Error page or a work of art

By Emily Scott

The squirrel has become more of a campus icon than some students and faculty may realize.

The furry creature will soon make a digital appearance on the University website’s 404 and 500 error pages, with the help of the University Public Affairs’ first Illinois 404 Contest.

A 404 error is a requested page that cannot be found and a 500 error is meant to inform visitors that an unexpected error has occurred. University Public Affairs announced in March they were hosting the competition to see who could design the most creative error pages for the University website.

Entries had to have some kind of connection to the University and had to be submitted by any undergraduate or graduate student. The contest ran until the first week of April.

For those looking for inspiration, the contest website presented design examples and offered “one million extra points to anyone who can create a webpage featuring a campus squirrel holding hands with the Alma Mater sculpture as they run away from an explosion.”

After reviewing the entries, one design was selected to appear on the 404-error page and another for the 500-error page.

It just so happened that both winning entries featured a squirrel.

Although similar contests have occurred at other universities across the nation, the winning prizes made this one a little offbeat. Winners had their choice of receiving either 404 packages of ramen, 404 inches of bubble wrap or a framed print of their design.

Mayank Mehta, freshman in LAS and one winner of the contest, said he had never tasted ramen in his life, so naturally, that’s what he chose for his prize.

“I was like, ‘I’ve never had ramen, so what better way to start having ramen than with 404 packets of it?’” he said.

His design, which will appear on the 404 page, features a squirrel in a tree with the message: “The page you are looking for was buried! Don’t worry, here’s a squirrel to help you look.”

He said he is happy that so many people will see his design.

Mehta said he has been interested in graphic design since his freshman year of high school and he hopes to start his own marketing or advertising business.

“Having people appreciate what you make is just such a great feeling. And I love that,” he said. “But again, I just make it because it’s fun, and that’s just an extra award at the end, that people actually like what you’re doing.”

As for Morgan Behrens, the other contest winner and junior in Media, she said she decided to go for a more tangible prize and receive a framed print of her design, which also incorporates a squirrel and will appear on the website’s 500-error page.

“I can hang it up and point to it, whereas ramen, you’re going to eat it and be done,” she said.

Behrens said she didn’t expect her design to win.

“Right now, I just have some pieces online, and only teachers, friends and family see it,” Behrens said. “Now, when people screw up on the page somewhere, a lot of people will be seeing (this), so that’s exciting.”

She said it will definitely be an asset to her resume and portfolio, as well as good experience in graphic design.

According to Meaghan Downs, editorial associate for social media for public affairs, the idea for the 404 contest originally stemmed from their desire to increase student engagement through social media.

As the Illinois homepage was recently redesigned, Downs said now seemed like the perfect time to hold a contest that would showcase student work and complement the new homepage design at the same time.

“It’s cool because both of them did squirrels, which I think is kind of funny and cute,” Downs said.

The contest was also an experiment for Public Affairs to see how they could increase social media interaction. Through outlets such as Twitter — @Illinois_Alma — their aim is to get people to know more about the University while also showcasing unique events such as the contest.

“Twitter is an extension of the University,” Downs said. “We want people to look at that and know that research and events are going on but also know that we also do some cool, innovative things on social media.”

For the upcoming finals week, Public Affairs is planning another social media event that may resemble the highly popular hot chocolate giveaway that went on during last semester’s finals week. Downs said the giveaway resulted in a 76 percent increase of page views on their Twitter page.

“It’s community building,” Downs said. “Some things work better than others … and we’re still really open to hearing what students have to say and what we can do to better engage with students, too.”

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