Posted on March 25, 2014 by

Mobile Killed the PDF Star

PDFs are a wonderful thing.

These little file gems are great for sharing information. Our email inboxes are full of PDFs promoting campus events. For a period there in the new millennium, the humble PDF was a transformative way to stylishly communicate information.

And then along came the mobile device revolution. Mobile killed the PDF star.

The venerable PDF has been officially knocked from its perch as the go-to format for posting information to a web page. With people looking at the UM-Flint website on a wide variety of devices, PDFs are just simply not adaptable to the brave new mobile world.

So what’s a PDF to do?

PDFs are still great for use in print, but don’t even think about loading one onto The very people you are trying to share information with won’t be able to read it on a smartphone at all. Even worse, your PDF information will not show up in search. And one more thing….

If you want anything promoted on the homepage, it’s just not going to happen if you want us to link to a PDF. Harsh, I know, but as my parents use to say, “It’s for your own good.” And most importantly, for the good of all our mobile device users.

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Posted on January 30, 2014 by

FormAssembly Training 101 and 201

FormAssembly is an easy-to-use form creation tool that makes data collection easy, and is available to UM-Flint faculty and staff. FormAssembly forms integrate with your Drupal website and may be able to do more than you realize. To help you use FormAssembly to its potential, ITS has scheduled beginner and intermediate training sessions. Both sessions will be held on February 24, 2014.

FormAssembly 101

Monday, February 24, 1 – 2:30 p.m., 3153 WSW
In FormAssembly 101 we will cover the basics of creating a form, including:

  • Creating a new form
  • Adding different types of questions
  • Form Sections
  • Modifying form options
  • Publishing forms
  • Reviewing form responses

Register for FormAssembly 101 at

FormAssembly 201

Monday, February 24, 2:30 – 4 p.m., 3153 WSW
In FormAssembly 201, we will cover more advanced topics, including:

  • Advanced form options
  • Form field validation
  • Conditional Questions
  • Calculated Fields
  • Pre-filling form fields
  • Using authentication with forms
  • Sharing forms

Register for FormAssembly 201 at

With questions or for more information, please contact Tim Todd at

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Posted on January 15, 2014 by

Drupal Open Sessions, January-May 2014

If your New Year’s resolution included getting your unit’s website in better shape, we’re here to help! Below are the dates for Drupal open sessions which have been scheduled through May 2014.

Sessions to be held in 431 French Hall:

  • Wednesday, January 15, 2 – 4 p.m.
  • Thursday, January 23, 1 – 3 p.m.
  • Tuesday, January 28, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
  • Monday, February 3, 2 – 4 p.m.
  • Friday, February 14, 2 – 4 p.m.
  • Tuesday, February 18, 1 – 3 p.m.
  • Friday, February 28, 9 – 11 a.m.
  • Tuesday, March 4, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
  • Wednesday, March 12, 2 – 4 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 20, 1 – 3 p.m.
  • Monday, March 24, 2 – 4 p.m.
  • Friday, April 4, 9 – 11 a.m.
  • Tuesday, April 8, 1 – 3 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 16, 2 – 4 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 24, 1 – 3 p.m.
  • Monday, April 28, 2 – 4 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 6, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 7, 2 – 4 p.m.
  • Thursday, May 15, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
  • Friday, May 23, 9 – 11 a.m.
  • Tuesday, May 27, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
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Posted on December 16, 2013 by

Simple Changes to Make Big Improvements to Your Drupal Website

UM-Flint’s Offices of University Relations and ITS are still developing a full-fledged, fully operational Web/Drupal/Content guide. Until that’s ready, you can get some broad, foundational content strategy basics via our first iteration (of many) of a Web Content Guide.

Some specific best practices have surfaced since the launch of the new, Drupal-powered on October 1. Reference this list of “good ways to do things” to help give our users a consistent, quality experience throughout the UM-Flint website:

Drupal Tips and Recommendations:

Use headings and rework content that does not currently use headings

Few things will enhance the readability and overall logic of your site like the correct and diligent use of headings. Here’s a brief overview of how you can begin making headway with headings.

Don’t use widgets or typographic structuring that is not suitable to the context of the content because you “like the way it looks.”

