Information architecture and web design by emanuel baisire
Evaluation of UMBC College of Engineering and Information
The paper evaluates UMBC’s college of engineering and information technology website
to determine whether it meets information architecture guidelines. The main objective of
the college of engineering and information technology website is to provide information
and other tools relevant to the university community and its external audience. The
website’s primary audience includes current students, faculty members, prospective
students and its alumni. The evaluation is based on principles of design categories, label
designs, navigation and usable web design. The critique looks at how UMBC’s college of
engineering and information technology website is designed in relation to the
recommended information architecture format.
Design of categories:
The left local navigation bar is not logically grouped together. The overall mental
model seem to reflect academic programs but items like “industry collaboration”
and “what’s new “ are not coherent with the organization scheme.
Some items on the website are placed in more than one category. For instance
“What’s new” on the left navigation bar is similar to “News and Events” in the
middle section of the main page. Such items tend to confuse users because it is
hard to determine the rationale and the distinction between the two.
The site seems to be grouped according to related items but there is no guidance
as to what each group represents. There are no section heads to distinguish
groupings. For instance the left navigation bar is not titled, middle content is titled
with inconsistent bold characters and what seem to be departmental groupings on
the local right navigation bar have meaningless clickable graphical images. The
text indicating departments do not even appear to be links until they are clicked.
The images on top of the page are not appealing and not professionally presented.
It is evident that the photos were cut from different sources and it is hard to tell
what they represent.
The page design does not fit on the screen and it requires extensive scrolling. A
simple estimate indicated that the main page is equivalent to 13 screens when
scrolled. This result into a missed opportunity for users to read page contents
located in the middle or at the end of the page.
The white typed face on a red background “College of Engineering and
Information Technology” is presented like a normal heading when it is actually a
link to the home page. There is no indication that it is a link.
There are several inconsistencies in the way texts and font sizes are presented. On
the home page, text is presented in bold and italic format while in other secondary
pages, text and font size seem to be uniform.
One section of the home page” News and Events” has a labeled heading while
other sections do not have labeled headings.
The use of ambiguous labels like “Industry collaboration” and acronyms
“COE&IT” keeps the user guessing as to what kind of content is behind those
pages. Industry collaboration and COE&IT can mean different things to different
The use of non standardized iconic labels on the main page supposedly to
represent different departments does not serve any purpose. For instance the use
of a wire grid and a bridge to serve as a link to the civil and environment
engineering department is not obvious to everyone.
The website heavily uses contextual links like click here, here, read more, more
coet&it news with no explanatory notes.
There exists item duplication on the main page. Although “undergraduate student
service” is an independent link on the main page, it is indicated again as a local
navigation link to the “undergraduate experience” page.
It is evident that some pages do not provide users with a sense of direction as to
where they are on the site. For instance visiting the “Advising” page when coming
from the Undergraduate student services page you feel lost because nothing
indicates that you are visiting that particular page. It is hard to have a feel of your
location on the site.
Local navigation bars have conflicting names. A link titled “student activities”
when clicked, the title to the same page becomes “student societies”. This might
confuse a user whose mind-set is centered on searching for student activities.
The home page is heavily concentrated with long sentences of inline contextual
navigation links that are not even relevant. Take the case of this inline contextual
navigation link: 64 universities that has received $200 million in research funding
from the U.S. Department of Defense. Professor Timothy Finin. The inline
contextual navigation links are detailed but redundant
There are several inconsistent throughout the site. For instance some pages have a
local left navigation and others don’t have one. For instance “About Us” and
“Degree and Certificates” pages don’t have local navigation bars and lack contact
details at the bottom of their pages.
On first sight some pages appear blank not until you scroll down the page.
Impatient users are more likely not continue scrolling down in search for content.
For instance if you click the “transfer information” link which is under the
undergraduate student services page it is hard to view its hidden content.
The site has several dead end and broken links. The “what’s new” link on the
main page, “Profiles” link on the undergraduate experience page are all non
Usable web design:
The “About Us” page does not provide any form of summarized information
about the College of engineering and information technology. The page is further
crowded with non explanatory links to other university pages. This limits user’s
ability to learn more about the college of engineering unless they are willing to
browse the entire UMBC website.
The site does not warn users who are set to leave the COE&IT homepage through
links to other departmental sites and UMBC main page. When transferred to
departmental sites it is even not clear how to get back to the COE&IT homepage.
The homepage is also full of uncertain clickable links in form of graphical
images. The design of clickable images can be confused to be textbooks.
Many web-pages do not open non-web documents in a new browser and there is
no option for saving downloadable documents. This is evident when you want to
learn more about “COEIT academic programs” and “fast facts”.
There is no uniformity in the way links are presented. Some link colors are blue
and others are red. This becomes difficulty for a casual visitor to determine which
link color to expect on different pages.
The search page is well designed and relevant but the global navigation on the
search result is different from the home page. There is also no link to go back to
the homepage of the college of engineering and information technology.
Some pages are not updated periodically. For instance the “Graduate experience”
web-page was last updated in March, 2007. This undermines user’s confidence
and trust about the validity of the page content.
Although the college of engineering and information technology webpage fulfils some
information architecture guidelines, there is a need to redesign the entire website. Current
students and faculty members may find the site easy to navigate and search but
prospective students, alumni and external audience encounter many of the discussed
challenges. For the site to be user-friendly the home page design size should fit on the
screen and the number of contextual and regular links on the homepage be minimized.
Users should also be provided with a sense of direction as to where they are, which
website there are about to be redirected and how to get back to the college of engineering
and information technology homepage.
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