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Website Survival Report Card for Cambrian College

Image of Home Page (51K) Image of Sub-Page (47K) on 2003-Apr-21


Congratulations! This is a free usability review from "Usability" refers to how easy and effective it is to use a Web site. Although it involves how a site looks (graphic artwork), it is primarily concerned with how a site works, what you click on, what happens, and whether the site does its job.

  • Perhaps this review is all you need to improve your site. If that's the case, great. Please mention if you talk with others who need help with their site. (Bookmark this site)
  • On the other hand, if you would like to put some of these recommendations into action on your site, or get a more detailed analysis, contact us.

The following three sections provide a general analysis of your website from a relatively quick review. Although Web design is still perceived as a highly creative endeavor, there are many aspects of it that call for standardization and compliance with widely established conventions. Implementing even a few of the ideas below can really improve a site.


  Part 1: Content Basics
    This first section is intended for typical public web sites (for products and corporate information), but also applies for the most part to intranets and software applications that run in a browser. We've been advocating many of these ideas—in the context of general software—since our 1997 book, Computers Stink, but they've been beautifully enumerated for WWW purposes in Steve Krug's book, "Don't Make Me Think."
      Click for explanation State of the Art, a Model for OthersGreat Work!Does the JobI Can HelpUndetermined/Not ExactlyNot Applicable
Hover for explanation
  1. Logo in top left, linked to home I Can Help It's in all pages but split between top left and center. Recommendation: have a graphic artist put the logo into the top left text, and perhaps stack the words Cambrian College in smaller type.
  2. Tagline Not Applicable I briefly looked on the "About" pages for a slogan or claim to fame but didn't spot one.
  3. Welcome blurb I Can Help Even though everyone knows what a college is, assume folks hit the page from an unrelated search. Tell them in one good sentence where you are, what degrees you're strong in, and perhaps how you characterize your place in the community... maybe even why to visit your locale, even unrelated to college!
  4. Plain wording Does the Job I spotted a couple of items such as Superbuild and "Real careers for real life," but they're appropriate and they work.
  5. No 'happy talk' State of the Art, a Model for Others Everone deserves one Blue Ribbon!
  6. Concise wording Great Work!  
  7. Visited pages are distinguished by link color-coding Undetermined/Not Exactly Most pages are accessed from graphical links that can't support this, but the nature of the site makes it feasible. I noticed a sub-link, Rental Facilities, uses color-coding and even uses my scheme of making the visited color match the page text (black) not purple, so it is no longer eye-popping! Needs a little more study; could be important if people aren't finding what they want.
  8. "Utilities" are easy to find Does the Job Yes... except the Site Map.
  9. Search on all pages, with box and button I Can Help Put the box right on the page.
  10. "You Are Here" indicator Undetermined/Not Exactly Example, the "Homepages" nav graphic at the bottom of the page doesn't have any highlight or arrow when you're on the Homepages page. But I'm not sure it's a significant issue. Might be inapplicable because of the per-visitor home pages. Needs more study.
  11. Breadcrumbs' as links I Can Help Breadcrumbs aren't used. The question is, "Are they needed?" The richness of the site map is starting to make me think that they are, as well as the You Are Here indicator.



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Part 2: Visual Design: Fonts, Colors, Layout, Basic Interaction Design, and Accessibility
As we read in a graphic artist's ad, "Technology makes it work but art makes it sell," and you should take heed. We're not graphic artists here at Uinst, but we know good art when we see it and the common denominators that separate good pages from bad are clear. Look at the top sites and you'll see they spell out the following criteria.
  Click for explanation State of the Art, a Model for OthersGreat Work!Does the JobI Can HelpUndetermined/Not ExactlyNot Applicable
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Sans-serif fonts

Does the Job Very minor item: consider not using italics on home page. Italics just doesn't seem to work online.

Appropriate background color

Does the Job  
Appropriate color hues Does the Job  
Visual representation of the information hierarchy Undetermined/Not Exactly This and Part 3's #3, Click Tree” are the core issue for the site. The creative use of both categorical groupings (on the left) and per-visitor-home pages (on the top)works for the most part, but there is no hierarchy depicted. See Summation. One thing I might look at initially, is separating common elements such as ""News and Events" from visitor-type-specific items ("For Students" on the students page).
Conservative quantity of colors Does the Job The color-coding of main navigation is a common use of multiple colors and works OK here because the background is white and the other colors are muted.
Text sizes are "relative" Does the Job Main body text enlarges upon demand.
Anti-aliased graphics Does the Job  
Graphics' file size doesn't slow navigation I Can Help The secondary navigation (accomplished with multiple image bars on every page) loaded fine on broadband but too slow on dial-up. I think for a university site, which might often be accessed by dial-up, this is a mistake that offers little benefit. Use a nice font on top of a single small background image or just a color. There should be good, glamorously designed examples on other sites.
"Alt tags" used well Does the Job  
Links don't just say "Click Here" Does the Job  
A style sheet (CSS) is used I Can Help  Apparently not used.


