Last week I noticed that the web presence of Covenant College had undergone a facelift. Being a visual artist myself, I was intrigued to scroll down a new, “endless” page through the many boxy links, interested in seeing what all had potentially changed. And I wasn’t the only one to notice -- a high percentage of Covenant students, faculty, and staff access the Covenant College website daily. The reasons vary, with email and printing being key, while links to the library page and perhaps chapel podcasts follow in close suit. Just as important is the traffic from any high school or transfer student stopping by in their search for information regarding academics and life on the mountain. Many departments such as admissions utilize the website on an hourly basis, guiding potential applicants and interested parents through the various pages and links to department information, photo albums, or other important forms. Needless to say, the website receives high traffic from the campus community and inquiring visitors constantly.
On any given day I will open the Covenant College webpage more times than I can count. Maybe I will get smart and use that nifty thing called a bookmark to access my student email and wireless printing links. Or perhaps I’ll just graduate in the spring with a few hundred more blocks of my web browsing history devoted to the Covenant home page. However, for the time being, I continue to interact with the website’s home-page interface a good deal, making it impossible to ignore the dramatic changes in the visual presentation. Front and center, under the usual “tool bar” with drop-down links, is the eye-catching photo banner everyone knows well. Instead of cycling through four or five images while the page is opened, a single image remains until the page is refreshed. Below this begins an organized arrangement of streamlined “boxes” including familiar student profiles, faculty articles and conversations, scotscasts, recent videos, and more. According to Jen Allen of the communications office, they have worked to develop a “responsive website in order for better user experience on mobile devices, as well as taking better advantage of the space available and allowing for more flexibility of content.” Visually this provides the greatest change, a push toward a more modern, “Apple-ized” style of web design and smoother navigating as a fellow student pointed out. Other visual tweaks include the addition of Helvetica font to the uppermost buttons, while the rest of the font remains what we see used in all Covenant’s mail communications and printed banners.
While I do appreciate the move toward cleaner lines and a better mobile experience, I share the opinion of many students that there are a few areas of issue. Perhaps some of the discontent with the new design is just change in general, looking at something merely unfamiliar. Yet I can’t help but notice some issues in the visual flow of the design. The use of sans-serif Helvetica seems confusing with the consistent serif font throughout the remainder of the website. And while the white-bordered graph of images and articles provides a clean scroll through to the bottom, the responsive format allows for some “holes” to show in the grid where the puzzle pieces don’t quite fit seamlessly. This is much like trying to justify a block of text where all the words have odd, uneven spacing between to create an evenly bordered edge. If you want to have a little fun, drag the window smaller on your desktop and watch the format respond to the screen size, altering to a mobile viewing experience.
And so, while I am excited about a great mobile version that is easy to use, I would love to see continued critical design exploration of the desktop-viewed website version. A few key interface tweaks might help the seamless concept flow better, while simple font changes could also clean up the visual aesthetic. However, when I find it all too easy to critique the web design on first impressions, as an artist I must remember the never-ending process required, and hope that this is just the beginning of Covenant College’s new visual presence online.