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These places on the web are full of information for students, faculty and potential students. In addition to housing information about current events or application procedures, the university web site attempts to present a certain image about the school. In marketing, this would be called branding. Universities try very hard to convince potential students that they can expect specific opportunities and live a certain lifestyle if they attend this university. In this way, college web sites have become increasingly influential in attracting prospective students to individual schools. A great way to see how this is done and whether it is done well is to compare the web sites of two different universities. In this activity, Penn State University and Stanford University are compared and contrasted. The Penn State University web site is adorned in blue and white, the school colors. The first impression I have when looking at their web site is that it is not very visually appealing. The blue background seems to overpower the rest of the page. The images are poorly done as well. Visually, the photographs used are simply photos of people not doing particularly interesting things. There is the image of two individuals standing in a laboratory, an image of a white kid standing neck to a man dressed in some sort of traditional dress and other photos of graduate and undergraduate students. The images are given very little context, other than a heading above each that seems to shout “Research” and “Global”. They are also tagged with captions that seem a bit insipid, such as, “How can research improve our lives and communities?” Anyone contemplating college should already have some answers to this question, so the reader is not inclined to click on the link to find out more. What is nice about the Penn State University web site is the clean design and the ease of finding the most useful information. Key links are found in a neat column that flanks the right side of the photomontage. These include links to lists of campuses, a visitors guide and new student information. Below the photo montage there is a horizontal band of links to information for professionals concerning jobs and the faculty portal. Immediately below this, a search window is prominently displayed. Overall, the layout sends the message for the university that this wed site is a tool that you can use to access information. The utility of the web site seems to be of utmost importance to the designers, because it is not a very visually attractive or stimulating website in any way. One of the amazing things about the web and school web sites it their ability to change and evolve. I insert this paragraph here, because the Penn State site has actually changed since I have begun researching these two universities. The Penn State site is now much more visually appealing, having combined all of the photographs into a scrolling sequence window. Some of the photos are the same, so they are still not particularly intriguing or interesting, but they work better on the screen one at a time. This gives the photo a better context. The sequencer also breaks up the monotony of just having half a dozen photos of people staring into the camera lens. This new design is a great improvement over the original page I saw on the Penn State site yesterday. The Stanford web site is more visually appealing than the Penn State site, even with the improvements. A beautiful photo of historical actors is accompanied by a headline stating, “Picture Jasper Ridge: Biological Preserve Provides Unique Space for Performance Piece.” This photo and headline makes me want to learn more. I find myself asking questions about Jasper Ridge and the nature of the performance that is going to take
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