So the first of our Ask a Guru questions that we wanted to feature comes from Michael Render at North Carolina Central University. Michael writes in:
“Multiple Templates on a Higher Education Website. Is this a good or a bad thing.”
Great question Michael so we passed it around to everyone and here is the input from different perspectives.
The Technical Web Marketer Perspective - Kyle James
Personally I feel that your website should be consistent. This doesn’t mean that it always has to include the exact same template for every single page, but that the pages should be branded similarly. This means that they should be consistent in color, font, graphics, etc. Yes you can give your content creators a few different templates (a good idea), but they should be required to work within these. Nothing is worse than clicking on an internal link in a college website and getting taken to a website that looks COMPLETELY different.
I’ll give you some picture examples. The following three came from the Wofford Website when I used to run the site. It looks like since that time the athletics site has gone in a completely different direction and lost some of that consistency. I’m sure that everyone in higher ed web knows this… athletics has a tendency to do their own thing so this isn’t totally a shock to anyone. I would even go so far as saying this consistency should be in place in all other online and offline marketing.
The Web Manager/Developer Perspective - Nick DeNardis
My personal opinion is individual areas of your institutions web site serve different audiences, these audiences have different needs and different things resinate with them. Although it is important to uphold the identity of the institution it doesn’t mean you have to be absolute about it. A base set of colors, grid or wireframe is all you need to make many sites feel the same.
At my institution we have a standard header and footer that we require on all our sites. Beyond that we just have approved colors. We cannot enforce a certain template since all the sites don’t live in the same system. We do have a wireframe that all sites are built from but we don’t let it tie our hands if the needs of the site call some something different.
As you can see from the examples below, the first three use the same structure with navigation on the left while the admission’s site uses a different structure but still looks like it’s part of the same institution.
The Web Manager/Developer Perspective - Michael Fienen
I think that it is important to distinguish between the concept of a “theme” and a “template.” The reason for this is very important. In the question, asking if multiple templates should be used, you’ll find that there’s pretty much no way to not use multiple templates. A web site using only one template will be bland, boring, inflexible, and won’t serve your users the way they deserve. So, building on what Kyle mentioned, I think the core of any institution should have a single theme covering all the basic design concepts, and this theme is then applied to a handful of templates. For instance, at our school we have six base templates people can choose from. They share common header, footer, and navigational elements, but each gives the content creator different options for the layout of content on the page itself. The amount of control your theme exerts on your overall web site will be partly dictated by your institutional breakdown.
All that said, I would also warn you to keep tools handy for one-off landing pages that might need to fit your theme, but be entirely independent of any templates you have. Such pages will be frequently used for advertising campaigns, microsites, and landing pages.
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