You open it, squint, think for a bit, scroll up, scroll down, search for half a minute for a language change. After the third go-through-the-menubar, acceptance comes and cmd+f is used. Then you finally find the right section and it leads to a pdf with no ability to copy the text. You guessed it — if you ever tried to apply to a German art university, this was the interaction most of the time. These sites were made to surprise the viewer, and so far, they are successful. The creators use different methods to keep a user engaged, not to just utilitaristically find the information on an invisible canvas, but to go through the full-experience, feel the web in which this content is weaved.
My very first encounter with a German university website happened with the help of Google. I was trying to find a universal database for the university programs I was interested in, so I typed in some keywords. And it turned out that the first website in the results is the place where I now study.
My hypothesis was that foreign students learn about the faculties of German art schools by word of mouth. The first time I came to HfK Bremen on an exchange, I could retrieve useful information either via newsletter or by asking fellow students or professors directly. During my exchange, I entered the university portal using someone else's credentials. Being an exchange student on another part of a joint program is anindirect way of entering the program, which made me feel like an explorer finding a hidden gem due to a chain of random events.
After the bachelor’s, as an applicant I faced various misunderstandings — for example, not knowing which departments exist in university or which one corresponds to my area of expertise. I applied to three programs, for two of them I got lost during my application process, for the third one I intentionally misspelled my surname(because I've already registered with my name in this portal as an exchange student and the name was taken). The first two universities rejected my application and with the third one everything went well, yet this little element of surprise and uncertainty was present.
During the long summer before my masters, I ended up having a freelance job. My task was to help other applicants find university programs in Germany in their specialty and fill in all the details(what to submit, how to apply, etc.). It fascinates me how the lack of one proper database/interface created a job opportunity for ones who have the secret knowledge. My clients were mostly prospective art students who didn’t want to study in the German language, so this narrowed down my searches even more. It is interesting that universities could have raised their fees and spent more money on PR, or an understandable site. However, as far as I know, heads of German universities have a different view on this issue. So the search for the university and application itself becomes a challenge and adventure.
This fact became especially clear after one client of mine asked me to find examples of students' artworks on the websites of their preferred university. I could not find anything related on the website, so I decided to search for an Instagram page. Turned out that this university does not have one. Instead, I found two pages: one with local cafeteria food and the other with university memes. I ended up contacting the latter. Yes, a meme page admin sent me the examples of students' works. And again I felt like a hacker or superhero completing a task.
Finding useful info on most German art schools' websites is an interesting experience since they are not constructed according to the usual web selling patterns. What is even more interesting, although renovated German websites do not follow"selling" UX trends, they look and perform decently.
While collecting and organising a database of university websites, I began to notice specific patterns. I try to combine and classify them within the concept of German UX design. In my research, just like in the statement of the United States Secretary of Defense, there are known unknowns and there are unknown unknowns. This means that even after the long process of developing this project, a huge mysterious field of knowledge will remain untapped.
The elaboration and classification led me into the mystical entangled net of German websites. The more I delved into this study, the more confusing my narrative became. The initially harmonious classification began to be saturated with speculations, philosophical thoughts, and the Sisyphean stone-like burden of responsibility that I could barely withstand. At some point, it became clear that this project has no beginning or end, and in this book, I would only be able to slightly lift the veil of secrecy.
As a result, this book will guide you through Germany, not using Autobahns and Schlössers but links and browser windows.
uni 1 — HfK Bremen
It would be reasonable to start from the website of the university I study in, because this is the site I communicate with most often. It would also be fair to notice that HfK has additional ways of communication such as social media and a newsletter(for students only). So during my studies, I do not actually use the website that often.
2020 — in progress
Team of students(Marie Binning, Adrian Block, Malte Buttjer, Martyna Kwasniewski and Philip Wagner) under the direction of HfK lecturer Nuri Ovüc
The institutions and departments of the University of the Arts Bremen update the website themselves
After several entries, I noticed that the website, which appears at first sight to be renovated, is still mostly not redesigned. at first, the user can see clean, renovated main pages, but while clicking on links the older version reveals itself.
Has a main page that covers its confusing structure— a logo, menu, and the searchbar, followed by a wide slider banner without—> button. This is followed by cards and a footer. Search only works »in der bisherigen HfK Webseite«(in the older version of the website). Footer buttons also lead to the previous version of the website without any warning.
Has five states — actual page, the page linked to the new site, the page linked to the older version, expanding list, external link. In the bottom there is an invisible button.
At the first glimpse, the website seems quite consistent, but on hover/click it either takes you to another page(1), the older version(2), or a completely different website.
older version observations
— every block expands with the"mehr" button
— weird rainbow pictures
— a lot of links, and pngs pretending to be links
— random database pictures appear on the block cover by default
uni 1 — HfK Bremen