UK University Homepage Width Comparison

Gone are the days of pretending that the Internet presence of your business can be an afterthought, something that will take care of itself, a thing that people will just accept; it is an ever evolving beast that needs to be tamed, needs to be understood and needs direction.

It is so common for companies and institutions to become complacent, to not plan far enough into the future to make sure that they’re staying ahead of the curve, or at least keeping up. These things have become even more important within the Education sector, with Universities now charging large amounts of money for the privilege of studying, students will take greater care in choosing where they study, not only in terms of the quality of the course, but the quality of the infrastructure that supports the student throughout their whole student experience.

A conversation was sparked with some colleges about the process in which a student goes through when short-listing a set of possible Universities, one of the steps that raised its head a lot was using the website of each potential University to get a feel for what they had to offer, after all “Googling” something is often the first step to any journey nowadays.

So one afternoon I put my student hat on and browsed some of the top, and not so top, University websites trying to get an idea of how I would feel about choosing somewhere to study in today’s Internet driven society. What I found is that it really feels like some Universities just aren’t taking their online presence seriously, Bristol University as an example haven’t updated the design of their homepage since Jan 2006 and Canterbury Christ Church University still have a homepage that is 776px wide (on the plus side, their homepage will be mobile ready if they just leave it a little while longer!). On the other side of the coin you have Cambridge University who have a fully responsive design for their homepage which looks as lovely on my desktop PC as my mobile phone.

I understand the design of a website, graphically, does not determine the quality of the content, but the quality of the design does bare a lot of weight on your initial reaction to the content. If I saw a website that was designed for a screen resolution that was 800x600px, my initial thoughts would be that they clearly don’t take their web presence seriously. This would carry some serious weight if I were to be looking to study at that University within one of the tech or design faculties.

So all this waffling for a simple experiment. After seeing the Canterbury Christ Church University had a very narrow design, I wanted to see if there were any other websites were also reluctant to change their homepage width since 2006. I wrote a simple application that scrapped all the University website URIs from the Guardian 2013 University league table, took a screen shot of the top 50px of each of them and then spliced them altogether, centrally aligned. This then made it possible to draw some rulers and visually identify the culprits, eh Voilà!

HBBH - University Homepage Width Comparision

With a simple (and probably not very accurate) visual comparison (ignoring the fact that some of the homepages are represented with cookie confirmation pop-downs), you can see that only 2 of the 160 homepages that I checked are less than 800px wide. Canterbury Christ Church University and London South Bank University, as of October 2013 you’re a little behind the curve.

With <1% of users now utilising a resolution with a maximum width of 800px wide (non-mobile), web designers who are not keeping their websites up-to-date with current display technology are penalising 99% of their users. Improve your customer experience by using more of your available pixels, and where possible make your designs responsive to your customers’ displays.

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