Web Services for Academic Departments

Overview

Within the College of Arts and Sciences, academic departments’ websites are designed by eTech, according to a plan that gives each department 10 weeks of our design, editorial, and development services. We work closely with each department to identify and address areas of need, then develop navigation, design, and sometimes special features to better serve the department and its constituents. At the end of the 10 weeks, the site will be launched and its upkeep will be turned over to the department.

If your website is due for redesign sometime in 2017, you can view your production schedule in the following PDF file:

2017 redesign schedule

Process

Initial meeting: Approximately nine weeks before your 10-week production period begins, a member of our staff will email the department chair to set up a meeting for the following week. The department chair and up to three other faculty or staff members will meet with the eTech web services team to talk about the process, dates, deadlines, photos, and the department’s needs. Between this meeting and the materials deadline, the department must select one contact person for eTech, typically the chair, the current ‘webmaster,’ or a member of the office staff.

Photography: eTech usually begins scheduling photos of the department’s faculty, staff, facilities, classes, and activities sometime between the initial meeting and the start of production. This process tends to extend well into the production period, though it’s best to start early, especially when production on the site occurs when the campus is either empty or unattractive. (We can also take photos after launch, though each department enjoys scheduling priority only before the production period ends.) Any photography the department already has should be submitted via UA Box on or before the materials deadline.

Materials deadline: Two weeks before production starts, the department’s contact person will send all of the text-based content, fully updated and ready to be placed on pages, to eTech’s director of digital content, who will review these materials and email questions about any omissions or problems. (This begins the question-answer process that will continue throughout the production period.)

Production: eTech’s web team will design and develop the new site piece by piece. As each major piece is finished, we will email a link or file to the department for review. The email will include a list of elements to review, a list of elements to ignore, and a deadline for sending feedback to eTech.

Launch: The new website will launch at the end of the 10th week of the production cycle. 

Training and user accounts: As soon after launch as is convenient for you, contact eTech to set up a training session for the folks who will be updating your new website. This is often a faculty member or the chair, but just as often it’s a member of the office staff. Most departments designate at least two people to serve as content administrators; those users will be able to add additional users as desired.

Post-launch support: While eTech doesn’t have the resources to make every desired change to every website it builds, we are happy to answer questions and help out with more complicated tasks throughout the life of your website. We can even conduct refresher training, should you want to give access to additional faculty or staff.

Before We Meet

Between the initial email and the initial meeting, please take these steps so that we can complete your website’s redesign during the allotted 10-week timeframe: 

  • Determine who in your department needs to be involved. While it’s up to you how many people you include in the process, we recommend a committee of no more than three people, one of whom must be the chair. If your department has more people keen on giving input, we suggest that you devote a department meeting to talking about your current website and making a list of desired features for the new site. If those faculty and staff want to stay involved, you can show them the site components we send throughout the process — with the understanding that final say rests with that small committee. While we’re on the subject …
  • Figure out who’s in charge. We can’t build a website around opinions — we need decisions. Make sure it’s absolutely clear across your department (and within your committee) which single individual gets the deciding vote in any design or organization decisions that need to be made.
  • Designate a contact person. We’ve found that these projects go much more quickly and smoothly when only one person works directly with eTech.
  • Review the content on your site. Early in the production process, you’ll receive a document that describes the minimum information a department site must have to be functional. (You can also view this information on our website.) This includes personnel, contact information, times/dates/deadlines, academic program descriptions, and policies/services. Focus on updating that information first, then work your way through everything else that’s important enough to keep. 
  • Think about photos. Getting good photos is often the most challenging part of building a website. Some academic disciplines are inherently photogenic; others take some planning and effort. Determining what’s photogenic and what’s not can be difficult for people inside the department — they’re too close to the subject matter — but every field has something visual to offer. We ask that you work with us and our photographers to help us find what’s special and visually interesting about yours.

Scheduling

Because the 10-week production periods run back-to-back, with no break between projects, each department gets a website redesign roughly every four to five years. Departments that want to redesign their sites before their turn comes up may contact eTech to discuss options. We can’t let anyone cut the line, but we can help you work with your existing site, or point you toward other resources you can use if you absolutely must change your design.

The queue won’t be changed, but we make one exception: We prefer not to design websites for departments with interim chairs. If your department is in the middle of a chair search during its designated production time, we’ll ask the department in line after you whether they’d like to take your turn. We will repeat this process until after your new permanent chair’s start date.

Timing

We have a saying around eTech: “There’s never a ‘good’ time to design a website.” The truth of that statement is reinforced with every website we build: Fall semester is hectic, even chaotic, but the campus is gorgeous and the classrooms full, making for great photos. Spring semester? Too early, the trees won’t have leaves yet; too late, everybody’ll be caught up in the end-of-the-year crunch. Summer would be great, except that there are barely any students on campus and half the faculty are out of town.

All of this is to say that there are pros and cons to building a website at any time, so no, it’s never a “good” time. But keep in mind that the process lasts just 10 weeks, and after the materials deadline — if the content has been gathered prepared appropriately — relatively little work is required of the department’s faculty and staff. Throughout the process, the designated contact person will receive regular email about photos and text content. You’ll be asked to review and give feedback on site components five or six times (usually). Those requests will have deadlines, usually by the end of the week for a component sent out on Monday, but what we’re usually asking for is simply approval to proceed with a design concept. We have found that for most departments, these tasks are doable, sometimes enjoyable, as they see their new website take shape.