Student support helps power new design

Mathew Hoy is the first to tell you rebuilding the university’s web presence is not a one-man show.

“We’re not just adding a fresh coat of paint on an existing framework of code; we’ve built all of the templates from scratch,” said Western’s senior web designer. “We’ve added brand new templates; code has been refactored numerous times to work with different desktop clients and mobile devices.”

With the support of fellow web designer Gulnara Shafikova, the pair spent the last 10 months working on the project. And for the last few months, Hoy and Shafikova have worked side-by-side with a bit of a student presence – six Western and Fanshawe College students.

Cody Boyko, Andrea Kim, Genevieve Moreau, Narmata Naguleswaran, Travis Neilans and Bhavin Prajapati worked for more than four months tackling a number of departmental and faculty website redesigns.

“We were very lucky to have had the chance to hire these students, who were simply fantastic in what they did,” Hoy said. “The students provided invaluable help in rolling out the new design and customizations through faculties and areas to ensure they are launch-ready.”

Prajapati, a recent Anthropology and Biology graduate, who is beginning his masters in Health Information Science this fall, was tasked with the redesign of the Faculty of Science website and assisted with Western’s main homepage.

“It wasn’t just overall appearance that mattered, we wanted to focus on the user experience such that students, faculty and visitors are able to visit the sites and get what they need without a problem,” Prajapati said.

It didn’t occur to him how big the project was until the first day of work when he was given an overview.

“To be honest, I was very surprised. These websites will have thousands of visitors every day for years to come,” he said. “When you think of it that way, there is a lot of pressure to try to the best job you can. But it has also has been a surreal experience.

“Especially as a Western student, it’s nice to give back to the campus in such a unique way.”

Moreau couldn’t agree more.

“It was definitely cool,” said Moreau, who was assigned the re-design of Communications and Public Affairs as well as Faculty Relations sites. “I quickly realized this wasn’t so much a summer job to pay for my rent, but an opportunity to be a part of something major, apply myself creatively and test my knowledge of the web. It took us longer than what we had planned to finish these sites, but we put a lot of preparation and thought into its results and it’ll certainly be rewarding to see each page living on the Internet for the world to see.

“And to say, ‘I helped with that.’”

With a background in photography, the recent MIT graduate played a key role in the use of new visual content in her redesigns. Her skills even landed her a six-month contract in the Communications and Public Affairs as a web designer.

“I had been so wrapped up in my student life that I’m so happy I’ve had the opportunity to be part of the behind-the-scenes work here,” said Moreau, adding working with the other students was rewarding.

“They’re incredibly focused and altruistic. We helped each other get through slow workdays and gave each other honest advice with the projects. Truth is, I couldn’t have been shoved into a conference room with a better group of strangers, because we’re friends now.

“Hands down this has been the best job I’ve had to date.”

As the redesigned website goes live today, there are nerves. But Hoy admitted it’s “great to get to the point where our labours can finally be shared with the outside world.”

He continued, “While we’ve done lots of consulting with staff, students, faculty and alumni, the knowledge that the pages will be accessed thousands of times per day always puts you on edge. We’re really looking forward to releasing our designs, code and supplemental materials (like style guides) into the wild.

“It’s been a long process that’s been both challenging and very rewarding. In the end, the team has learned a lot about web design, about Western, and about ourselves.”