California Lutheran University

4 comments | Posted: 27 February 07 in Featured, by Nathan Smith


I happened upon this site via a link from a blog, and was pleasantly surprised to see a Christian/Lutheran university with a strong web presence. After a bit of research, I learned that Justin Barkhuff, Erik Hagen and Michael Adams were some of the guys on the web-dev team involved in building it. What I like about this site are the bold colors, strong grid, and attention to typography. From a technical standpoint, the site is valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional, to allow for some of the code which would otherwise be deprecated in a Strict doctype:

Most of those are negligible details, and could be easily fixed to bring this site up to XHTML 1.0 Strict. As it stands though, it validates just fine as Transitional. Unlike many sites which feature both Flash and drop-downs, this site does it well and does not have any breakage when the menus overlap the animation.

Also nice is that the menus continue to function even without JavaScript enabled. Additionally, the Flash is replaced by static images with JS off, and the sIFR text has a fall-back to nicely styled standard fonts. Too many sites out there fail to take contingency scenarios into account, so it is nice to see that this important aspect has not been undervalued and overlooked.

CLU Sports I love that no matter what part of the site you are on, the branding remains intact. This is rare even for larger universities. The college I attended, WSU is pretty terrible about giving each sub-department control over their own look and feel. Cal Lutheran maintains a consistent user experience throughout. Even their sports site, adheres to the university’s established visual identity.

This site is definitely a gem, and I am glad that I inadvertently discovered it. More schools could and should have sites as nice and cohesive as this. It’s nice to see that a Christian university is leading the way in web standards.

Discuss This Topic

  1. 1 Rick Curran

    Interesting points about the branding consistency within Universities, I’ve worked on projects that fell on either side of the fence regarding consistency throughout departments.

    On the one hand applying a consistent brand / UI is good for the user as it is easier to find the content if it is always available in a standard method of navigation, there’s nothing worse than trying to find information about courses on a site and finding each department displays it in a completely different way.

    On the other hand the departments themselves can sometimes feel that their individual identity is lost. I would say that the user’s priorities are the highest overall though.

  2. 2 Nathan Smith

    Rick: Agreed. It is worth the sacrifice of ego to reign in sub-departments of a larger organization, in order to present a more unified front to the end-user. Sometimes, this even means arranging your site not by hierarchical company structure, but relevance to your visitors. I think in the next 5 years or so, we will see the rise of user-centric design in areas that are presently stagnant. Educational and religious institutions are a prime example.

  3. 3 Justin Barkhuff

    Until about eight months ago, I was the Senior Web Developer for California Lutheran University.

    Here is some ‘inside’ info on the Cal Lutheran site.

    The site was built and is maintained* by Cal Lutheran’s Creative Media Center (CMC). We built the site, and it’s underlying content management systems, from the ground up.

    *Individual departments are responsible for maintaining their respective sites. The CMC assists departments in initially planning and creating their sites.

    There were five of us that made up the Creative Media Center (CMC): 2 web staff, 2 print staff, 1 multi-tasking boss.

    From the CMC website:

    “The staff of CLU’s Creative Media Center, part of the Marketing and Communication Division, helps campus clients produce professional and effective print and electronic publications. Each year our staff assists in the planning, design, and development of over 750 projects ranging from business cards to the award-winning CLU Magazine and the full Cal Lutheran website. Working closely with each client we strive for consistent design and written style that reinforces the University’s brand.”

    One thing to note about the CMC is that we were part of the Marketing and Communications Division, not IT. We worked very closely with IT, but our priorities and objectives were strictly driven by Marketing and Communications goals. There is no doubt this played (and plays) a major role in the successful communication of the University’s brand.

    Credit must also be given to the University Administration, who recognized the important role the site plays (and will play) in the success of the University.

    I eventually left Cal Lutheran to pursue some personal goals. I have a tremendous amount of personal and professional respect for all of the people I worked with at Cal Lutheran. The quantity and quality of the work they produce is nothing short of amazing.

  4. 4 Kevin

    I do agree, the Cal Lutheran website was very good keeping the branding continuous among every avenue of the site. In addition I work with Justin extensively on CLU’s Portal project, to help achieve that branding between both the CLU website and the CLU Portal.


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