One big (happy?) family

Wednesday, Jul. 18, 2012 11:37 am

 

There are some peculiar challenges in building a college website. One of the biggest is the fact that colleges—and thus college sites—have to serve multiple constituencies.

Most commercial sites appeal to a single group: customers. Ford.com is for people who want to buy vehicles. NBC.com is for people who like Law & Order spinoffs. Gin up a good market-research team and you can research the daylights out of your audience, then build to suit.

But a college website? We need to please everyone: teenagers thinking about college; current students registering for classes; faculty who want to share course materials or publish scholarship; staff who want to post campus news and information; alumni who live around the globe, work in every profession, and range from 21 to 106 years old (our oldest living graduate!).

How are we going to please everyone? I think of it like a big, messy family dinner. Mom feels like having burritos in front of the TV. Jesse wants to eat vegan sesame noodles upstairs while doing his homework. Carmela would love a nice family meal around the table for once. Other-Mom (this is Grinnell, right?) wants to go out for Ethiopian at that amazing place downtown. Uncle Larry loves the way the diner does snowflake mashed potatoes and a nice piece of fish.

How are we going to please all these people and palates?

A lot of institutions take the family out to web-McDonald’s for faux-cheery industrial food product. Which is not to slight my colleagues. This stuff is hard work, and sometimes it’s just easiest to go where everyone can get something "good enough" (sigh). In college website terms you just order up the #4 Value Meal: a home page with a foursquare layout, a banner with school colors, a nav (navigation) bar with options like Administration, Academics, Athletics, etc. A big photo feature in the center well… hey, this is sounding a lot like Grinnell’s current website!  

Yep. We went to McDonald’s, too, kids. And now everyone’s feeling a little queasy.

What if instead of catering to the masses we cooked up a delicious, well-made and slightly unexpected meal? What if everyone left the table saying, “That wasn’t what I asked for, but it was awesome. I love being part of this family!”

So, tell us what you want for dinner. Then leave the cooking to us. We might serve you a dish with peas even though you don’t like peas. The recipe might include seitan instead of chicken. Maybe you asked for roasted autumn vegetables and we gave you Indonesian spicy tofu. But give it a try. You might like it more than you expected.