Calvin website redesign targets mobile devices, prospective students


Photo courtesy Luke Robinson

Visitors to Calvin’s website will notice a major redesign next week. According to Tim Ellens, director of communications and marketing, the new design focuses on serving the needs created by the changing technology usage patterns of the website’s primary audience — prospective students.

“There is more and more access via mobile technology,” observed Ellens. According to a report from Noel-Levitz, a higher education consultancy, 68 percent of the surveyed high-school students had viewed a college website on a mobile device and 75 percent found the college website influential on their decision to enroll, making it the single most influential resource in the survey.

For the 30 days between Feb. 9 and March 11, a quarter of the traffic to was from mobile devices, a figure that has doubled every year.

“We put ourselves in a mobile-first mindset,” said Ellens of the web team. This strategy, according to Ellens, attempts to create websites that “will look good on an iPhone to start with.” The approach uses the principles of responsive design where websites respond to device screen size with templates to accommodate phones, tablets and desktop computers.

“There are going to be inconsistencies,” warns Ellens. The new pages will introduce a third generation of design present on the website. Describing the updating process as “iterative,” Ellens stated that the team is “launching what it can now.”

The web team’s iterative approach comes from their use of the Scrum software development process. This process splits the development schedule into short cycles, known as “sprints,” over each of which the team creates a deliverable product. “We bite off one thing at a time and deliver it,” said Ellens.

Ellens noted “inefficiency” in the pace of progress before the team employed Scrum. While Calvin’s web team includes nine people, only one person — Luke Robinson — is dedicated to the website full-time. “We have our other jobs,” said Ellens. “Meeting every two weeks felt like moving an ocean forward one inch at a time.”

Now, the team’s Scrum-influenced routine includes daily virtual “standup meetings,” named for their brevity, where each member discusses their accomplishments, goals and obstacles. Ellens noted that the new approach has “created a lot more satisfaction and focus for the team.”

Ellens said that Friday was originally chosen for the launch because it is the date when financial aid packages go out to prospective students. However, the launch date has been pushed back.

A top-level page dedicated to the arts is still in the works and will be eventually added to the top navigation bar. “Putting the arts up there is a way in which to support the arts at Calvin,” said Ellens. “We have a large community that cares about the arts at Calvin and wants a quick pathway to see what’s going on.”

Kendra Kamp, a sophomore graphic design major, found irony in the prominent presentation of arts on the website while cuts to arts programs are impending. “Maybe if they emphasize it more,” Kamp suggested, “It will lead to more people interested in the program.”

Kamp complimented the new design overall. “It doesn’t look overly academic; it looks really clean.”

Kamp said that websites were “a major criteria” for her college search and that Calvin’s website factored in a decision over another school with a graphic design program, the quality of which was not reflected in their website. “It didn’t look like they knew what they were doing.”

Compared with the old design, Kamp said that the new one “probably would have appealed to me even more.”