An Appetizer of Cake and Broccoli

by Christian Knoebel

We all want to eat cake, but we need our broccoli. (For the record, I like broccoli).

We received comments saying the redesigned site lost its encyclopedic feel. Here's one concern:

"[The redesign is a] dumbing down of previous site ... [and] contains much less info, few (if any) details, [and] oversized pictures."

Before I get to what this has to do with cake and broccoli, let's look at what we did and didn't do.

The university's core website's purpose is to tell Princeton's story to the world. The site is our digital front door, and last year millions of people walked through it.

In one sense the redesigned site does nothing different than the old site: publish well-reported stories about the university and its people. We're still reporting on such happenings as Princeton Research Day, which showcased undergraduate and graduate research, or President Eisgruber's trip advocating for college access and student diversity, or the death of former trustee Lloyd Cotsen '50.

It's not totally accurate to say our news hasn't changed. The new site gives us publishing tools that now let us tell stories in visually compelling ways. We hope readers will get more from our stories by seeing in addition to reading.

What has changed in a big way is how we tell the rest of the Princeton story. We learned over the years that visitors don't just read our news, they also hunt for detailed information that lives on hundreds of other Princeton websites. We serve these visitors best when we get them to their destination rather than recreate what's already out there.

That's where cake and broccoli come in. We reimagined our content according to this idea:

"Serve visitors an appetizer of cake and broccoli."

What does this mean? We know that people looking for information on the Web don't read, they scan. We also know princeton.edu isn't usually the canonical owner of university information. For example, the best information about the School of Architecture is on the School of Architecture's website. We aim to give visitors a scent of what they'll find when they click and let the site owner tell their own story. That's the appetizer.

Cake is content that's compelling, fun and exciting. It's the story of Misha Semenov, Anne Cheng, Alexander Nehamas, Cameron Platt, Simon Morrison and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor -- all Princetonians featured on our Humanities Research page. Want to know what Princeton research is about? Our talented faculty and students tell you through their work.

Broccoli is the business-end of content: links, helpful features, resources and phone numbers.

This cake/broccoli idea was so important to us, it became a fixture in our project space (and a jumping off point for other food combinations):

Appetizer of Cake and Broccoli

The impact: We cut back on walls of institutional text, used more imagery, video and social media to show Princeton's human scale, and provided more useful links to other university websites. Does that make the redesign less of a site? In a sense it does. We boiled down the old site's 200 non-news pages, many of which were hardly ever used, into about 65 focused pages.

And access to web mail? It's still just two clicks away.