Urbana to update Web site, increase appeal, ease of use

By Pamela Nisivaco

Most Web sites are updated after two years to keep up with new technology and to continue updating usability. After five years without any major changes, the Urbana City Council wants to improve the city’s Web site, which it says is an important form of communication for the city.

Urbana has put out a request for proposal outlining the many uses of the Web site and the improvements the city wants to incorporate into the new site. According to the proposal, Urbana is searching for an experienced and professional consultant to improve the interface and appeal of the site. The cost of hiring a consultant is still unknown because it can vary depending on what the city is looking for, said Bill DeJarnette, Urbana’s information services manager. Staff members are looking for ways to keep costs down.

The proposal specifically lists the results Urbana wants to achieve with the new site, and it lays out a plan for how it wants those results achieved, DeJarnette said.

“When you do an RFP, the company has to say how they will answer each piece of the proposal,” Charlie Smyth, Ward 1, said.

The city of Urbana’s Web site is seen as a key resource for residents, according to the proposal. Some of the changes listed are the content quality in terms of timely and appropriate information posted, ease of use with navigation and the ability to search, and new graphics to give the site more visual appeal.

DeJarnette said operationally the technology originally used to design the city’s Web site is outdated. Over the years the site has become overloaded and lost its ability to be responsive to people because it is so cluttered. This makes it difficult for people to access items if they do not know where to find them, DeJarnette said.

Smyth, who works with technology at the University, said the University is required to meet state accessibility requirements and he would expect the city to do the same.

He said he wants Urbana’s Web site to look good, sell the city and be usable as well as useful. By usable, Smyth said he means the site should be easy to navigate and the information on the site should be able to answer users’ questions.

“My hope is that we have a state of the art Web page,” Smyth said.

During the redesign, the current Web site will still be accessible, as the new site will be designed on a test development site, Smyth said. In the process, the city may ask for public input on the test site, fix any problems and then redirect the old site to the new one, he said.

At the Urbana City Council meeting on Oct. 8, the council’s discussion of the Web site redesign project was criticized by Smyth for the timeliness in which a plan was outlined for this project. The council asked for these changes a year ago, and they still have not gone into effect, Smyth said. Danielle Chynoweth also criticized the redesign project because she said she did not see a specific plan outlined.

“It’s frustrating to see something that’s just another list of items when we were told we had a plan,” Chynoweth said.