Structuring content in unsuitable ways to satisfy subjective aesthetics is like telling your content to lie to the audience. Examples of this practice:

  • Putting a list into a blockquote because there’s a pretty blue box on it. There’s a quotation mark ornament in the upper left any time you use this feature. How does that fit in with the list? Is the list quoted from an external source?
  • Putting anything that is not tabular data into a table. Menus, editorial images, adverts, etc., should not go into tables.
  • The photo gallery is for archival images only. Please do not use it to create a faculty profile page or a product catalogue.

The following widgets were not structured to fit into the main body column. Using them there will create structural issues as your site scales down to mobile.

Put basic office location and department contact information on your homepage

One of the most commonly cited reasons for going to any department’s website is simply to find its location on campus. Make it easy for students, faculty, fellow staff, and others to find this basic info with a (righthand column) sidebar info block, like Graduate Programs’ homepage. It is also a good idea to make urls and email addresses live links within your info block. This can be especially handy for mobile users.

Favor quality, consistent photos over less-than-quality, inconsistent graphics

Show users who we really are and what this place really looks like. Don’t obscure the university behind some graphic interpretation of it. Keep it real! For example, a reusable media block featuring a photo of facilities workers and text explaining how housing residents can contact them would be better than a dated-looking graphic of a “can-do button” (sorry, housing!).

Main column images should be 600 pixels wide by 400 pixels tall (and less than 2MB)

No matter what size image you upload into Drupal, when you insert it into a page’s main column, it should be set at 600 pixels wide. To ensure all pictures used on the site look good on high-resolution displays, while ensuring page load times remain fast (esp. on mobile), it’s a good idea to compress original image files (such as those downloaded from MediaBin) using sites like JPEGmini and TinyPNG.

Default to using page layouts that have 3 columns (2-7-3)

Having a third column encourages units to actually develop and maintain sidebar content (such as testimonials). But even if you don’t have content for your third column, there’s a very strong reason to use the three-column layout anyway: readability. By shortening the line-length of the main column, we reduce the eyeball fatigue that occurs when one must read a long, long horizontal line of text. Experiment on yourself; you’ll notice a difference.

Use Drupal’s faculty/staff profile widget 

It seems every department has their own way of presenting faculty and/or staff profiles. But there is only one right way, and it just so happens to be easiest and best looking way to do it. Don’t recreate (busted) wheels. If you need more space than is allotted by the faculty/staff profile widget, use media blocks on a faculty/staff listing page that take the user to a page you’ve created to be devoted to that faculty member’s full bio, vitae, etc.

If you don’t have a page on your website that can be linked to, you are not ready to send that email/tweet

Your email to campus, your Facebook post, tweet, even your flyer with the contorted logo will be more effective if it contains a link to a webpage with relevant information that can be shared.

In conversation, when someone is interested in, say, the event you just mentioned, they say, “send me a link.” They never say, “forward that email with the attached jpeg flyer so I can download it and then open it to see when, where, and what it’s all about. I might print copies and mail them to all my friends who might also be interested in attending.” Not gonna happen. It makes being an audience member hard work—and an active, empowered advocate of your message/event nearly impossible.

Making and sharing webpages is about effective communication. It’s about conversation. It’s about consideration. It is not about web design, HTML, or “technical stuff.” If you can write an email, you can make a page in Drupal. Make the page! Share the link! Your audience will thank you.


That’s all for now! Keep checking the University Relations blog and the evolving Web Content Guide for updates.

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Posted on December 13, 2013 by

Team Effort Offers Glimpse of UM-Flint’s Content Future

With Drupal as UM-Flint’s new content management system, opportunities to implement new strategies for getting the right content in front of the right audience at the right time are now possible. In time, we will formalize processes—such as consistent naming and tagging of various types of content—making strategies like cross-unit content sharing even simpler and more effective.

Why Would Departments Want to Share Content?

A recent example requiring the collaboration of three UM-Flint units (University Outreach, University Relations, and the Office of the Registrar) proves the power of reusable (“shareable”) content.

Location. Location. Location. (Timing. Timing. Timing.)

Every semester, students have to sign up for classes through the Office of the Registrar. Every semester, the the Office of the Registrar assigns designated sign-up periods based on credit hours students have completed—with those closer to completing their degrees getting first dibs. Every semester, University Relations prominently promotes these seniority-based “early registration” dates on the university’s homepage. In terms of mission-critical actions the institution needs its students to take, it doesn’t get more fundamental than getting them to sign up for classes.

