Author Archives: James

Quick and Dirty

Today our Web lead in marketing, with a little help for our programming team, improved the lives of 44,695 website visitors per month to Texas State. That’s 1,441 people a day! How did he do it? Mostly just some clever CSS that finally dragged the university homepage in to the modern mobile age.

Yes, is finally responsive.

It did’t take a redesign or a committee and a giant team of programmers. Just the will, skill and time to accomplish it. Oh, and we he did get the approval of The Man, but I think it would have happened regardless.

Is it perfect? By no means. Can it be improved? Definitely. And we’ll do that in the formal redesign process we’ll embark on this fall. But for now, a few lines of code and almost 45,000 visitors have a better experience with the Texas State brand. Not too bad. The only question left to ask is, why did it take so long?

University Web Template Redesign

Oops, I was told we are branding this as an update, not a redesign. Too many folks get nervous when you use the “R” word. Why? I’m not entirely certain. We are being as inclusive as is possible with multiple opportunities for input throughout the process – focus groups, interviews, one-on-ones, emails, phone calls, support desk tickets, Lync sessions, hallway meetings, emails, web posts, tweets… Pretty much whatever it takes.

But I have a theory. I sometimes think it stems from the feeling that some thought leaders in the university environment don’t think we (university staff) have the expertise in-house to produce a world-class product. Sure, we can handle an update but not a redesign. And that is probably our own fault as we don’t tend to advertise our own successes. As a whole, most of the university Web developers, designers, writers and UX folks do not shout their own names from the mountain tops. We tend to do a great job, enjoy the warm glow for a minute, then move on to the next project.

Whereas outside design firms, well, they do the opposite.

At best, we attend a conference like HighEdWed and give a presentation and inspire other higher ed Web professionals to do something similar. But we’re not wowing them at SXSW or have cool downtown offices with free beer and coffee. So we’re not sexy. And we’re not always trusted to do what we’ve been hired to do – make amazing online experiences.

How do we overcome this? Well, knowing how to talk to those influencers (and knowing who they are) is a huge part of the game. Convince them you know what you are doing, you know the industry trends, you know what your audience wants and you have the skills to make it happen. Trust me, if you have been getting that input I mentioned earlier, you know your university audience better than they do!

I have turned many a dissenter in to a believer. And I’ve seen others on my team do it as well. You can feel their passion, belief and knowledge and simply have to be swayed by their conviction in what they bring to the table. We’re not just as good as an outside firm, we’re better. We work here. We believe in the university. And as we like to say, we eat our own dogfood. And when it comes to the web, we’re a bunch of foodies and won’t put up with junk. 😉

Urban Food Book Chapter

As a few of you may know, I’ve been working on a PhD in geography part time for 3 years now. I’m mostly interested in traditional agriculture – the kind we were practicing for thousands of years before modern industrial, chemical agriculture. Strangely enough it’s usually called “alternative” agriculture, though with a thousand-plus year head start, I’d say anything else is alternative.

Regardless, for my final three course hours Dr. Hagelman and Dr. Cade gave me the great opportunity to help write a college text book chapter on local food networks. The book is being published by Francis and Taylor on urban agriculture, a topic I love, so I jumped in. I finished my draft two days after my self-imposed Thanksgiving break deadline. I was pretty happy with the results.

It’s in the process of being edited and I’ll update everyone as soon as I know more.

What’s this have to do with the Web? I’m sure it will be a digital text book as I had to provide a companion Powerpoint for teachers 🙂