WPI Website: Good Design

Through browsing the official WPI website and analyzing the various design aspects, I identified a feature that qualifies as a good design.

Figure 1: Icons that represent different facets of the WPI Plan
Figure 2: An interactive timeline that details the WPI Plan

The WPI website includes a page devoted to exploring the WPI Plan, which is WPI’s innovative approach to undergraduate education. At the bottom of the page there is a vertically-oriented timeline that invites engagement as seen in Figure 2. The initial layout presented in the leftmost picture above encourages the user to select a particular year or any of the colorful icons, which represent core components of the plan. Through selecting a year, the timeline expands (as visible in the rightmost picture) to display several forms of multimedia that the user can interact with. Each piece of content is associated with an icon, which is detailed above the timeline as illustrated in Figure 1. The timeline is embedded with videos, images and text in order to diversify the delivery of critical information. Also, the user can select any number of icons above the timeline in order to view that particular principle across the four-year academic experience.

Although this timeline section resides as the bottom of the WPI Plan page, it immediately stand out because it is the only portion that contains a black background. The dark fill in this section provides a stark contrast in relation to the other white and light colored sections above. Furthermore, the Principle of Contrast, as discussed by Robin Williams in “The Non Designers Design Book,” is evident through the use of the colorful icons. The layout of these vibrant colors juxtaposed with a dark background creates a pleasing and distinctive look. This certainly satisfies the claim by Williams that “If two items are not exactly the same, then make them different. Really different.” Also, although Williams advises against centered content, I believe that the vertical nature of the timeline takes advantage of a centered position. This design allows for intuitive manipulation of the timeline as the user clicks through different years and icons. This way the timeline can expand to show content on both the left and right side of the central line in an organized manner. The icons as well as the white circles that encapsulate the year serve to provide repetition that exists throughout the page. Both symbols are easily identifiable and create unity amongst the page.

Ultimately, the WPI Plan page is effective because the visual elements are coupled with intuitive functionality. This section maintains aesthetic quality, which also facilitates the user experience. The Learning to See article states that “Good design makes a product useful.” The timeline feature is extremely effective given the particular audience that it is intended for. The typical user on the WPI website is a prospective student and/or their relatives, especially parents. These individuals are seeking valuable information related the the WPI experience as well as seeking comfort in the institution. Thus, the means by which users interact with this software must be simple and cater towards the general public. This is achieved through exceptional use of proximity. All of the relevant content that the user is searching for is located in a confined area. The collection of videos, images and text serves as a localized summary of information that is readily available. This prevents the user from navigating across web pages, continuous scrolling and redirections to achieve the same information. The immersive and aesthetically pleasing layout of the WPI Plan timeline welcomes and adequately informs the audience, which renders this design effective.