What I’m Building: Art and Art History Redesign Part 1 Identifying Objectives

What I’m Building: Art and Art History Redesign Part 1 Identifying Objectives

Art and Art History Department Redesign

Step one: Identifying the objectives


I could start here by going into the history of this website, and the different iterations and content managements systems we have used during my tenure it my position, but that would be boring.  Suffice to say that the site has grown organically in the way a vine creeps up the side of a building, with branches all willy-nilly and far reaching without a structured plan. It’s time for some pruning.

Menu Navigation- Based on physical Location:

menu structure diagram


The Art and Art History Department pages encompass the department, four individual majors, two tracks of an interdisciplinary degree, and two minors.  There are three different main audiences- Current students, faculty and staff, and prospective students.  The University has declared designing for the “prospective student audience” the priority but the pages needs to work for current students and faculty as well because those are the high frequency users.

Although the art department considers itself special, and there are comparable examples of other institution’s art departments having a separate look and feel that that of the rest of the institution, we do not have that flexibility and will need to work within the Universities branding guidelines and content type library.  There are elements that will need to appear on every page, and standard components that will need to be included.

Additionally, there are structural constraints.  From an internal structural viewpoint, we consider all branches of the site to originate from the department, but the college, our hierarchal parent, separates things into undergraduate degrees and departments:

Internal structure

Internal structure diagram

Website structure

web site structure diagram

Internally this creates some problems because we have structured as if visitors are starting from our department page.  The navigation takes them away from the department and to the undergraduate degree pages.  The reasoning behind this structure stems from the fact that “prospective students” do not care which department houses their major, and I would agree with that as a statement, but a logical navigation structure is also paramount.  A structure that has users jumping sections without a clear way back does not follow best practices of usability.


This redesign will attempt to address three key issues: navigation, redundancy, and relevance.

Confusing navigation:

The current navigation is confusing. This is largely a structural issue, the requirements that individual degree pages live under “undergraduate degrees” and departments somewhere else causes navigation jumps between the department and the degree pages. For example when you navigate using a left hand menu from the department page to the degree page, the “breadcrumbs” do not match the path you took to navigate to the degree page:

SU Home College of Arts and Sciences/ Departments/ Art and Art History Department

Links you to this:

SU Home College of Arts and Sciences/ Undergraduate Degrees/ Art History

The inclusion of breadcrumbs should:

  • Show where you’re at, so you don’t feel lost
  • Show how a large, deep website is structured (or how products are organized)
  • Provide a way to get back a level to explore related content

Using breadcrumbs that do not adhere to these principles deteriorates the usability of the site, so our new design will address this issue with consistent menus.


The department does not have a dedicated content manager.  The vastness of the site needs to scaled back.  If there are pages that can be combined, they will be combined.  If there are pages that can be eliminated, we will eliminate.  When the site structure was originally determined, we were not yet designing for mobile platforms and much has changed.  The old observance of keeping information “above the fold” or keeping users from scrolling is outdated.  We will use long scrolling pages were appropriate.

While our content management system will allow us to mirror content, we will try to keep shared information in centralized locations. This will help with the ongoing task of updating content and keep the workload manageable for our staff.


One of the key tools we use to promote ourselves is not surprisingly our website.  Prospective students use our site to find out about our programs.  We are in need of creating interesting pieces of content that showcase our programs and inform prospective students what about our degree programs and department can offer.  We are after all trying to sell something. We need to replace our content with fresh images, current information, personal quotes and news.  Highlighting our unique programs and accomplishments in a maintainable manner is one of our chief intentions.

Next steps:

The department has formed a committee of faculty volunteers to aide in the completion of this redesign initiative.  To approach this project in the most effective manner we will need to start with developing the information architecture (IA).  I did have to do some explaining and persuading as the committee is most concerned with the look and feel of the pages.  However, if we start with a solid plan for the IA and identify the major content types that need we will have a solid base from which to build on.  I have scheduled a meeting with the college’s director of marketing to build out the new IA.

Up Next:

Step two: The new IA

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