[thelist] Really bad design from an organisation that should know better

Marlene Bruce marlene.bruce at colemandesign.com
Wed Sep 13 12:18:52 CDT 2000

> ----------
> From: 	Erika Meyer
> Speaking for academia, they are always worried about funding, and 
> most universities seem chronically underfunded in the web department. 
> The PR offices  in many universities still haven't been able to deal 
> with the WWW fully, perhaps because the academic higher ups have not 
> been too quick to recognize the value of the web, nor the investment 
> required to do it well.
> At lower levels, where stuff has to happen, the academic POV often 
> is: 'The young 'uns know this computer stuff.  Let's have a student 
> design our site for work-study money!'  (or better yet, for free! 
> They can turn it in for a 'class project.')
I too used to work in the academic realm (Univ. of MD), running the front
end of a rather large college web site (14,300+ pages when I left). There
was only me and the sys admin, and I had to try to coordinate the efforts of
and educate a whole slew of people in various departments and offices around
the state (the college had a large outreach branch) who for the most part
had no clue about how to develop and maintain a user-friendly web site. 

When I got there the college site had grown uncontrollably...no oversight,
no guidelines, no training, no templates, no review process, no
accountability, etc. I was told by the Dean and Associate Deans (I had 4
top-level people to please) that they wanted it to be the best site of its
kind in the US. However, I had no budget with which to work, and it wasn't
until my last three months there (out of a year and a half) that I could
even get student assistants. While I was there I completely redesigned the
upper levels of the web site (though I was forced to use the colors of the
Maryland State flag - red, black, yellow and white), developed and
encouraged the use of templates, held numerous workshops to try to train
people in "best practice" techniques and strategy, and tried to guide the
site towards a more user-friendly approach. 

Despite my best intentions and friendly and positive demeanor, I encoutered
road blocks every step of the way. Mind you, I worked with some really nice
people, most everyone liked me and overall the job was enjoyable, but I just
couldn't get the right people to buy into the right ideas. It wasn't just
that I didn't have a budget and help. It was that the right people had the
wrong notions about what the web was about, what a useful tool it could be,
how to move forward intelligently, and what it was going to take to be "the
best." You can't be the best if you aren't willing to put out money to hire

When I left the college it was because I felt the environment was stifiling
my growth (and it didn't hurt that I was offered a job which gave me a 70%
raise). I think it's uncommon (though not unheard of) to find an academic
environment which *fully* embraces their web efforts (or even comes close).
And for that reason, the majority of academic sites are going to continue to
be second rate.

The sad truth is, they just *don't* know better, even when the information
is staring them in the face.


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