Just as University Relations was preparing to post this vital information in the feature area of the homepage, linking to the Registrar’s webpage containing all of the relevant details, we were contacted by University Outreach with a related request.

Homepage billboard reading "Register for Winter Semester Classes" is highlighted

A reminder to register for classes is content relevant to all UM-Flint students.

“Shared Context” Calls for Shared Content

In recent years, University Outreach has done great work in collaboration with faculty across academic units to develop discipline-specific ”civic engagement” courses. Civic engagement has long been the hallmark of UM-Flint’s approach to learning, emphasizing the application of classroom knowledge to address real-world issues in Flint and beyond. Employers and graduate schools continue to cite this kind of practical, firsthand experience as something they most desire—and something UM-Flint is known to deliver.

Part of University Outreach’s recent work in this area has been to build structure and standardization around UM-Flint’s engaged learning tradition. Working with the Provost and the Office of the Registrar, certain courses are now officially designated as “civic engagement” (CE) classes. University Relations has been charged with helping to promote greater understanding of and enrollment in these CE classes.

Lighted shopping mall display featuring UM-Flint's civic engagement courses

Lighted shopping mall display featuring UM-Flint’s civic engagement courses

University Outreach had this awareness push in mind when they contacted University Relations about developing a homepage feature to encourage students to look for “CE” courses when they sign up for classes next semester. Great idea! But there was a problem. The limited space on the homepage for such announcements had already been spoken for: by the Office of the Registrar. Naturally, they needed to remind all students to sign up for all the classes they would need for next semester—CE or not.

A Win Win Win Situation

Drupal enabled University Outreach to create a “reusable media block” that briefly explains the relevance of civic engagement courses, and encourages users to learn more by following the block’s associated link to Outreach’s CE info page. This media block is now a major part of the University Outreach homepage:

University Outreach's reusable media block in main column of their homepage.

University Outreach’s reusable media block in main column of their homepage.

But by making the media block “reusable,” it was then possible for the Office of the Registrar to add that same media block to the sidebar of its page of key “sign up for classes this semester” information—the page linked to straight from the university homepage:

Outreach's reusable CE media block on Registrar's class sign-up page

Outreach’s reusable CE media block on Registrar’s class sign-up page

Every student who needed information about when and how to sign up for next semester’s classes (which is ALL of next semester’s students) were exposed to this reminder about signing up for CE classes at the very moment they were thinking about (and taking actions related to) signing up for classes. With Outreach’s media block in place on the Registrar’s page, University Relations was better able to seamlessly connect and communicate “signing up for classes” with “signing up for CE classes.”

The image in this FaceBook post is one used in all CE promotions, but now the context (class sign-up time) and the associated click (to the Registrar’s class sign-up info page) were fused so that the likelihood of students actually taking the desired action was significantly heightened.

UM-Flint Facebook post featuring civic engagement courses

UM-Flint Facebook post featuring civic engagement courses

In the end, the Office of Registrar got what it needed: a homepage feature prompting students to sign up for classes. University Outreach got what it needed: a reminder about signing up for CE classes seen by the target audience at the moment they are taking the very action called for. And University Relations achieved some of its goals: furthering UM-Flint’s reputation in the area of engaged learning, getting units to think more strategically about content, and fostering greater collaboration across units to achieve these and other goals.


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Posted on November 15, 2013 by

Campus Web Update

The following update was sent to campus by email this week.

The launch of the new UM-Flint website has been successful thanks to the high level of team work and collaboration across all university units. Thank you for the important role your department has played and will continue to play in keeping the university website vibrant and useful.

Work continues to improve and refine the website. We are pleased to announce a few changes you will see in the coming weeks:

1)      New Hero Images – When the website launched, each department’s homepage featured a general photo of campus as the “hero image.” We know this uniformity is not ideal, however, we have to carefully choose the photos selected for this area to ensure that they will be appropriately responsive on mobile devices. Instead of the one image, we are now offering more than 20 hero images that departments can choose to use on their department homepages. In the coming months, we hope to work with departments on an individual basis to identify custom hero images.

2)      Updated billboards on the university homepage – On the homepage, the three featured “billboards” at the top have been reformatted for better readability and  responsiveness.

3)      RSS Feeds – It is now easier to add RSS feeds of such items as news articles from the news page to websites. All Drupal users have access to a new tool that will make this process easier.

