do better when it comes to content?

In some ways, higher ed has the same challenges as any big organization: lots of people producing lots of different kinds of content for lots of different audiences. You can’t do that without a plan, some oversight, and ongoing efforts to stay aligned. But higher has the additional challenge of typically being very decentralized, without a firm hierarchy. This makes it difficult to force new systems, policies, and practices on people operating in diverse, disconnected groups.

But the solution isn’t a centralized, hierarchical structure. Not only would that have its own problems, but it would also be antithetical to higher ed, where encouraging dissent and diverging views is critical to furthering knowledge. What higher ed can do, though, is get better about sharing new ideas with different groups, rolling things out in waves, creating extensible systems rather than rigid ones, and generally taking a less divisive, siloed approach. It’s OK that the humanities department has different needs than the health center, and that both have very different goals than centralized groups like university marketing or admissions. What’s important for content is that there are discussions about the goals the institution has as a whole, and how those should extend and be translated across all content.

Rather than top-down initiatives, higher ed can be the most successful when it uses centralized teams to facilitate better content practices across the different departments and entities. Another big area to focus on is training content-producing staff to think externally, not internally; often, higher education institutions spend more time talking about themselves than about their students. Getting people to think about the content as being “for” their users—be they prospects, students, faculty, staff, parents, or anyone else—rather than “for” their department can go a long way.

3) What role does content play in higher ed responsive web projects?

Responsive design often gets talked about as an implementation question, but it takes so much more than that to prepare for responsiveness. Responsive design relies on content that can be moved around the page—content that lives in modules and chunks that can be combined and reflowed and stacked however you need them. Otherwise, it’s difficult to make a page reflow effectively as screen size narrows or widens.

This means that your content needs to be ready for responsive design: It must be broken down into logical pieces and parts, with trim copy and useful headings. You need to know what’s the most important message, and what can be secondary or tertiary. You need to think about what a user should do after visiting the page. In short, it’s all about understanding your content, your priorities, and your goals, and ensuring the way that content breaks into modules and then displays on differently sized devices keeps those messages, priorities, and goals intact.

4) As the editor-in-chief of A List Apart, you are in a unique position to spot current and upcoming trends in the web industry at large. Anything we should keep an eye on?

Tons of people are working hard on the challenges of designing for multiple devices with varying capabilities. We’re seeing a ton of people interested in improving performance—making sites that load fast, even on a slow connection. We’re seeing advancements in dealing with tricky issues like responsive images. We’re seeing impressive new JavaScript and jQuery approaches.

But I think amid all that, we’re also seeing a call for a return to simplicity and humanness in our work: About designing so that people can comfortably slow down and read, rather than be bombarded by distractions. About bringing focus and purpose to our projects. About not doing all the latest and greatest just because we can. Overall, I see people from all disciplines taking a strong interest in understanding their users—and not just understanding them, but caring about them and respecting them, too. I think this isn’t so much a trend as a realization that the web is now so intertwined with people’s lives, we need to think about what we do there as long-term, not just tactics to promote or market.

Higher Ed Responsive Websites
Looking for real solutions to challenges with responsive web design?
Higher ed Responsive Websites Summit
Expert solutions, lessons learned and content strategy roadmap to go responsive in higher education

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