Footer Notes

I’ve been brought on to help out with the redesign of one of our sister institutions. This is an initiative lead by Marketing, supported by ITS, and advised by a web advisory council.  It’s been a fantastic experience, and we’re gearing up to approve the initial designs and dive in to the content and sitemap organization. The advisory council meets next Tuesday, and our first order of business? The footer.

It might seem like a weird place to begin.  The footer is kind of like an afterthought, right? Where you stuff the social media icons, sitemap, maybe  a search, and all the disclaimers in tiny text?

Well, yes, but it’s also an important landmark for users. An equalizer, of sorts. Scrolling down to the footer (don’t get me started on the clusterf*ck that is infinite scroll) is as universal a signpost as logo in the header taking users back to the homepage.  People do it without knowing initially what’s down there, but that they can probably find their way from there.  Beyond its use as a navigation tool, the footer can enhance user perception.

In the cases of the advisory council, the footer discussion accompanies the initial sitemap. There are resources which aren’t going to be accessible in the same fashion on the new site, and we want to capture what those are, identify the new pathways, and possibly consider easy footer access.

My Rules of the Footer

  1. Thou shalt keep it simple, stupid
    Don’t clutter your footer up with unnecessary graphics, icons, verbiage, anything which can’t help users from a glance.  Make sure to use a font that’s legible and stands out, making it clear what’s a link and what’s not. Finally, utilize simple design tropes, like centering (left or right aligned can make the site look lopsided).
  2. Thou shalt include contact information as an action
    This might be a ‘well durrrrrrrr’ kind of rule, but in higher ed, we get bogged down with details. A lot. And when that happens, we miss the obvious. For larger campuses, this may not include a specific address, but a central phone number, webform for feedback/suggestions/etc, some way for folks to contact you (and they may not be prospects, so don’t think you can stick a link to your request for information form here).
  3. Thou shalt not hide the boring stuff
    Terms of service, privacy policy, ADA compliance statement, all the things which people never read but you’re required to have should be visible and legible. It’s not only a self-protective measure, but shows users that you’re transparent. And, if relevant, that you understand their perspective a la MailChimp.
  4. Thou shalt have a sitemap, and keep it current
    I have no idea why this is, but sitemaps are often missing from higher ed sites. I get it, they’re a little passe and if you don’t have an automatic generator, they can be a pain in a distributed authoring environment. But, from a UX perspective, lost users tend to scroll to the bottom of a page when they’re looking, and what’s more helpful than a sitemap? Plus, I just had a conversation with someone who mentions that she uses the sitemap constantly to find things when on the phone with a student. Boom. User case.

For More Footer Inspiration

Check out CreativeBloq’s showcase. While wildly different and creative, they also adhere to the conventions I outlined above.

*while writing this post I kept struggling with whether ‘shalt’ is a word or not. I decided it is, for this post, at least.

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