Web Author's Guide
The Department Web Site
Everything said on our Design Basics page also applies to your Department's web site. But there other considerations also. Here, following the example President Wilson in 1919, are fourteen points relevant to the Department situation. To avoid the Clemenceau remark, we break them into two groups.
The department site will typically include individual faculty home pages. For many viewers, your faculty and not your program will be the chief object of interest. So these are important pages. They bring up the question of who is in charge of whose image. Tact is required:
1. Format. Some of the most effective department sites have a standard format for individual faculty pages. This can lead to a consistent and professional appearance. On the other hand, a clunky standard format will only degrade your image by being multiplied. Negotiate if necessary.
2. Face. If your personal pages include pictures, everybody should have one. Gaps in the picture lineup imply an AWOL attitude, and detract from the departmental image. And the picture should not be some snapshot with a hibiscus bush in the background, it should be a portrait study of the person's face, what the News people call a "head shot." Providing a picture, and one with right degree of sobriety, should not be left solely to individual initiative. It is a Departmental matter. For specifics, see Your Photo.
3. Content. Self-expression is privileged in modern culture, but in a department, all images affect all other images. People who post pictures of their kids or their cat on their personal page may be within their rights, but they are also lowering the perceived seriousness of the department. Personalia, extranea, and any form of humor, do not wear well, and do not transfer fruitfully. Not recommended.
4. Seriousness. The way people will judge your department is by your faculty, and the way people will judge your faculty is by their publication lists. Include those lists. If they are too long to include on the basic page (congratulations!), put them on attached pages, and put only the highlights on the main page. Nobel and other prizes, including campus recognition, will logically come at the end. Nice.
The Department's Image
Browse our list of Department Links to see firsthand what works and what doesn't. You will think of things faster, and tire of cute solutions sooner, as a viewer than you will as a designer. In general:
1. Simplicity. Don't assign web site maintenance to students (they have other priorities, and they leave continually) or junior faculty (they already have enough jeopardy). It's a job for the staff. And staff turnovers will be disastrous too, unless you keep the technical level simple. You (or your clerical assistant) should be able to update and upload a page within five minutes of getting new information.
2. Currency. Given that capacity, your site can be, and should be, routinely and totally current. Nothing is duller than last term's courses, or deader than the guest lectures from 1998. It conveys the impression that the Department has been abolished. Plan for major updates four times a year, with continuous routine monitoring of changes and broken external links in between.
3. URL. Make it transparent, but don't make it long. If you have elements in it such as "pages," "website," "default," or the little squiggly mark (~), you will look silly. If your URL includes such repetitions as "asianst/asianstudies," you will come across as dithering and indecisive. Make all URL choices with extreme care. Changing them later is a nightmare. Plus, Google loses track of you.
4. Thematics. Logos are vastly overrated. It's the reputation that makes the logo, not the other way round. If you have to use your institution's logo, grin and bear it. If you use your institution's thematic color, be sure you get it right. Ascertain its hex code, and plan other color and format choices around it. If you are free to chose a color, avoid the known icky ones (absinthe, olive, fuchsia, powder blue). Harvard, having dumped its thematic Anne Klein red (a very good color), has lately (2003) gone to pea soup green. It gives everybody else a chance to move up three notches, at least graphically. Go for it.
5. Art. The picture of your building shouldn't be a snapshot, taken on a gray day, with a garbage truck parked in front. Your faculty portraits (see above) should be done by a photographer, not some kid with an Instamatic. Your horizontal strips of Asian art shouldn't push your page beyond the right-hand margin of the typical viewer screen. If you are a composite department, remember that Chinese faculty aren't well implied by ukiyo-e, nor Japanese faculty by dragon robes. Don't use clip art. Avoid long downloads (and remember that PDF files are very long downloads). Beware of the Mysterious East. Exactly what impression of technical competence is conveyed by out-of-focus bamboo?
6. Gimmicks. Avoid them. Don't have anything that moves, alternates, hovers, changes color, rotates, permutates, or invites the viewer (after staring at a blank screen for 30 seconds) to download Macromedia Flash Player. Leave the flashing to the guys in the trenchcoats. Don't do shadows, don't superimpose a small picture over a larger version of that picture, don't alternate colors in the letters of words, don't use funny fonts. Kindergarten stuff is not going to get you where you want to go.
7. Requirements. Some sites begin with a long list of degree requirements. Some consist of little else. It is hard to imagine a more off-putting introduction to a program. Have the information accessible, but don't lead with it. Prospective students will feel that they haven't even walked in the door yet, and already they are flunking their orals. Easy does it. If all your faculty can do is make rules, fire them and start over.
8. Mandate. Don't take up the whole home page with news; it looks like you have no permanent character. On the other hand, mission statements tend to converge, so yours won't distinguish you very well from rival programs elsewhere. Nor does the importance of China justify the existence of your particular Chinese program. Do convey the impression that you know what you are about, and do mention any distinctive features of your approach. But a TA once gave us good advice on a term paper: "Don't take a lot of time saying why you're doing what you're doing. Just do it well."
9. History. A home page statement might well open with a paragraph of Department history. Whether or not it does, we strongly urge that each department should include, somewhere, a serious history of itself, mentioning any special personalities who have had a formative effect. Why is there no page on Legge at Oxford, no page on Kennedy at Yale, no page on Duyvendak at Leiden, no page on Mei at Iowa, no page on Richard Wilhelm anywhere in Germany, no page on Pelliot anywhere in France? The history of Sinology is getting lost even as it happens. It is a tragedy for the field. Each department or program should take responsibility for its part of that history. History is also good copy. It's distinctive without being confining. It suggests a capable past that also leaves room for future achievements. Who could ask for more?
For a sample of a responsible effort of this sort, in this case by a whole University, click here.
10. Last Chance. Whatever it looks like, sooner or later the moment comes when it is as good as you are going to get it. But proofread it before uploading it (your spell checker is a start, not a substitute). If you are a European site with a home page in English, get someone with native competence to look it over. (To mention only one trap: the grammar of labels is different from the grammar of sentences). A web site is an awfully public place for slips and solecisms. One person's carelessness can make the whole program look illiterate, 24 hours a day, from now til next September. Who, exactly, needs this?
Regard your Department site as you would your letterhead: a major investment in your public image. The good news is that you can control your web site much more completely than you can your letterhead. Don't miss the chance. If you scored less than 14 of the above points, you are missing the chance.
If you scored less than 10, you are missing the boat.
30 May 2004 / Contact The Project / Exit to Reference Page