The homepage serves as the gateway to the department as a whole. It should be energetic, clear, articulate, exciting, and representative of the department. No matter what the subject, it should make a visitor want to learn more about it – to dig into the interior pages, take a class, read a research paper, become a major, and so on.
Departmental homepages should incorporate both static content (a welcoming, introduction to the department as described below) and dynamic content (news and events). Ideally, all of this text helps to illustrate the field of study and our particular take on it.
The introductory text should be between 50-200 words. Adding to that news and events listings, we should strive for around 200-250 words total in the main content area of the page.
The static content should serve as a secondary guide to the interior pages of the site, incorporating links to the most important information and occasionally to unusual or interesting facts about opportunities or activities within the department. In the end, departments should maintain their personalities and eccentricities while presenting information in a consistent way.
The static homepage content should include an opening paragraph or two in large type that succinctly encapsulates the particular department and conveys the following:
- Basic welcome (a brief sentence: not entirely necessary, use it if it’s already there, can be very simple).
- General description of the field of study using real examples—what is the study of Kinesiology, Liberal & Civic Studies, etc—(1-2 sentences) and / or philosophy of the Department—our take on the study of Biology—(1-3 sentences).
- Some reference to the most important internal site content with in-text links to those pages. But don’t over-do it—the effectiveness of links is lost when everything is emphasized.
- Something about the actual work being done in the department, whether that’s majoring, examples of interesting theses, unique experiments students have conducted, internship examples, ground-breaking research being done by a professor and students, etc. This should actually be the most interesting, attention-getting part of the static text (2-3 sentences).
Homepage—News & Events
Department and program homepages should have dedicated real estate for news and events. This is a way to show the department in action in an ongoing way. The design should allow for flexibility, though. Not all departments will have events and
there will be downtimes for all departments; as a general rule, most academic units can be expected to generate far more news items than events, and the former tend on the average to be much more interesting.
When departmental news or events are thin, site administrators should be able to populate their homepages with other dynamic content such as Twitter feeds, RSSdriven general SMC news, departmental blog posts, etc. For those departments/programs without an active content manager or very little news or events at a particular time, general academic news and events or School-related news or events should be fed to the homepage automatically with RSS.
Departments and programs should have the capacity to present video, audio, and department-specific images on their homepages. Images and video used on departmental homepages should be of high quality, with bright colors and good composition. They should capture students and faculty in action or show images related to the area of study. Photos of the Saint Mary’s campus can always be used, especially when the locations depicted relate to the department's activities.
The small images used in the current template don’t capture the eye well and, we suspect, do not change often. If the new design includes a lead photo element (as it probably will), care should be taken to make sure fresh photos are frequently rotated in.
The podcasts on many department homepages are great, but there’s very little call to action enticing visitors to listen. As part of the design process, we’ll work on highlighting this type of content. We also encourage you to move toward short videos of the same nature. This is engaging content and visuals would grab people even more.
Related Links is a common feature throughout the SMC site. This is used with mixed results on the academic departments and programs pages. If we continue to use this navigational pathway, be sure these links are truly related and relevant to the department. For instance, the Biology and Chemistry pages might have links to a number of the Pre-Professional pages—Nursing, Medicine, Dentistry, etc—or Modern Languages might link to Study Abroad. Related Links should expand one’s understanding of opportunities connected to a department.