If you’ve been to this site before, you’re probably wondering what the hell we did to it. Even if you weren’t all that attached to the old look of the site, change can be a scary thing. Some of the changes should be immediately apparent, while some you may not notice right away—so I thought it’d be worth laying-out some of the key differences between the old and new site designs.

Know that these changes are only the start of what we have planned. Over the next few weeks, we’ve got a lot of exciting things to say about the sort of content you’re going to see on the new site. More print, more audio, more video. Now’s a better time than ever to join the cult of WNUR.

Enjoy the new site!

After the jump, a detailed explanation of the changes made:

The first item you’re likely to see on our new front-page is the featured content box. This emerged from a series of conversations around mid-April among myself, Ethan Simonoff (now programming director), and Matt Ludwig (now general manager) about the limitations of our site’s design. They wanted a prominent visual element on the main page; I had reservations.

I’ve never liked content slider display boxes, which cycle through individual stories or posts. To me, they’ve never succeeded in providing a sense of meaningful visual hierarchy and relationship between stories—just linear succession through individual stories. I used to design newspaper pages; it’s about being able to make important things big and less important things less big.

Despite our potential global audience, we’re still Northwestern’s campus radio station before anything else.

Four stories felt like a good number for the amount of content we wanted to feature—and it could scale well to the amount of content we want to start putting out. And maybe it’s just because I’m a comic book guy, but the four-panel layout came pretty soon after that. Most important, though, is that each panel can be changed manually—because sometimes the most recent stories aren’t the top stories.

I wanted the panels to be snappy. We tweaked them. They feel pretty snappy.

When we figured out the concept of the four-panel feature box, I think I finally got on-board the idea of a redesign. I was going to be in Evanston over the summer, as was Tristan Sokol, the station’s webmaster (without whose coding none of this would be possible)—so the timing was right.

There were certain design elements I felt should be carried over from the old site. The color-scheme, for one. This was something I’d gotten resistance to from practically my first week as web editor, and there was at least idle talk of changing it in a site redesign. Yet I believe it creates an important sense of continuity between the old and new designs, and I hope it reminds readers that—despite our potential global audience—we’re still Northwestern’s campus radio station before anything else. Besides: the site looks good in purple.

What are our users doing? What are they looking for? And what do we want to show them?

I liked the play button we featured on our header on the old site—so it’s here on the new site, too. When we posted things to Facebook from the old site, that’s the image that usually got attached to our posts, and I kind of grew to like it. You may start seeing it elsewhere in our station communications as well. Of course, it works a little differently on the new site, functioning as an in-window audio player. This is something we’ve heard a lot of interest in, so hopefully it suits our users’ needs.

We knew a redesign of the site couldn’t remain on the surface level, though; it required us to deeply rethink the functionality of the site. What are our users doing? What are they looking for? And what do we want to show them? In some cases we were able to find solutions from other developers—and in some cases we had to create our own.

We have a smarter schedule system now—one that plugs into the site in a few places. You’ll notice it on the sidebar, telling you what show’s on now and which ones are coming up. You’ll notice it in the Now Playing box at the top of the screen if the show on the air doesn’t use the playlist system. You’ll see it elsewhere, too, including our fancy new schedule page. And the best part is, it’s all editable through the WordPress dashboard—so changing the schedule is easier than ever. Tristan built this from scratch.

If WNUR is going to exist ten years from now, it’ll be primarily on the Web.

We’ve got a chat, too. If you click the “chat” link above the now playing box, it’ll show up in a pop-out window. This was something I’d wanted to implement for a while; we have an AIM screen name, which obviously nobody uses any more, but I knew we could find a better way for online listeners to interact with DJs on the air. We’re going to encourage DJs to participate in the chat during their shows, so hopefully this’ll help put a personality to the voice coming out of your speakers.

That’s just the start of the changes we’ve made, but I think it covers the highlights. I honestly think this is one of the best college radio station websites on the Web today, and hopefully it encourages more people here at the station (and around the world) to consider the ways college radio needs to evolve to stay relevant. We’ll be talking more about what we think this means in the weeks and months to come, but here’s the takeaway: if WNUR is going to exist ten years from now, it’ll be primarily on the Web.

What we’ve got now is a great template, but it won’t do us any good without compelling content you want to look at—without interesting things to read and watch and listen to. That’ll be an ongoing challenge. So while the launch of the new website is exciting, you know as well as I do that it’s only the start. Hopefully you’ll stick with us for some of the cool stuff we’ve got planned.

WNUR-FM, Evanston-Chicago. Stay tuned.

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