MWP website in need of a makeover (ci.5410.12)
One of my upcoming projects involves redesigning the Minnesota Writing Project (MWP) Website. While I don't know code, I will be involved in researching the website needs and wishes of those in MWP. Designed in 2001, our website (see screen shot below) exemplifies the internet practices of web 1.0, where people used the internet as a glorified yellow pages. While this worked swell for the time, we currently feel that our site does not accurately represent who we are as an outreach organization, Nor does it do much to invite new teachers to join our network. Thus, the CI5410 task of analyzing wesite usability seems an appropriate time to begin my research on writing project website design.
To guide my inquiry into content, formatting and organization of web content, I'll be using the design questions presented in Anson, et. al (2008) Engaging Students in Digital Writing.
*** What kind of info. is present and where is it positioned?
*** What is the relationship between images and words?
*** What types of icons or navigational tools are present?
*** How accessible are other forms of information?
Minnesota Writing Project
Above is a screen shot from the current website for MWP which I'll be using as my example of poor design. I say this for a variety of reasons. First of all the content is organized for a general audience, instead of geared specifically for teachers or administrators. In this sense, our identity as an organization is largely underdeveloped. Content explaining who we are, what we do, and why teachers might be interested in us is available but not explicit. I think image placement and/or navigational icons could help with this.
For example, the primary navigation bar, shown now as purple blotches of paint, could include the major component of who/what we are, yet the Summer Invitational Institute one of our most important programs is not there. While the institute is discussed front and center, this would be the perfect place to have a photo, or better yet, slide show of photos, showing who we are or what the summer institute is.
So overall, I would say my main complaint with the MWP site is that it lack identity and purpose in that 1) the content doesn't accurately represent our organization 2) the placement of content, especially photos placed in lower right hand corner of page, does little to spur interest in our organization, and 3) the lack of a heading system that cues organization of content, makes it very easy to get lost in the site.
Red Cedar Writing Project
For my example of "good" design, I've chosen the Red Cedar Writing Project's website. What jumps out at me about this website is it placement of the teacher front and center. The image almost functions as a hook into the site, by leading you to the story about the teaching consultant who is working on the podcast. This placement of image and content, speaks volumes about what the Red Cedar project is, teachers teaching teachers.
As for organization of content, there are two main navigation bars. The top bar placed just above the photo, seems to be geared toward those outside the writing project, including info. on the summer institute to recruit new teachers. The bottom bar, placed just below the photo, seems to be geared to those teacher consultants already in the writing project, with icons linked to pages related to news, events, and related networks. There is not spatial organization cues like this on the MWP website.
This organizational formatting continues with similar black tool bars and headings continuing into the following pages, with headings at the top of each page to remind you where you are.
New York City Writing Project
Also worthy of mention is the New York City Writing Project's website. While it is very web 2.0 with various interactive options, such as blog and wiki features, its placement of info. on the home page is so busy, which intuitively I find off-putting. Even though I am an NWP insider who feels quite comfortable playing and browsing online, I feel like an outsider in need of orientation, to do anything on this website. If their purpose to to attract new teachers to their project, this site doesn't seem to me like it would be very effective in doing so.