Jul 11, 2011
Posted in: Miscellaneous
My office is currently under serious reconstruction. New walls, new doors, new carpets, new paint, and everything. Mikey's gone on vacation, so, unbeknownst to him, I'm commandeered his office, kicked out on his couch, and put my feet up on his desk.
The downside, I guess, is that I no longer have my protein shakes and favorite notes from applicants within arms reach and eyesight, respectively.
On the other hand, it's pretty comfortable right here, and the space is more well-designed and welcoming. I've only been in here a few minutes, but already I know I could definitely get used to this.
Hopefully, you feel the same way about the new website we've launched today.
Our "old" site, which was launched by our much beloved former Communications Director Ben Jones in 2004, was a legendary, landmark effort. Ben's central use of blogs to speak honestly and frequently with prospective students revolutionized the admissions communications industry. We've been proud, and grateful, to call it our home for the past 7 years.
But, just as Ben's blogs often noted, all things must evolve and grow over time.
Well over a year ago, Matt asked the communications team to begin thinking about developing a new MIT Admissions website. This isn't an easy task. We are deeply invested in our website. When you have a good thing going, in can be difficult to motivate yourself to rethink what makes it good, and even more difficult to force yourself to risk playing the alchemist and trying to cook things up to make it even better.
But this is MIT. We wouldn't be who we are if we were afraid to get our hands dirty, to move fast and break things, and to try for something really awesome.
I think we've done it. And I hope you feel the same way.
With that said, let me give you a little tour of the new website, focusing on three themes: simplicity, accessibility, and transparency.
The first thing you will likely notice is that we've drastically simplified the site. We've reduced twelve navigational buttons to five, and transitioned from over 100 secondary navigational links to just over 20.
This was one of the most difficult things to do. Over time, the old site had accumulated dozens and dozens of beloved pages, like the family attic storing years and years of toys and photo albums. At some point, though, the floorboards began to creak; we realized that there were so many pages and options on the new site that it had become difficult to navigate them all! In behavioral economics, this is known as the paradox of choice: too many options can introduce cognitive costs that exceed the marginal benefit of their inclusion.
However, we didn't want to simply delete everything and start afresh. Even if 80% of people didn't use all of the extra stuff we had on the site, those 20% who did REALLY LOVED IT. We had a duty to our readers to come up with a way to offer just as much content as the old site did, but in a way that was less architecturally intimidating to encounter.
We think we've found a way: the MIT Admissions Wiki.
The Wiki is the new home for all of the miscellanea we'd like to offer prospective students but couldn't include in the new, streamlined site navigation. We're slowly rolling out editing rights to the MIT community. Just as the blogs have, over time, become an authoritative source of MIT student culture, we hope that the Wiki will happily accumulate all of the information about MIT that its community could ever wish to provide, and that prospective students could ever wish to discover.
That brings me to the blogs. You'll notice some immediate changes to the blogs - new, hand-drawn avatars; new profile page layouts; and some new (if subtle) post production and editing functionalities.
But my favorite thing about the new redesign is our new feature at the bottom of almost every page: the "Best of the Blogs."
The MIT Admissions blogs grew slow and steady, like a coral reef of content; bloggers depositing individual bit of wisdom for the better part of a decade, until it was almost 4000 entries strong, deep and dense. But, as with an iceberg, only a small portion - the ten most recent entries on the homepage - was ever clearly visible to new visitors, who had no way to easily and serendipitously encounter the incredible wealth of wisdom beneath their feet.
"Best of the Blogs" changes all that. Admissions staff and bloggers have combed through every entry ever made and handpicked a few - less than 5%! - that are exceptionally excellent. These entries load randomly into the grid at the bottom of pages, so that new visitors can stumble upon terrific older entries that they otherwise would never have known existed. We're incredibly excited about this feature, and believe that it will do for blog entries what the Wiki will do for the overall community.
We've also labored to make our process and statistics as transparent as possible. Veterans of the old site will recall that we have, for years, published admission statistics and class profiles that far exceed information released by the admissions office of almost any other university. With this site, we've taken the dramatic step of doing the same for our Financial Aid office, not only with an overview of our financial aid philosophy but also with discrete sample cost and aid packages.
Under the "Apply" heading we've also launched an entirely new navigational design called the "stepthrough":
By clicking the arrows on the page, or by descending vertically through the navigational bar on the left hand side, students will be able to chronologically "step through" the admissions process chunk by chunk. We think this will help prospective students think more linearly and clearly about the admissions process. And we think it will be especially helpful for our international and transfer applicants in helping them understand how our process works for them. We're also continuing to provide unparalled insight into how we make admissions decisions and what we look for in students.
So: three principles - simplicity, accessibility, transparency - have guided our design and development of this new site. We're very happy with it, and we hope you will be too.
Of course, we're not done thinking of ways to make things even better. We've already got some things in the pipeline (sexy new search, comment meta-moderation, foreign language support, etc) to add and tweak ASAP. And we're always looking for additional ideas, insights, and inspirations from all of you.
So please - check out the new digs. Invite your friends. Kick the tires and let us know what you think. Because in the end, everything we do here is for all of you.