The New USyd Website: Good, Bad, Ugly

Sam Langford and Max Hall introduce you to the University of Sydney’s new wordpress template.

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the good_

The new USyd website opens with a gif containing a lingering booty shot, complete with a lens flare and the pasty glint of athletic tan lines. “See what you can achieve,” the site invites us, then delivers an answer in oversaturated slow-mo: raw sex appeal. It’s a stunning rebuke to whoever suggested that the Snapback Lad can’t be the face (or arse) of an entire student body.

At pains to get on the students’ level, the University offers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to “see our campus through a student’s eyes”. This turns out to be a hazy timelapse from the perspective of everyone’s favourite Eastern Ave stoner. The blurry, wildly-lurching interactive perfectly evokes the time-honoured tradition of turning up to ECOP1001 high after a big night out.

There is, of course, a little propaganda, but on the whole the website provides a number of different angles, including 90 degree rotated text, perfect for those of us inclined towards the right.

The University also seems to have belatedly embraced transparency. “The Sydney student experience is a bit like Costco,” it proclaims, finally acknowledging its global position as a vendor of mass-produced shit.

Thankfully, the site covers all bases, telling us that Newtown and Glebe (referred to, incredibly, as the “western suburbs”) are “more bohemian than the CBD”. It has some genuinely great content on Sydney living costs and SRC services, as well as the curious claim that food and coffee are available “every thirty metres on campus.” The “reasons to live in Sydney” link, somewhat confusingly, redirects to UAC.

the bad_

One thing that hasn’t changed is the Acknowledgement of Country, which is still rendered in a tiny font and shunted to the very bottom of the page. It’s unclear whether it remains vaguely worded to include all satellite campuses, or if it’s just that—despite using the word “research” 33 times on a single page—the University didn’t bother to Google.

Other pages leave you wondering whether the University bothered to proof-read. The proud admission that “With 134 countries represented in our student body, we’re proud to play host to many of them” leaves one wondering uncomfortably which countries the University isn’t proud to host.

There is one thing the site embraces unequivocally, though: hierarchy. Hierarchy is good, we learn: it’s good management; it’s good design. It’s dropdown menus that look like flowcharts, trapping prospective donors in an ouroboric cycle of giving (why give? -> where give -> ways to give, and so on ad infinitum). It’s promoting “Our world rankings” above the “Faculties and schools” in the “About Us” section; “Fees and finance” above “Education facilities” on the “Study” menu. It’s the slow, soul-crushing digestion of fifty thousand diverse students by a hyperdontic corporate orifice that dictates two official shades of grey.

the ugly_

Despite sorta working on mobile, slick fonts to the tune of $2000, and a sparse design that endlessly repeats meaningless section titles, the University was careful to preserve a little of the old site’s character: Barry Spurr remains listed as a staff member, content is studiously difficult to find, and if you manage to navigate to the FAQ, the old website design itself is resurrected. Arbitrary content is underscored by literal underscores.

The university has retained its ill-advised black-on-red colour scheme. Echoes of the blood of angry men and the dark of ages past abound in the hard to read type. It’s about as accessible as that Les Mis reference.

Yet no more do they ask “What is leadership?”. Nay, they have learned what it is, and they know exactly where it is. “Leadership for good starts here” the site informs us in white text at the bottom of the page. A few lines later, a lone scrap of monospace font begs the viewer to “follow us_”. The following underscore trails off into the abyss.  You’re stuck down here. “For good.”

Vice Chancellor Michael Spence.

Michael Spence

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