Today sees a new homepage for the University of Texas School of Law. This iteration is more of a realign than a redesign as the decision was made to keep our interior pages intact while we continue a long-term look at our branding and online presence. The biggest design challenge was creating something cleaner and more useful for our visitors while retaining most of the same content and enough of the previous design to tie it in comfortably with our current site’s look-and-feel.
The new version emphasizes our communication pieces, changing the rotating banner graphic into something more dynamic: the accompanying text is now HTML-based and will link to richer features similar to our Clinical Education stories. Our previous 75×75 pixel highlight buttons (which themselves were reduced from the intricate 200×140 highlight graphics of two years ago) have been folded into our general News list to help simplify the page. The navigational links were dramatically reorganized to make the hierarchy clearer and more contextual. Everything’s still there, it’s just been reshuffled.
Make it pretty
The goal aesthetically was to reduce the homepage’s clutter and to make the information presented more visually balanced. I designed the old homepage, so I’m to blame! To accommodate the larger banner graphic I increased the width of the site to 840 pixels, and then subdivided that width into a five-column layout. The typography is much more consistent, and care was taken to align the text vertically on a baseline grid. The colors are lifted from the previous version but greatly toned down — far less orange, no more crazy orange-stripe-gradient thing, and a nice white background with some subtle color at the top. Still feels like UT, but doesn’t scream it, and the new design continues to match our internal pages.
Behind the scenes
I’ve shifted the site from Transitional to XHTML 1.0 Strict and have made greater use of XML for the maintenance of the feature stories and news items. The layout and typography are all still handled with plain CSS: if you strip away the stylesheet, you’ll find that the homepage is semantic, streamlined, and very navigable with screenreaders or other assistive technologies. Text can be adjusted in the browser to just about any size without breaking the layout. We’re also sporting a bit of hCard markup so that folks can easily scrape our contact and location info into more useful formats.
Hopefully the refresh is just what we need to help carry us along until the sitewide redesign. I think the updated technology and cleaner look will do a lot for us, and it should help increase our visibility as one of the top-ranked law schools. If you have any comments about the design or about site refreshes, I’d love to hear them.