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Up, Up and Away: the New SAIC Website

The new SAIC website reaches for the sky

by Maria Parrott

For those who have ever lost essential information in the maze of SAIC’s old website, disdained its outmoded format or cringed at its stuffy, black, link-heavy homepage, there’s good news: the dark ages are over. SAIC’s new website is up and running.

Before the new website’s launch, Rae Ulrich, SAIC’s director of electronic communications, spoke about the old one, which had lasted for nine years. “It didn’t age gracefully,” Ulrich said; but before the external site could be redesigned, its internal site -- the Portal -- had to be implemented. Once that was done, the School’s website committee began the redesign process. In November of last year they set up focus groups and surveyed alumni, parents, students, staff and faculty to guide their decisions.

SAIC then launched a national search for someone to design the site. They chose Studio Blue, a Chicago-based firm with an SAIC alumnus on staff. “We had the idea of making sure the website used new technology, since that’s part of the curriculum at the School,” said Cheryl Towler-Weese, Studio Blue partner and lead designer for the SAIC website. This applied to several parts of the website, including content form and management. Ulrich explained how the new technology simplifies navigation, “Instead of going to a new website, you’re un-hiding content.” The result created “an unusual and innovative website,” said Towler-Weese. “We haven’t seen a large institution using this before.”

SAIC’s new website also features -- finally -- its art. “All throughout the site is artwork,” Ulrich said, “and the goal is to continue to solicit work.” Student, faculty, staff and alumni art pops up in the background of each page, as well as in its online gallery, school community profiles, and department portfolios. Not only does the new website make the artwork prominent, it allows its collection of art to increase. “The unifying theme [of the design] was clean and scaled back,” Ulrich said, to give the artwork center stage.

Perhaps the most prominent art piece on the site is its homepage -- a collaboration between Studio Blue and the members of the website committee, including Tiffany Holmes, an Art and Technology Studies associate professor. Studio Blue proposed several designs, including one with a rainbow palette and “fonts that could have been lifted from Pacman,” Holmes said. Another was simpler, with a blue background and text links designed to look like concrete poetry. “The Pacman-palette could look as dated as our ‘Velvet Elvis’ look in a few years,” Holmes said. The committee liked the idea behind the text and the simplicity of the blue background, but wanted to communicate more of SAIC’s identity. “I came up with the idea of using a webcam to capture local cloud cover in real time,” Holmes said.

So the new website has “lightened up,” at least in the daytime, by feeding changing images from a webcam pointed toward the downtown Chicago sky onto Those involved in the planning have suggested several metaphors for the sky: that of place, pedagogy and possibilities. But Ulrich put it in perhaps the simplest terms: “The cloudy, rainy days are the most beautiful images,” she said “It’s an evolving art piece.”