Creating a matching website for the American University in Bulgaria
"Dynamic, attractive, valuable"
When the American University in Bulgaria (est. 1991) got their first website, the university was very young. So was the Internet. Soon the initial website was no longer a good fit for the quickly evolving institution. The university faced a need for a redesign of their current website to make use of the latest technological advances. A website that would fully reflect the dynamic institution AUBG had become to attract potential students and please a very diverse user base ranging from current students to donors and members of the university board. Additionally, the new website had to have a content-management system (CMS) that was easy to support and update internally.
The main objective that emerged was to turn the website into a helpful tool to assist AUBG’s Admissions Office recruitment efforts; a tool that was both informative and convincing to prospective students. The message that had to be conveyed was that AUBG is one of the best places in Europe where to earn a liberal arts degree. This message had to appeal to culturally different people from around the world and with very different backgrounds. As a secondary objective, the website had to further evolve as a useful and attractive resource for the wide AUBG community (students, professors, administration, alumni, students’ parents, trustees, donors), who relied on it for a wide variety of information and services.
The First Redesign
AUBG turned to Melon for the first time in 2005 with a request for a complete transformation of their current website, which had become obsolete. Melon came up with a new functional and clean design powered by the company’s proprietary CMS to make the website’s support easy and intuitive even for people who were not tech professionals. The most important information about the university was accessible through tabs straight on the main page. This functionality was combined with a friendly central image to balance out the strictness of the rest of the main page. Well-received by the community, Melon’s original redesign served the university well for several years.
"The new look, easy navigation and intelligent organization of the AUBG website is a tribute to the skill, experience and dedication of our Melon team. The new site reflects the outstanding qualities of the University itself, and serves as a superb introduction for potential applicants, and other constituencies around the world. As Chairman of the Board of the University, I am deeply grateful to the experts at Melon for their outstanding work."
David T. Flanagan
AUBG Board of Trustees
The Second Redesign
Four years later, AUBG went through a process of redefining its mission and vision. Dr. David Huwiler, the university’s new president, contacted Melon to do a redesign that would reflect the updated university values and goals and communicate them to all stakeholders. Again, making the webpage more attractive and informative to prospective students was of the highest priority.
AUBG was well-served by the website’s global structure and CMS on the backend. Therefore, Melon’s focus for the second redesign was on the visuals and on accentuating the most exciting and important information the university intended to communicate to prospective students. The solution Melon proposed was a completely redesigned main page combined with catchy and informative text content structured in four sections defining life at the university. The dominant visual on the front page gives voice to a compelling story in each of four important segments of the AUBG experience, accessible as tabs.
“Live” – on all aspects of student life at AUBG outside of the classroom, from the atmosphere of the town of Blagoevgrad to the sports activities on campus.
“Learn” – on the benefits of liberal arts education and studying at AUBG in the words of AUBG students.
“Create” – on the rich variety of extracurricular activities on campus and student accomplishments.
“Connect” – on the university graduates and their success stories, reaching out to both alumni and prospective students.
The featured profiles of a professor and a student (“In focus”) below the central section offer additional insight into the benefits of AUBG as a place to interact with stimulating individuals. It also gives prospective students a better idea what type of people they are likely to meet at the university, helping them imagine themselves in the community. Another improvement on the original design was giving more prominence to the news section and the university events calendar, which were identified as the best channels for publicizing new information about the university on a daily basis.
The AUBG website is a true success story, as the project received positive reception by the most important interest groups: the requestor (AUBG) and the actual users (the visitors of the website). A testimonial to its overall quality is also its current Google Page rank of 8 (out of 10). In addition, both the first redesign from 2005 and the second one received industry recognition. In 2006, Melon’s first redesign of the AUBG website won first prize at the 12th International Media Events Festival in 2006, in the Education Institutions Category. The website was distinguished by the international jury for its design, creativity, accessibility and functionality. In 2010, the new design won best website at the 2010 Bulgarian Web Awards, in the Science and Education category.
"In general, I am extremely pleased with the web site. In my opinion, it is MUCH better than the old one. It is appealing, it better conveys the energy and activity of the campus, and it has become a valuable recruitment tool."
Dr. David Huwiler
American University in Bulgaria