The new NASA.gov has a light blue color palette, one you may not immediately associate with deep space. The agency rolled out a website redesign over the weekend, which included tossing out the black background that shadowed NASA‘s website for years.
“The common complaint about our design was that there was too much going on,” NASA Internet Services Manager Brian Dunbar told Mashable via email. “The lighter color palette seemed to open things up without us having to remove too much content. So far the reaction has been mixed, as is often the case.”
Heavy text and a column of navigational buttons made NASA.gov — which had not been updated since 2007 — feel cluttered. Dunbar fixed this by grouping all those icons into one drop-down menu.
NASA.gov homepage on May 13, 2012.
NASA.gov homepage on July 1, 2013.
NASA also asked the public what they wanted in a redesign, and one of the top responses was a dedicated area on the homepage for live events.
“We were able to increase the emphasis on live events on the homepage. We did an Ideascale implementation late last year to solicit input on changes to the site, and people told us more than anything they wanted to know more about what’s happening ‘right now’ at NASA,” Dunbar said. “We had it on the site, but apparently it wasn’t that visible to a lot of users.”
While the aesthetic switches may be the most obvious change to NASA’s website, the design team completely overhauled NASA.gov’s infrastructure. According to Dunbar, NASA switched from an old proprietary CMS to a customized Drupal implementation and replaced NASA’s commercial on-demand video service with a YouTube-based approach.
The most impressive figure of the redesign, however, is hidden from the eye. The redesign only took 13 weeks to complete — a highly efficient timeline for a government agency.
“We started that whole effort in earnest in late March,” Dunbar said. “We had been experimenting with the graphical changes for a few weeks before that.”
The short timeline had a catch-22, though. The team wasn’t able to optimize the website for discovering and sharing content on social media, which took a backseat in this initial rollout.
“Those considerations will be part of the upcoming redesign,” Dunbar said. “We want to be able to share our content across platforms, but we’ve also got user data that clearly shows we have a web audience that doesn’t really use social media and is distinct from our social media audience.”
As with most trickle-down redesigns, NASA.gov — which logs about 12 million visits per month — still has a long way to go. Expect to see a few 404 errors while browsing around as the team makes piecemeal changes through September.
Dunbar noted that this first transition is only a small part the massive changes to NASA.gov coming early next year. “When we’re done, we expect to have a vastly improved site, both for users and editors,” he said.
NASA.gov in 1997
NASA.gov homepage on Jan. 5, 1997.
NASA.gov homepage on April 17, 1999.
NASA.gov homepage on Jan. 3, 2007.
Mashable composite; images courtesy of NASA/JPL