Over Twitter, Cody Foss requested reviewers for a book about higher ed homepage design titled The eduStyle Guide to Usable Higher-Ed Homepage Design by Stewart Foss, Cody Foss and Andy Foss. I’m all over those kinds of requests and wrote back. Mere minutes later, I had downloaded the PDF and added the review to my long list of to-dos. I didn’t think I’d get to it sooner, but alas, the clouds parted, the gods looked down with smiles and I decimated my to-do list in order to get to it. So let’s get on with it, shall we?
I’ll structure my review on the 2-2 style popular in the MBA program I’m in- two compliments, two criticisms. First up, two compliments.
It’s useful today—As a notoriously slow reader, I can happily state that this one is quick and easy. It’s less a narrative and more a bulleted list with lots of screengrabs. If you want expert opinion, support for your own work or just plain good advice, this is the book for you. Best of all, because it’s in such an easy to digest form, you can apply the insights the same day you read them. And, of course, it’s targeted to the higher ed space- a piece of the online world that normally doesn’t get center stage attention. That means everything you read, EVERYTHING, is practical and applicable.
Best of the best—I suppose it goes without saying, but I’ll state it anyway because it’s important. The book highlights some of the preeminent higher education sites out there. There’s no doubt that higher education suffers from poor management, poor focus, and poor ______ (you fill in the blank). Having a single place to examine the best of the best is both informative, but inspiring too. And as higher edu workers, inspiration can make the exceptionally hard days we all encounter easier to take. For that, I thank the authors.
Next up, two criticisms.
Universal takeaways—Like many sites, truly good cross pollination of content necessitates good metadata (data about data). It’s hard to do well, but when it is, a site can seem to read your mind as a visitor. It’ll anticipate what and where you want to go next. This book tries to do so by offering multiple ways- by school name, by student population, by type (public vs. private) and by region- to access all the reviews. Each school’s page also gives you a “comparable institutions” sidebar where you can cross reference any school with others in as close an apples to apples comparison as is possible. It’s an admirable approach and works, but it seems to come at a cost. I wish it had a single page or section devoted to high level takeaways- a quick reference of universal do’s and dont’s, if you will.
More background—This might be an unfair criticism, but I’ll put it out there anyway. As a usabilty/design centric book, it’s not about in-depth case studies. However, each school mentioned (there are 20), does come with an “about” page that highlights information like what CMS powers the site, who the members of the team are, what technologies are used, etc. I kept wishing the authors would elaborate or, at least, standardize what behind-the-scenes information was presented. As someone who has built websites for 10+ years, the back story can be some of the best takeaways to learn.
My final thought is, as is the custom for us web workers, a call to action. Buy the book. It’s a nice companion to the eduStyle site and highlights some of the best higher ed sites out there today. As such, we can all learn a few things from it. If my review doesn’t quite convince you to buy, you can always get a sample taste and decide for yourself. For me, it’s a winner.