Summary: Making Your Killer Applications… Killer

29 07 2009

Paul BoagPaul Boag of Headscape gave a rally-cry talk to inspire web managers to think again about their university websites and online applications for prospective students.  In particular, he highlighted the course-finder feature and noted the need for the designers developing these tools to stop thinking in a page-based way and start thinking of their tools more like desktop applications.

Paul gave some practical advice to help enthuse the audience to start experimenting and trying to develop more ambitious, user-friendly websites, despite the cost and political difficulties.  This included addressing concerns about accessibility standards by suggesting graded browser support and developing proof of concept designs so managers can see, and therefore start imagining the possibilities.  He also noted that using existing APIs, Javascript libraries and 3rd party websites can help keep costs down, costs being one of the major stumbling block to the development of better online services in the current climate.

Shifting mindsets from page-based thinking to application-based can also be a barrier.  Paul suggested story-boarding and taking sanity checks by asking others to test out your application -thus keeping you on track when trying to design an intuitive, interactive application.  He also suggested looking outside of HE at other types of websites to find solutions that will help make the university website not only more useful, but also more personable.

Personableness was a big feature of Paul’s talk – emphasising the role of the university website as a marketing tool.  He highlighted the potential for choice paralysis, the need for user engagement beyond Facebook and Twitter – including the use of ratings and reviews to add an authentic voice which potential students can trust, and the desperate need for a copywriter.  He did actually stamp his feet at this point!  There is a real need for a personal, personable voice for university websites.  Again, he gave corporate world examples, including Flickr, who were brave enough to put up a blog post saying “we suck”.

In conclusion, Paul emphasised the need to look beyond HE and to be imaginative in our approach to meeting the needs of the prospective students – thinking of them as consumers and gearing our institutional websites to them accordingly.

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