mStoner firm to redesign College#039;s Web site

by Beacon Staff • October 15, 2008

Emerson will have new digital digs by the end of next year, said David Rosen, Emerson's vice president of public affairs.

The college has chosen a Web-design company to overhaul Emerson.edu and roll it into the admission office's Web site. The update is long overdue, according to a report by the redesigner company, mStoner, and echoed by students.

The plans for the new Web site, though still in development, will include several major changes. Most importantly, the college's main site and the Admissions site will be combined in order to avoid the confusion of navigating between the two.

Those involved in the process stressed the importance of designing a site which will combine the two to make a more user-friendly and dynamic representation of the Emerson community. The site's platform, which includes systems currently used by students and faculty, like WebCT, will not change.

The college selected mStoner, a Chicago-based digital design and Web solution company which caters to non-profit organizations and educational institutions, to work on the site.

Many elements of the redesign are based on a March 2008 study by mStoner of the current site. The study took into account input from more than a dozen different groups at Emerson, according to a copy of the report.

In the executive summary, the study assessed the site as attractive and well-constructed, but was "static and uneven, and it fails to project the energy and uniqueness of Emerson College."

The document, interspersed with images of Web sites previously reworked by mStoner, lays out a new organizational structure and suggests bridging to technological phenomena like Facebook.com, LinkedIn.com, Flickr.com and YouTube.com. Blogs and other interactive features have also been suggested as part of the updated design.

The company was chosen from four proposals submitted to the college. Rosen said he hoped to have a contract with mStoner signed by this week, to begin work no later than Nov. 1, he said.

The site will be completed by December 2009, with the first phase launched by July, when new interactive technology will be added.

Rosen said marketing strategy decisions will soak up most of the time alotted for the project, rather than hours spent with visual design.

Current Emerson students agreed with many of the study's findings. Freshman journalism major Alex Spanko cited frequent problems with WebCT.

"I think it's kind of poorly set up," Spanko said. "I mean, it's not exactly the most user-friendly [site]."

The Admission site drew one student's criticism for being too general.

"Emerson's Web site doesn't really tell you anything about the school," said Matt Durham, a freshman writing, literature and publishing major.

MJ Knoll-Finn, vice president of undergraduate admissions, said the role of the Web site for prospective students is to give a sense of the Emerson community and to better market the college, she said.

"You want to tell your story better than anyone else can. Our site doesn't do that," Knoll-Finn said.

Some speculative students on Emerson admission tours had formed strong opinions on the subject after spending much time surfing digital collegiate campuses.

Philadelphia native and prospective student Nicholas Dekker said he does 90 percent of his college research online. "I didn't think [the site] was very appealing. I thought, campus-wise, it looked really bad."

The view of the campus is the first thing he looks for when visiting a school's Web site.

"I want to see the school itself," said Dekker. "I think that if the Web site looks good, I'm going to assume that the school looks good. That's pretty important, for me at least."

Dekker's friend who accompanied him on his visit, Ellen McCullough, a Harvard University employee who worked in the student financial services office, and a former member of the school's Web design committee said she was unimpressed by Emerson's Web page.

"I thought for a communications school, it seemed a little boring. You know, it wasn't very exciting," she said. "I just assumed that Emerson, because it is a communications school, would have a pretty slick Web page."

Rosen said in addition to the six months spent in meetings with students, faculty and administrators for the study, the company's president, Michael Stoner, had overseen a previous Emerson Web site renovation from 2001-2002, while working for another company.

"He knows the place pretty well, which is very helpful," Rosen said.

Michael Stoner said in a phone interview that much of the redesign process will revolve around feedback received from the college.

Stoner said the internal audience at Emerson is very important.