Students struggle to adapt to Westminster’s new website

David Luhr, Westminster College’s senior web designer, addresses issues with the college’s new website from his office. Through his setup, he can see both the website’s coding and live view. Photo by Scott Salter.

David Luhr, Westminster College’s senior web designer, addresses issues with the college’s new website from his office. Through his setup, he can see both the website’s coding and live view. Photo by Scott Salter.

Westminster College launched its new website on Sept. 30, leaving some students, faculty and staff struggling to adjust to the website’s new look and organization.

The website’s new design comes from Westminster’s communication department, with Senior Web Designer David Luhr at the helm. Luhr said he and his team have been troubleshooting and tweaking the site since before the launch and are working to create the best user experience possible.

“The main focus of the redesign was to really refocus the website for prospective and current student audiences,” Luhr said. “As a result, we’ve had to change the information, architecture and organization. Now that we’ve launched the website, it’s time to make the user experience much better.”

Some students have criticized the new website for not being user-friendly.

“The amount of exploring I’ve done on the website mostly left me confused and frustrated,” said Rosanise Odell, a junior environmental science major. “I know as a prospective student I definitely would have been unimpressed and possibly would have given up on Westminster. When I was looking at schools, websites were definitely key, and if they were hard to navigate I wouldn’t spend as much time and energy researching the school.”

The new site’s design has also created some confusion as to where resources are now located. This is all part of the user testing process, according to Erin Coleman, a web design professor at Westminster.

“You can ask people for their must haves, but they many not realize what they need until it’s missing or difficult to find,” Coleman said. “Good usability and functionality is determined through action. The new design fits current web standards, but it doesn't function the way that it once did. It’s still in the early stages.”

Other students have welcomed the changes to the website.

“It looks decently nice,” said first-year business student Cameron Campbell. “Since I’m already enrolled at Westminster, the site doesn’t offer me much. But for someone who is looking to come to Westminster, the site looks really intriguing.”

Luhr said he urges students to let him know about any issues they experience with the new design. Through the use of a scrum board, he and his team are prioritizing the issues and bugs to slowly improve the site as they go.   

“It actually really matters to me to make sure that the user experience is really solid,” Luhr said. “With the feedback, we rank current and prospective students at the top of our priority list. I think any time you have feedback it becomes critical if anyone can propose a solution. It's really about people's experience. If a user has an emotional response, [that] can be really helpful so we can know exactly what we can do to make the site perform more efficiently.”

Because the website’s main program was purchased from a third party, Luhr said the redesign has saved time and money.

“Now that we’ve purchased a new website program, we’ve saved time and costs with the new website,” said Troy Gerber, the college’s lead software engineer. “You don’t want to be fixing your tool all the time.”

According to Sebastian Hooker, the Westminster alumni who oversaw the website’s last redesign in 2014, a lot of a web design happens without the user understanding what was required to get the site to function.

“Users just see the final version of a website that is released and don’t see all of the hard work that went into distilling down every page and why it exists,” Hooker said. “Instead, they start by critiquing the front-end design and immediately click to their program or interest, ignoring the overall site architecture.”

Hooker praised Luhr’s redesign and said the site now has a more practical layout.

“Web design is a balancing act where you need to realize that it is impossible to please everybody,” Hooker said. “I think David did a great job working with each individual department to re-create the content from the ground up. Before the redesign, content was all over the place and there were hundreds of pages that served no real purpose.”

Luhr said there are more features coming that will be tailored to current students.

“The website is never done and never should be done,” he said. “There is so many new features. We’re going to be constantly addressing things to get the site to our dream version.”

The error page of Westminster College’s new website, which launched on Sept. 30. The new website has generated some confusion among students, faculty and staff as to where resources are now located.Photo by Scott Salter.

The error page of Westminster College’s new website, which launched on Sept. 30. The new website has generated some confusion among students, faculty and staff as to where resources are now located.Photo by Scott Salter.