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TAMU Webmaster's Blog

Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters


An Event Apart Recap

Many of us from around campus had the opportunity to drive over to Austin this week and attend An Event Apart. This was a conference I had always wanted to attend but never had the budget for. I can only say “Thank You!” to the event organizers who brought it in-state for us because it was a wonderful experience. There are few other opportunities to listen to and learn from so many of the people who shape our career field. Anybody, whether developer or designer, who didn’t get a chance to go should consider it next time they come to town.

The one common thread that found its way into almost all of the individual presentations was the emergence of responsive web design and the possibility that it might revolutionize the way we think about the design-development process. Much of this argument is actually over a decade old, being espoused in April, 2000 in John Allsopp’s A Dao of Web Design (which was itself referenced several times by different speakers.)

We have improved on many of the elements pointed out in this manifesto, but we still ultimately have not gotten beyond designing for the web as if it were just an extension of the print world. We drew a box to correspond to monitor size, and proceeded to dump stuff into it. As technology advanced and we got better monitors with higher resolution we just drew a bigger box and dumped more stuff into it. The introduction of the iPhone, with its smaller screen, had the potential to spark this revolution, but we largely reverted to form, drew a smaller box this time, and put (less) stuff in it…or worse, pulled out some of the stuff we were displaying in our bigger screens.

“The control which designers know in the print medium, and often desire in the web medium, is simply a function of the limitation of the printed page. We should embrace the fact that the web doesn’t have the same constraints, and design for this flexibility.”

The proliferation of devices is pushing us toward a more mature understanding of the web medium — one that embraces rather than bemoans the loss of pixel by pixel control. The web’s flexibility of display is a feature, not a bug. We can’t know the capabilities of the device(s) that our users will viewing our content with, so we must ultimately give up the idea of creating site designs that are based on the capabilities or limitations of specific devices. We need to (like we have already separated layout from code using CSS) separate design from layout, and instead let the content determine how the information gets displayed on any device.

The various presentations each expressed some element of the overall argument. Some focused on typography, others on CSS, and others on the design process. New tools were presented ( showed up 3 or 4 that I can remember, perhaps more) that help us transition to a device-agnostic design process. I can’t say that I  agreed with everything that the each of speakers said, but the overall experience has definitely been a stimulus to think harder about how we do things here in the office.

Wednesday was a full day responsive design workshop. I didn’t attend, but am anxiously waiting to hear back from some of those who did to see how it turned out.

Anyone who did attend and would like to add your own insights, please take a few moments and leave a comment and share with the rest of the community.

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Friday, July 13th, 2012 Mobile Web No Comments

Cincinnati Bound

John and I are heading to Cincinnati tomorrow for HighEdWeb conference, along with several others from around campus.  We will be giving a presentation on mobile website development, so let me thank those of you who have joined us in our mobile effort, your part is much appreciated. When we get back I’ll post our presentation and notes of interest from the other topics we pick up while there.

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Friday, October 8th, 2010 Miscellaneous, Mobile Web No Comments

Conference Followup, Chapter 2

Yesterday I posted what I felt were the most important elements that I took away from the eduWeb conference and how we should use those to refresh our larger web strategies. Today will be less structured, simply posting what I saw as good one-off ideas without a grand scheme.


  • Users will draw a parallel between your website and the university as a whole; since the web is now the primary way prospective students interact during the decision-making process you can very easily loose a prospect at first glance.
  • People come to a site to accomplish a task, make it easy for them to do so. Branding should hilight the page, the page should not be about the branding campaign.
  • “You are what you publish.” Most people will leave a site and not come back if they have a “negative” experience with it – broken links, blurry graphics, bad navigation, bad search results, etc.
  • Make page photos relevant – most people don’t care what the XYZ building looks like, despite being on almost every university admissions page.
  • Expectations shape perception. If the user has a pre-conceived notion about something on your site, that will often be more powerful than the information you are trying to portray.
  • We run on byte-sized first impressions; online attention span is such that if the first glance isn’t positive the user will go elsewhere.
  • Know your audience and don’t try to be all things to all people. Each university has an identity and is not necessarily right for all people. Be authentic and realize that someone who doesn’t fit into your campus culture probably will be better off if they go somewhere else.
  • Cut the barriers of communication. 1 picture = 1,000 words, and video is 24 frames (pictures) per second.
  • For-profit institutions like U of Phoenix spend up to 45% of their entire budget on marketing. The traditional university spends 2%.