4)      Based on the feedback of users, the web team is hard at work on introducing a revamped “My UM-Flint” that will allow logged in users to customize their own lists of “quick links.”  We are hoping to introduce that change in early December.

Also, please note that every university department has a Google Analytics profile. Google Analytics is a valuable tool that can provide you with information about a number of aspects of your department website. Please email for access to your department’s profile, including the Google account information for the person who should have access.

Finally, although the site has launched, it is more important than ever to review your website content on a regular basis to ensure that outdated information is removed, and that the current information your users need is readily available to them. In the weeks and months ahead, University Relations will meet with individual departments on a customized content strategy for your unit. In the meantime, the University Relations Blog will continue to feature ideas and best practices for how your unit can implement key content strategy concepts right now.

Thank you for your ongoing support of the university website.

Scott Arnst, Director, Information Technology Services
Jennifer Hogan, Executive Director of University Relations

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Posted on October 23, 2013 by

Email Content = Website Content

Everyone with a UM-Flint email account knows the academic year is full of free and fascinating events open to students, staff, faculty, alumni, and members of the community. Academic and support services departments do a great job of promoting these opportunities with emails to various campus lists, such as the “Happenings” email list.

While these messages reach a large internal audience, they do not reach everyone on campus—and they do not reach anyone off campus.

Simple tweaks to these existing promotional efforts will:

  • increase likihood of success of your current promotional efforts
  • enable others to easily share and promote your events/opportunities
  • improve the quality, utility, and traffic of your department website
  • transform how your department thinks about and uses its website
  • show the world the amazing learning opportunities available at UM-Flint everyday!

Can We Link To It?

If you’re only sending an email—and not creating a corresponding web page—the answer is “no.” Why is this important? Without a web address (a url), your event:

  • cannot be considered for promotion on the university homepage (we need something to link to!)
  • cannot be promoted via social networks such as Facebook or Twitter (they require something to link to!)
  • cannot be found anywhere on the university website (those interested in your event cannot do a search for more information, check dates and times, confirm locations, get directions, etc.)

Can We Access the Info?

If you’re only sharing graphics (PDFs, JPGs, PNGs) of flyers or posters—as emails or even on web pages—the answer is likely “no.” Why is this important? When all of the relevant information about your event is locked inside a graphic:

  • it cannot even be seen as an email without the user electing to “show images” (and with no visible information to encourage that action, why would they take it?)
  • it is impossible to cut and paste key information to share or repurpose (even on your own website)
  • it perpetuates the false notion that every event needs its own “brand” (The event itself drives the brand of your department, and thereby, the university. This is not to say that graphic design and photography cannot enhance event promotions. However, “dynamic” visuals cannot trump the need for easily accessible and sharable written information.).

Are We Asking You To Do More Work?

No. We’re asking you to make better, smarter, more efficient use of the work you’ve already done! Drafting the email was the hard part. Now repurpose that content for the event’s web page. Better yet, create the event’s web page first and include its web address (url) in the email to campus. That way, other campus communicators can easily share the key information and a link to where interested parties can find out more. Poof! You’re a content strategist!

Are We Asking You To Rethink How You Use Your Department Website?

Yes. But this is more of a shift in mindset than an overhaul of your web/department operations. Everyday, every department on campus plays a key role in creating and maintaining UM-Flint’s exceptional educational environment. Your website should showcase that work, in all of its forms, everyday. Your website should make the shift from being used more like filing cabinet to more like a telephone. Drupal, the new, easier-to-use content management system, makes shifting to this more timely and conversational approach simple.

Everyday, your department should ask itself:

“What is the most important information our most important audience needs to know today?”

Maybe the answer to that question does not change for a few weeks. But you owe it to those your department serves—and to the hard work your department does—to ask that question each and every day and act accordingly each and every time. Now that’s dynamic content!


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Posted on October 16, 2013 by

Announcing Print Sprokit

University Relations is happy to announce the release of Print Sprokit! Print Sprokit is a template system for commonly used UM-Flint branded print materials. The purpose of Print Sprokit is to provide university departments with a simple way to quickly:

  • Create posters and flyers to promote events or initiatives.
  • Create postcards/notecards for invitations.
  • Create a newsletter to communicate information to stakeholders.
  • Create simple print materials such as bookmarks, nametags, table tents, and more.

