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MIT staff blogger Chris Peterson SM '13

PSA: there’s a new! by Chris Peterson SM '13

This is just a quick blog post to tell y'all that there is a new It was designed and built by the same agency, Upstatement, that is redesigning admissions and SFS. Elizabeth and I were both on the core team that helped set the early cultural conditions and priorities for this site, though it was carried through by the team at MIT Communications, whose director, Nate Nickerson, wrote the following this morning: 

The homepage we replace has given good service to the Institute. Since its launch in 2009, it has maintained a straightforward and uncommon aesthetic: a single “Spotlight” image surrounded by links to sites from around MIT. (And that basic approach had been established years before.) The page has been well-liked and well-used.

But research of our audiences showed us that it was time to make some changes. First, we wanted to transform the Search function. We sought not just to make it perform better (it’s both highly used and a frequent source of frustration, we learned), but also to make it say something about MIT: that we prize utility, practicality, serendipity, exploration, and fun. What you see here is just a beginning; we will be eager over time to find new ways to make Search satisfy and delight our visitors.

If the left side the new homepage is devoted to utility and self-guided journeys, the right side offers a daily glimpse of the culture and output of MIT. Here we have preserved the daily Spotlight — which we now summarize in brief, bold type that itself (through hyperlinks) serves as a jumping-off point to other destinations at MIT.

In all of this, we required a site that would work well on mobile devices, meet the highest standards of accessibility, and be “light” enough to function usefully in a world of highly variable levels of bandwidth and processing power.

Over the course of this journey, the creative input we received from the MIT community was an embarrassment of riches. Communications colleagues from across MIT put their mark on the work. The Admissions Office partnered with us from the beginning, lending us their high degree of creativity and their deep understanding of current and prospective students. MIT’s senior leadership improved our thinking with energy and encouragement — and in user testing, the Institute’s brilliant students and alumni helped us see things in new ways. Finally, hats off to the creative agency Upstatement, which helped us to be as bold as we were careful. Thank you, all!


I'm excited that this site combines the "radical utility" of this broad search function with the cultural display of the Spotlight section (as well as other easter eggs, like some of the entries in the search loop and the "wallpaper" in the background of results), and that we, as a team, decided to go with something that didn't look like other bootstrap-ey generic universities homepages and instead went for something that tries to be useful to visitors. As Nate says, it'll continue to be developed and enhanced, but I'm pretty happy with it. 

What does this mean for admissions/sfs? Well, nothing directly: we're not going to have the same navbar or layout or anything like that. But I imagine that our new sites will have some "family resemblance" to this, like a really thoughtful and fast search, a goal of being extremely useful for the user, and lots of places to pop up with subtle cultural performances that surprise people and get them to click through and learn more about MIT.