In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee created what we know now as the internet with his invention of the “World Wide Web” or “WWW” for short. This design, along with the new interface and operating system on the NeXT Computer, began the phenomenon of ‘the internet’ that is so integral to our understanding of culture today. Think of the multitude of websites you browse through in a day. There are separate websites for your e-mails, streaming TV or movies, or just anything random that you may want to explore. While there were less websites in the 90s than there are today, many of these websites still exist today among the billions of others out there. Of course, they look vastly different today than their 90s counterpart, but their intent and function are still the same. One such website that is relevant to my personal online experience is the Johns Hopkins University homepage. While it’s not the most exciting or visited of websites on the internet, it is quite important for over 23,000 students and any potential applicants to use and explore.
The main page of the Johns Hopkins University website at www.jhu.edu dates back to the late 90s, about 130 years after the opening of the university itself. This screencap from the website dates specifically on October 7th, 1997.
In the early days of the web, colorful graphic design were often used for websites that promoted a more upbeat, fun atmosphere. For a prestigious university’s website, this was likely not the intent they were looking for for their users. Its simple white background with assorted links to each section suggests an emphasis on professionalism over any stylistic flare. A user, presumably a student or a potential applicant, can easily access any part of the website from this central location simply by scrolling down and finding the section that is relevant to their search. There are clear links to basic information: news, student information, general information about the university, even small features on interesting activities and research being conducted on campus.
While information is easy to find, there is no appeal to explore the page beyond that. The lackluster design of the page makes for a website that promotes efficiency, but does not say much else about how the university wants to present itself. The only color on the page that is not black or white comes from the natural blue of each hyperlink. And while it is important for a prestigious institution to maintain its formality by not including harsh colorful images or unprofessional designs, it is important to remember that the website promotes the university as a whole. For example, what sets this university apart from other top institutions like Yale or Harvard? If each of these webpages looked like Hopkins’s, potential applicants would have a hard time differentiating between the universities. There were image icons above each link to indicate something about each section of the website, but judging from the rest of the design of the page and the basic nature of it, it seems safe to assume that these images were not flashy or engaging.
A snapshot of the same URL ten years after shows a complete redesign of the webpage. The image below shows what the Johns Hopkins homepage looked like exactly ten years later on October 7th, 2007.
The immediate differences from the previous webpage design are the color sheme and organization. This webpage design is more organized than the list design of the previous page, with links to different information on a side bar, as opposed to being centered on the page. This allows more interesting information, like the news, to fill the majority of the screen, showcasing the university’s achievements and research to get users engaged in the campus community. The image of the Gilman clock tower personalizes the website more, displaying a unique feature of Hopkins. The main colors of the website are Hopkins blue, gray, and black (with hints of orange for an autumnal look). While the screen is filled with more color, it still appears professional and fitting for a university.
A similar problem this website has, however, is it is hard to gauge the impression it is trying to send to its users. There is not much about student life or the feel of the campus on the website, which may be important to future applicants. Of the many things that changed in the ten-year period between 1997 and 2007, the reliance on the internet became a huge part of culture and everyday life. For the case of college searching, aspiring high school students could look at a school’s website to not only find basic information about the school, but also get a sense of what the school is like and how they attract students. A student in 2007 might have tried to go online and look up schools they were interested in to see which ones to apply to, as opposed to having to visit every single school they were interested in. Specifically for future applicants, it is vital for the school to display all the wonderful things they can experience during their years at Hopkins. It would help in this case to have images of sports teams affiliated with the school, or images of students conducting research which is such a huge part of the institution to promote further interest into what the school can offer.
From 1997 to 2007 the design of the Hopkins page underwent significant changes. From the basic design of the 90s to the more graphically pleasing design of the early 2000s, it is clear how the website’s importance grew over a decade. Today, the university’s website is even more graphically advanced with big text to daw your attention to aspects of the university’s philosophy and bright, colorful displays to keep the user engaged on the website. Especially with today’s circumstances of having most aspects of college life online, it is vital for schools to provide as many resources as possible to potential applicants, such as virtual tours and online webinars to answer questions about the university. It will be interesting to see what lasting effects this pandemic has on the future of website design.