The best part of Print Sprokit is that you don’t have to design a thing. Everything has been done for you by our graphic designer. The only thing you have to do is type in your information, drop in the photos and/or department logo if applicable, and then you can send your file to the printer of your choice. There is no cost to you to use Print Sprokit for your design needs.

A training session for Print Sprokit is scheduled for November 15, 2013, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. in 3153 William S. White Building. To register for this session, please email Lindsay Dinsmore. And to learn more, visit the University Relations website.


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Posted on October 4, 2013 by

Drupal Open Sessions, October-December 2013

Thank you, Drupal users, for all of your hard work leading up to this week’s web launch! Our new website is live to the world, but the work on the web is far from done. To help you get more familiar with Drupal and make the most of your department’s website, open Drupal sessions have been scheduled through the end of the year.

Sessions to be held in 431 French Hall:

  • Monday October 14, 2 – 4 p.m.
  • Friday November 1, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
  • Thursday November 7, 1 – 3 p.m.
  • Monday November 11, 2 – 4 p.m.
  • Tuesday November 19, 2 – 4 p.m.
  • Monday November 25, 9 – 11 a.m.
  • Wednesday December 4, 1 – 3 p.m.
  • Thursday December 12, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
  • Tuesday December 17, 2 – 4 p.m.


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Posted on September 24, 2013 by

Drupal “Do’s and Don’ts” for the UM-Flint Responsive Web Redesign


If you have a lot of text:

  • Consider using a 2-7-3 layout, because a 2-10 can put too many words on a line making text difficult to read, particularly for people with certain vision problems or dyslexia.
  • Avoid accordions as they will shove content off the screen defeating the purpose of accordions

Things that should go in sidebars:

  • Blurbs
  • Info Sidebars
  • Media Blocks
  • Buttons
  • Testimonials

NOTE: Overuse of any widget (or button) is not recommended. Mix ‘em up!

Good things to do in general:

  • Remember, the main reason we are going the responsive route is so content presents well on all devices. That means how your content is written and organized is more important than how it is lays out in desktop views
  • Get to know and utilize the widgets. For almost anything you need to do, there is widget that exists to do it in accordance with our responsive design (especially true of Faculty/Staff profiles)
  • Headings (H tags in the WYSISYG editor) are your friend. Graphic headers that contain text will not work in our new responsive design. What is more, the text they contain cannot be read by screen-readers for blind users or search crawls like Google.
  • Media blocks are your friend, they allow you to introduce content, include a related image, and guide users to “Read More” on another page
  • Anticipate questions and answer them throughout your site, not lumped together in a F.A.Q. section
  • Recall that the analogy for today’s best websites is “telephone, not filing cabinet.” Devise a content life cycle in which there is a plan for the ongoing creation, promotion, maintenance, and retirement of your content


Things that should not go in sidebars:

  • Tabs and accordions
  • videos
  • tables
  • photo galleries
  • large images
  • iframes

The following are bad for responsive design, mobile, and accessibility:

  • Laying out content that is not tabular data in tables
  • putting tabs and accordions in the sidebars
  • using images for headers
  • More than one sidebar menu
  • Extremely long menus

Things that should not go in the main body column (they were not designed to accommodate wide columns or lots of text):

  • Blurb widgets
  • Info-sidebar widgets

Things in general to avoid:

  • Flash anything (links from YouTube or Vimeo are fine because they have HTML5 video backups for when Flash is not supported)
  • iframes when they are not truly needed
  • Fake buttons/image-links when not truly necessary (they break a consistent user experience, branding, and can introduce problems in responsive design, accessibility, and potentially could be a security issue (if the images are hot-linked [linked from another site outside of the university's], for instance)
  • The use of accordions and tabs when not truly necessary. For instance, you should never have just one or two accordions on a page.


Links, buttons, and images:

  • Make sure your links work
  • If links will directly open an application or download a file make sure that you let your audience know that that is what will be happening.
  • All images that are integral to your content should have ALT tags and, while not as important, try to add a TITLE as well.
  • Fake Buttons (image-links) definitely need ALT tags otherwise there is nothing to signal that they are a link for people who require screen readers or cannot access the web visually. These also require the WAI-ARIA attribute role=”button”.


  • Accordions are for content that is related and identical in structure: a list of questions (F.A.Q.), course information, yearly statistics, etc.
  • Tabs are for content that is related but not structured identically: services that are offered, different programs within a school or department,  or in depth details on a school or particular place (ex. history, geography, flora and fauna, customs)
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