"Look and Feel" Issues in Course Web Site Development
When developing a departmental web site, there are a number of considerations which often conflict with each other. The challenge is to build attractive, creative, interesting web sites, but still make it clear that they are part of the university setting.
Setting up a campus-wide set of rules and regulations for departmental site design will not work. Even if such rules could be enforced, (which would be difficult if not impossible!) this would be undesirable for several reasons:
One size does not fit all. Different departments and courses have different sets of information that need to be presented. They also have different personalities. The Economics department site would not have the same look as the Art department--and there is no reason why it should.
Web site technology is changing too quickly. With a new HTML standard every year or so, and the major web browsers being updated even more frequently than that, it's too hard to pin web sites down to a particular style. It is best to let different departments experiment with their sites to see what works (and what doesn't).
Web site maintainers may put less effort into maintaining the site if they aren't allowed to contribute their ideas to the design. If all they can do is plug text into preformatted pages, they will get bored quickly.
Standards Aren't All Bad
However, this doesn't mean there should be no guidelines and parameters. There will be no "web police" to go after departmental web designers who don't obey. On the other hand, following them where appropriate could avoid a lot of problems and complaints from page visitors.
Also, a university web site is made up of multiple networks with thousands of pages. Some of these are official departmental web sites; others are personal pages posted by students. Not everything with "berkeley.edu" in the address is personally approved by the University of California! It is helpful if departmental sites have some way of indicating their connection and their official status. A useful way to accomplish this is to have some small but prominent visual cue on each site (much like the label on a pair of jeans we discussed on Friday.) This can take the form of a simple banner element, a line of text, a copy of the University Seal (following strict guidelines, of course!), etc.