Featured Site: University of Florida

My Dad graduated from the University of Florida sometime last century, and despite this year’s basketball woes he’s quite proud of his alma mater. Example? His license plate reads “G8R”. Seriously. Growing up it was known fact that all Florida State players were felonious drug users and Bobby Bowden was, without a doubt, the Anti-Christ.

So, when I got an email last week from Mark Trammell, Web Administrator at UF, asking me to check out their newly redesigned, standards-compliant site, I got excited. After a few minutes perusing the site, checking out both the front- and back-end, I knew I wanted to feature it. And even though it was at the last minute and on his weekend off, Mark was good enough to answer a short email interview about the site. I always find it inspiring to read about other designers and their work and, hopefully, you do, too.

1. Alright, care to start off with a little bit about yourself? Your job at UF, how long you’ve been involved in the web, etc.

I’ve been building Web sites professionally for eight years, at UF for three and a half years, and serving as the university Web administrator for the last two. As university Web administrator, I run many of the university-wide sites and implement UF Web policies. I lecture in Computer Science and Communication courses on developing Web sites and have taught Web project management to both undergrad and graduate students in digital arts and sciences.

2. What were some of the goals you hoped to meet with a CSS-centric design?

  • Increased usability for visitors with disabilities
  • Future platform flexibility
  • Faster load times
  • Better search engine comprehension
  • Content stability through separation of content from aesthetics
  • Content flexibility through liberation from images as text

3. Did you have to convince anyone that a CSS and standards-compliant site would be an important goal for the redesign?

There wasn’t any real convincing … Once standards compliance was presented as part-and-parcel of the long-term goals of campus Web development, stakeholders just got it.

4. What was the project’s timeline? How many people worked on it?

We had a six month window for all testing and development. Though most of the development was done by our designer, 4 student Web developers and me, we had more than 200 faculty, staff and students involved in usability testing and steering, IA, and content committees.

5. What kind of backend system do you use on the site?

Flat XHTML files with many server-side includes.

6. How did you teach the less knowledgeable about valid markup, XHMTL, etc? Do you have a Style Guide to outline what kind of classes and id’s people can and can’t use?

Web development is distributed across campus. We’re working on a set of templates and training that, we hope, will lower the bar to creating Web content at UF through adherence to standards.

7. What was the biggest compromise you had to make with the design?

Really, everything was a compromise. Each step in the process begged review of everything done up to that point. I can’t think of a single element that ended up exactly as it was originally imagined.

8. How did traffic break down for the site in terms of browsers? What browsers did you make extra concessions for, if any?

  • IE6: 84%
  • IE5: 9%
  • NS7: 3%
  • NS4: 1%
  • Mozilla: 2%
  • Safari: 1%

NS4 usage on campus dropped steadily from 2.2% in July 2003 to 1% in December. Approximately 40% of traffic to the site comes from on campus. Of NS4 traffic, 80% comes from on campus. Anecdotal evidence from around campus tells us that the decrease in NS4 should continue due to a move to Mozilla and the implementation on PeopleSoft’s portal for HR and financials (which doesn’t support NS4).

The normal line up of CSS tricks was employed: Import Hack, IE5/Mac ∓ Box Model. We also used Flash Satay with a minor tweak. To get around the CLASSID issue in using the OBJECT tag, we use a server-side detect for IE and insert the CLASSID in the OBJECT when needed.

9. Any evidence yet of bandwidth savings?

Any bandwidth we picked up in HTML and images, we promptly gave back with the Flash-based content. Though the overall homepage size is larger, the load time to reach the first Spotlight is 50-500% faster (depending upon connection). That said, the pages load much faster. The size of the primary and secondary navigational pages decreased by 40% despite an increase in content. The decrease in download time is much more drastic due to a 75% decrease in HTTP requests.

10. Anything else?

Keep up your great work, Adam. I think all of us fighting the good fight appreciate what you are doing. Thanks again and take care!

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