Higher Ed Website Redesign, Part 1: Building a Foundation

The following is a little stream of consciousness, but works to help me lay out what’s happening and how to explain it a little better =]

Last redesign: 2004

Last brand refresh: 2009

Initially, the plan was to do a navigation review, but after further consideration, it turned into a full-on redesign effort. A new position was created – web presence manager…ie me – and hired. Now it’s off to the races.

In addition to a redesign, the site will also be changing platforms from .NET to Drupal, hosted by a well-known Drupal host. The design agency has been procured and will produce a set number of designs and code for responsiveness.

Internally, we have a developer with coding experience, a web manager with content strategy and UX background driving the project. Historically, the website has functioned as an aspect of external marketing as has the social media presence, so the executive sponsor = marketing director. The ultimate goal is for marketing to become more self-sufficient and rely less on ITS. As such, this requires an overhaul of content, structure, and management/governance processes.

Our design agency asked us to prepare some information for our discovery meeting earlier today, including:

  • Pick out a few website examples that you like the look of (or portions of at least). These don’t necessarily have to be higher-ed websites.
  • Pick out any other visuals that you especially like, that you might want us to emulate on the site design
  • Prepare a demographic statement – what demographic segments are we looking to connect to with this website? Many times this is multiple groups/segments. Include age, gender, social status, etc.
  • Provide a finalized site map
  • Provide logo files and brand standards info
  • Think about which pages (based on the site map) we should base our template designs on
  • List what content items are must-haves for the homepage
  • Provide us with a summary on what the overall site objectives are

In response, we—the core web redesign group—created a document outlining each element, and how it ties to our larger initiatives. This helped bring a sense of focus and, by tying them together, it helps us stomp out any fires that we saw potentially arising (i.e. program placement on the homepage, static text, etc).

The final document is four pages, divided into 6 sections:

  • Summary & Overarching Goals
    This sections lays out the general purpose of the redesign and how it connects to our main goals. We also included what we want the initial impression of visitors to be, as well as what we see our main product being and how it enhances/informs their web experience.
  • Vision for the Redesign
    Expanding upon the general purpose described above, we listed some governing principles that we want reflected in the site, as well as other sites that reflect those principles. Also included was a pretty obvious *what we do like* and *what we don’t like* comparison. Finally, we listed the key outcomes as well as metrics for measuring those outcomes—like increased enrollment and graduation rates, customer satisfaction/web analytics, etc.
  • Audience/Target Demographics
    I created a table that listed our audience in one column, and the corresponding goals for each in the corresponding cell/column. This section also drilled down on demographics like age, location, and the specific actions we want visitors to take.
  • Competition
    Who do we see as competition? Why? And how do we set ourselves apart? All answered here.
  • Current Resources and Undertakings
    This was essentially a listing of all the other marketing being done. It’s kind of like rings around a center circle, or an increasing radius. First, we listed our key products and services. The second ring contains the content around those things that is produced regularly. The final ring, encapsulating all of those things, are the channels used: social media, direct mail, print/internet ads, outreach efforts…etc, etc, etc
  • Wireframe/Sitemap
    I say both things because this serves both purposes…kind of. We sketched out some ideas of what we wanted to see on the homepage, and the hierarchy of those things. Below the mock-up, we listed out the main navigation with the secondary boxed underneath.

In our meeting today, we were able to articulate ourselves well by having the document to reference, and it also worked to internally put the team on the same page…literally. We were able to convey our desired state and brand messaging, along with display the information hierarchy but without hampering the design process.

So, now our job regarding design is done until the next meeting, in around 3 weeks or so. In the meantime, we’ll hop back to the content audit, and check in with Drupal training.

To be continued…

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