Website Design in a Pandemic

Looking for ways to help users get crucial information

First, I have to praise our brave first responders during this time of COVID-19. I am in awe of medical staff and emergency workers who are on the front lines of this battle. They are our true heros.

As a web editor and UX designer I am far removed from the vital work that is being done in our hospitals, but in this last week I have been incredibly busy. As folks are hunkered down in their homes, they are relying on the information they are getting online to help them through this evolving situation. I’ve been working long days and weekends, keeping website content up-to-date.

As someone working in higher education, I have been monitoring all the ways universities are presenting information to students, parents, faculty, staff, applicants and the greater community. It’s been interesting to see how some universities have put the response to COVID-19 front and center, making it the hero image of their home page. Here’s an example from my own alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I liked the way they broke out the COVID-19 updates using a resource page and the two audience-based navigation options. I was compiling a lengthy FAQ for my university’s webpage and wanted users to be guided to the relevant information without having the scroll through the long page to find answers to their questions. But I also knew we didn’t want to the virus to have such as large presence on the homepage. It was in the urgent message, but we wanted the University’s 50th anniversary to continue on the hero. We could however, improve the navigation on our main COVID-19 landing page. I worked up a menu to help direct audiences to the relevant sections of our growing FAQ.

As our FAQ continues to grow, we will be adding more segments to the menu including an area for admissions and enrollment and research. I will be checking analytics through Google Analytics and heat maps created through SiteImprove to see if the navigation is working and users are getting to the information they need.

In the FAQ, I also worked to add buttons for New and Updated content, a way for users to quickly scan and see what changed since the last time they visited the sight. I give a shout to Cornell University for this idea.

I would love to see other examples of institutions who are doing a great job communicating through their websites and other digital communications. In the comments area, please share links. And be safe out there. These are scary times.

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