Duke's homepage: content is not King?

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CMS Watch points to a Duke University homepage redesign – see before (left) and after (right) snapshots:

Duke University in 2005 Duke University in 2006

This is a change from content-focused design to search-focused design. As a user you might find the new search version quicker, but CMS Watch points out: only if the search engine works.

The content that was there hasn’t been removed. Instead it has been transferred to a Duke Today site. This looks and feels much more like a traditional university homepage.
Judging from their redesign blog this change was made with consideration and consultation. The blog previewed two homepage designs – the comments show an overwhelming preference for design mockup 2 over design mockup 1. So why did they decide to go live with design 1? This (from the blog) goes some way towards explaining the position…

Our approach to minimialist design isn’t to say “Less is more” but rather, as the designer Milton Glaser once said, “Just enough is more.” Through exhaustive research we determined that the current approach of posting news and services on one site was trying to do too many things for too many people and as a result not effective. We’re not getting rid of the content with this new design, we’re simply shifting much of it to DukeToday where it can be more effectively managed. Recent usability test results were quite favorable.

I’m not sure they’ve made the right choice. A university homepage has many competing claims on it’s supposedly valuable space. But by choosing to move the up-to-date information to a secondary page Duke are hiding the content that is alive and breathes. I think they’re left with a homepage that may score well in usability tests but doesn’t project the image of a vibrant and busy place.

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