Social Media

  • Allow customers to be agents of your brand. Social media is a two-way conversation, so we should be letting customer-generated content do as much talking as we do ourselves.
  • When responding to a controversial topic, do so immediately. Being late in getting your message paints you as not understanding the medium and allows others to frame the debate.
  • Integrate your social media efforts – “The only place for silos is on a farm”
  • User experience is the key, so talk to them using terms they are familiar with, which is often not the language that the university office in question prefers. Be real, not administrative. If your tone is too formal you will come across as not understanding the medium and your efforts can wind up backfiring on you.
  • Social media isn’t a place you go, it is an extension of your self. Your “likes” and such identify who you are and identify with. Users want to be a part of a community.
  • “Social media” doesn’t matter. People matter. Make a real connection. Focus on the message, not the platform or medium by which it is delivered.
  • As social media usage goes up, its efficacy goes down. As it becomes more pervasive and more universities do it, you cease to stand out by being there. 90% of all universities now have a Facebook presence, saying you’re there doesn’t mean as much anymore.
  • People don’t like being told – be authentic and honest and allow them to make up their own mind.


  • The user IS mobile, not just HOLDING one.
  • Building a mobile website is not the same as making your website mobile. Just as web content is different from print, so is mobile different from web. Customize your content.
  • Brands should focus more on the overall consumer experience rather than contemplate choosing a mobile web site or native application.
  • It does not matter whether a brand offers a mobile site or application. What matters is that consumers are engaged in the content.
  • Native applications for delivering static content are dead or dying. Use the website for that. Use apps for high profile projects, intense graphics or animations, and projects that tap into the mobile device’s hardware (camera, GPS, etc.)

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Thursday, August 5th, 2010 Mobile Web, Social Media No Comments

Off to eduWeb

Today will be my last day in the office before heading out to eduWeb in Chicago next week. It will be a great opportunity to talk to other folks from across the country and compare what we are doing to them.

We are continuing to work on the new website, and I’m hoping that by time time I get back we’ll have enough of it ready to start showing stakeholders on campus.  There is still time to send any suggestions our way for elements that you want to see added/expanded/altered.

One of the dilemmas I’m currently trying to tackle is how to handle the campus services page.  We’re such a huge institution that making it all-inclusive could easily be a site unto itself.  So I’ll ask the same thing that I did for the phone number list – does anybody actually use the pages currently at http://www/home/services/ or do you just use the search engine to find what you’re looking for?

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Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 2 Comments

Summer Conferences

We have gotten our approvals and everything is now in order for our conference linup for this year.  I will be attending EduWeb in Chicago this July and both John and I will be at HighEdWeb in October. I am thankful that we will be able to have a presence at both of these conferences and have the opportunity to interact with colleagues from our fellow universities around the country.  John and I have also sent in a proposal to present a session at HighEdWeb and are anxiously awaiting word on its approval.

Those of you who are attending either event, drop us a line to let us know you’ll be there. We would love to meet up and compare notes.  We had a good group in Milwaukee last year with some great after-hours conversations.

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Monday, May 3rd, 2010 Uncategorized 1 Comment

Welcome (Back) to Aggieland

After a being gone a week for the HighEdWeb09 conference, John and I returned to the office today to wade through the issues that have popped up and start reviewing our thoughts from the conference.

While there was plenty of great information in the conference tracks, the bulk of the value to me came from interaction with other schools, seeing how they deal with many of the same issues we deal with, and comparing how successful our methodologies are in comparison.  Overall I think we’re in pretty good shape.  We obviously don’t compare to the nation’s elite, but that’s only a matter of funding and support.  Several conversations confirmed that we’re on the right track with our projects, so look for us to continue fighting to do things right.

We do have some infrastructural projects to take care of, but look for us soon to give you an idea of where we’re looking at going.

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Monday, October 12th, 2009 Future Projects, Miscellaneous No Comments

eduWeb – Expectations by Incoming Students

This was probably the most useful and informative of the sessions presented at the conference.  It summarized a 2009 study that was released just last week.  The study used 1,000 high school seniors and asked them what they expected to see on a university website and what would happen if a particular topic was not there. Rather than trying to summarize I’ll link you to the document – it is a very worthwhile read with a few confimations of expected behavior and a few surprises. The long-and-short of it, is, though, content matters.  It matters a great deal.  What you have on your web page and how you present the information can make a difference betwen keeping and losing them as a student.

The summary concludes with a list of recommended steps for keeping your recruits engaged and returning – you can be we will be looking over that list in our office and seeing how we can implement them.

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Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 1 Comment

eduWeb – Online Video

Examples of how to use videos on campus:

Create a “build your own adventure” virtual tour, where the tour changes depending on answers provided by the user.  For example, those indicating that they will live on-campus go to one branch while those living off-campus go through another.   A good example is

  • The successful video is short and to the point: ~2.6 minutes
  • Give a Share This option
  • Catchy titles make a difference.  Think “Ninja!”   Here title truly is more important than content.

An admissions office might want to create a series of How-Tos

  • Use these to create a knowledge center
  • admissions, financial aid, tutoring, etc.

Think outside the box.  Online videos are great, but consider distributing through DVD.  This might be of particular use to recruitment centers in urban environments.

Prospective students generally look at video for one thing – “Will I fit in?”

Be creative. Boon Oakley on YouTube uses visual elements of the “page” as a progress meter / navigation bar.

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Monday, July 27th, 2009 Branding No Comments