History of the WPI Website

WPI first appeared on the World Wide Web sometime in 1994, when a WPI student set up the first webserver for his Major Qualifying Project (MQP). Our first official homepage was put up shortly after that. After a few revisions and discussions, the President of WPI formed the Web Design Committee in 1995.

This committee, which would later be renamed the WPI Web Committee (WebCom), was comprised of representatives from the faculty, student body, CCC, IMC, and University Relations. Helen M. Shuster, director of the George C. Gordon Library, has chaired the committee since its inception.

The committee was charged with developing and maintaining the WPI website. In July of 1995, a full-time position, the Coordinator of Networked Resources, was formed in the Gordon Library. This person served on the Web Committee and was responsible for constructing and maintaining both pages for individual departments on campus, and those which represented the whole university.

In early 1996, the Web Committee decided to redesign the WPI website, as it had grown rapidly in size and lacked a good organizational structure and a graphical feel that represented WPI. A contest was held, and students submitted their designs, based on a structure determined by the committee. From these designs and other feedback from the community, two designs were drafted. The committee selected one, which was unveiled in August 1996.

In July 1998, WebCom and the Web Coordinator (formerly the Coordinator of Networked Resoures) decided it was time for a new look for the WPI site. This time, however, the structure would remain the same, and a subgroup of WebCom would spend hours looking at other university websites and designing WPI's new "window to the world. The new site opened in January 1999.

In August 2000, after the addition of two staff in the Web Coordinator's Office, the name changed to the Web Development Office, home of the Manager of Web Development, a Web Designer, and a Web Programmer.

In 2001, the WPI Web Committee was disbanded. The Web Development Office now works with staff in University Relations to manage the WPI website.

In 2005, the Web Development Office was moved to be part of Marketing & Communications and was renamed Web Operations.

The Beginning

All that remains of the beginning is this original "Back to the WPI Homepage" icon.

The First WPI Homepage

A screen capture of the first WPI Homepage is not available (if you have the images, let us know at webmaster@wpi.edu). At the right of the page was a large banner which read Worcester Polytechnic Institute and included the WPI Seal, part of which is shown on the left. The banner, buttons, and navigational buttons all had a granite texture on them. The buttons had yellow text on a black "top" of the granite.

All that remains of the design is the "Back to the WPI Front Door" button, shown on the right. These graphics were designed by Michael O'Neil, formerly of WPI's Instructional Media Center.

The Second WPI Homepage

This was the WPI Homepage from 1995 - August 1996. The starry theme worked well with the tagline "A premier technological university," and the art deco icons softened the look a bit while adding bits of color to the otherwise gray pages. A common complaint, however, was that the design was inconsistent with WPI's image, as the homepage did not contain the WPI Seal or the Two Towers logo. There were also severe navigational problems reported on a regular basis.

An Early 1996 Concept "Sketch"

This early sketch by WPI Art Director Michael Sherman was the catalyst for the first redesign of the WPI website.

May 1996 Sketches

These were done as WebCom discussed the new structure of the site, including general categories on the homepage accompanied by keywords. The first two sketches below were done by Sherman based on the committee's ideas. The third and fourth variations was done by Troy Thompson '95, who injected some new graphical elements into the process, most notably in the final variation (the two towers logo on the left side and the curvature of the links along its right side).

June 13, 1996 Presentation

Sherman and Thompson worked together to come up with two concepts for WebCom to look at. While the "contemporary" design uses buttons, the "classical" look utilizes an imagemap. The committee chose to proceed with the classical look.

July 15 - Aug 15, 1996: The Transition

To better facilitate the transition between the old pages and the new, WebCom displayed a new button on the homepage, shown at right, which led users through a dramatic description of the rationale behind the new look and new structure.

August 15, 1996 - January 4, 1999

The classical look of the WPI website served the university well. While an original page as it premiered in 1996 is not available, the screen captures are of the pages, as they appeared in December 1998. Major changes over the two-plus years of this page included changing from "Information" as a category to "News," moving "Text-Only Version" to the upper left of the page so that visually-impared users could access it first, and adding an "About This Site" link at the bottom. One of the nicest (though not well-known) features of the homepage was that clicking on the Two Towers drawing brought users to a page about the Two Towers Tradition (provided in its original form below).

December 5, 1998 - January 4, 1999: The Transition

Once again, WebCom provided the rationale behind the new look to the general public, but this time, no preview of the new site was given, save a sliver of the new background. There were no real "drafts" done of the design, as it evolved quite differently from its predecessor. The designers met and looked at other university homepages, set some goals, and went to work. Within 6 months, the new design had been completed...

January 4, 1999 - April 2, 2002

This "WPI's Window to the World" design utilized CGI and JavaScript to serve the homepage and other pages on the server dynamically.

April 3, 2002 - February 13, 2005

This website design, developed by the staffs of the Communications Group and Web Development Office incorporated a new identity for WPI with a reorganized and updated sidebar menu system, which took 18 months to develop and test. The home page has much more space devoted to news, events, and information about WPI.

February 13, 2005 - 2007

2007 - July 18, 2009

July 18, 2009 - present

In mid 2007 WPI contracted with BigBad Inc., a Higher Ed web development company to redevelop the WPI web presense. Over the course of a year BigBad did case studies and interviews with current faculty, staff, alumni, and prospective students. BigBad delivered a design and templates to be used in RedDot CMS. Web Operations took these designs and templates and reworked them to be more robust and reusable. These designs were then used to rework every page of the WPI website.

 
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