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Part 3: Genuine Value: Useful Content & Critical Interaction Design

And now for the hard part. If all of good Web design were as clear-cut as parts 1 & 2, above, you wouldn't need much judgment and there would be a lot more good sites. But the easier the decisions are, the less significant the thinking and effort behind them... and the easier it would be to provide useful content. This section is where you make or break your rapport with the visitor. If you provide real value and give folks enough tools to get to it, they will push past the basic omissions and ignore even the most amateurish art.
  Click for explanation State of the Art, a Model for OthersGreat Work!Does the JobI Can HelpUndetermined/Not ExactlyNot Applicable
Hover for explanation
1. Questions are answered Does the Job

This is an area where genuine task-testing is the acid test, but the site shows several signs of giving people what they came for and providing a genuine "E-presence." I saw an online E-mail listing, access to transcripts (not 100% automated, but I don’t know if that's appropriate yet), and a form to book a tour. Bravo!

2. Search results get the job done Does the Job

Looks reasonable but I didn't do a significant review. I did notice that "scholarship" doesn’t return your contest page until the second page of results. And clicking it brought up the .CFM page without the parent navigation frame.

3. Effective 'click tree' Undetermined/Not Exactly

See Summation. Tenders and Job Opportunities are under Latest News.

4. Conceptual flow from upper left to lower right Undetermined/Not Exactly Not exactly. The main navigation starts on the left and top but moves to only the bottom on subpages. I think this is one site where keeping it constant between the home page and all others would help.
5. Simple, outline-like site map I Can Help

Yes, but---and it's a big but---it's not linked (as all 'utilities' should be), on every page. I felt like I stumbled upon it when doing a search. Otherwise it's a model site map, by my criteria: mimics a book's Table of Contents; visited links are color-coded; each page is listed once.

6. Primary navigation is obvious Great Work!

Yes. Creative arrangement of two different paths (per-visitor home pages and other major headings).

7. Secondary navigation is obvious Does the Job

The secondary navigation consists of bars and drop-downs per visitor type. On a quick review it works fairly nicely and addresses a difficult pagination problem: overlapping purposes for some ensuing detail pages.

8. Contact information easily accessible State of the Art, a Model for Others  
9. Links are clear Does the Job  
10. Intro panel or animation not excessive Great Work!  
11. Graphics used only for core message Great Work!  


Summation & Next Steps

Overall Rating: Strives / Survives / Great Work! Thrives

Remember this is a superficial review, so for fundamentally sound sites, it tends to be a little forgiving since I don't dig very deeply into genuine user experiences. That said, Cambrian is a great site. It's got 95% of the easy stuff, and an initial review appears to indicate that it achieves the most important of goals, providing the content people came for. To step up to our highest rating, State of the Art/A Model for Others, it needs to do two things:

  • Solve the holy grail issue of Web design, how to make the best click-tree that doesn't leave people 'pogo-sticking' in and out of dead-end pages. Fortunately, this is easier work than the hard part that is already done (valuable content). The click-tree might be called "metacontent," and you're probably very close. The more one clicks around, the more question arises over the relationship between the links on the left and those on the top: is Applied Research part of other pages? Are certain Homepages filtered out of other pages? Why isn't Departmental Homepages under the Student link as well? The sub pages, not having anything other than a 'flat' listing, don't give any visual cues as to the subordination or grouping of items. Maybe 'refactoring' isn't really needed and all you have to do is provide a few pages with multiple paths to get to them. The problem is not a simple one. Perhaps check other school sites for some ideas.
  • The only other question is stepping up from valuable content to valuable services such as fully automated transcript provision, if it's feasible. Perhaps I've simply not noticed some E-service items you've actually accomplished.

Hope this helps and let me know what you think,
Jack Bellis,

Contact me for a This is your FREE usability review! Contact me for help making the corrections.

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