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Apr 23 / Nick DeNardis

Managing distraction: “library rules” before 11 a.m.

The Wayne State Web department consists of ten people sitting at their desks in an open room in the middle of the marketing department, typically with the lights off. Each member of the team typically has fifteen tasks for the day and forty tasks assigned for upcoming dates. As you can imagine it can be hard to focus on the tasks at hand with people walking through the area or with even a one-on-one conversation happening at the desk next to you.

We try to manage these distractions by:

Wearing headphones – Being lost in our own music drowns out any other noise around.

Keeping the lights off – Reduces peripheral vision so we can focus on our screens and reduce the likelihood of noticing someone walk by.

Not having printers – No one in the Web group has a printer, we never have, and the rare time we do print we send it to a central printer in a different area of the department. This reduces noise and people just waiting around.

Reducing the number of phones – We only have three phones for the twelve total staff members. We do most of our support via email or Basecamp. But if someone does call, we have a single number answered by one person who can field the question and only interrupt another staff member if necessary.

“Library rules” before 11 a.m. – It’s simple: respect everyone’s time, space, productivity, just as you would in a library, before 11 a.m.

First things first


The video above, although not the most comprehensive, explains the crux of the problem. With so many tasks, projects and competing priorities it’s easy to get lost in the thick of the thin. We work diligently to not only develop personal tactics to stay productive but also an environment that focuses on completing those big or important tasks first.

Before 11 a.m. we collectively work to accomplish our most important item(s) for the day. We try to keep it to one thing, but you would be amazed how productive you are if you are not interrupted. Just try it for a week.

Apr 12 / Nick DeNardis

College of Engineering website – then and now

Seth Godin recently posted about “Just the good parts“, a trap I think that all too many of us fall in to. The Web is no exception here, it’s great to have an amazing website, but it isn’t something you can make appear overnight or pay a company to produce for you. The quality of your website is a direct reflection of how much time and energy you put into it.

“The very thing you’re seeking only exists because of the whole. We can’t deny the difficult parts, we have no choice but to embrace them.”
~ Seth Godin

Two things happened a few weeks ago that talk to this point directly. The first was that we launched the last of 10 College of Engineering departmental and programs websites as an overall restructure of the College of Engineering Web presence. Secondly, their Associate Director of Marketing and Communications, Kristin Copenhaversent out this email to sum up the recent changes to the marketing of the college. The message was great to bring to light some of the great things available to the college but it intended to be brief. It didn’t get into the details about the process and hard work leading up to what seems like logical pieces of the Web.

College of Engineering “then”

College of Engineering “now”

More than skin deep

Looking at the screenshots above you can tell we made a dramatic change in the visual appearance across every engineering website. Before, every department was able to create their own interpretation of what it means to be part of Wayne State University. In theory, this seemed to work great for individual departments because they had the ability to create highly crafted messages. In reality, the Web was not something in which they specialized. The limited department resources were focused on their research, teaching, and education; the website was often the last thing addressed. This isn’t unique to engineering; it is something we see across our campus and across the entire Web.

Dean Farshad Fotouhi identified this situation, allocated funds and hired an Associate Director of Marketing and Communications to work closely with our team to create solutions that worked for each department and the college as a whole. It came down to every engineering department having a cohesive yet unique look, voice and set of values represented online to ensure consistency and success for prospective and current students.

Insightful statistics

The project overall took on a life of its own but we broke it down in to multiple parts and stages, and had a very consistent routine to starting, migrating and launching every department, alumni, student organization, and other websites, to ensure its success.

This is just a sample of what went into the project as a whole (this doesn’t include daily maintenance and post launch updates):

  • Project Scope: 39 websites, 8 email newsletters, 12 email templates, multiple digital signage templates, internal tools, and more
  • 550+ Web Communications staff hours
  • 45+ hours of meetings with College of Engineering
  • 2 homepage revisions after initial launch
  • 1,700 pages on the new site (compared to 5,000+ on the previous)
  • 75 unique “templates” across the entire website
  • 8 new tools created in the CMS to accomplish goals that are now available to everyone
  • 30,000+ of Web visitors per month
  • 50,000+ email interactions

Below is some insight into where the 550+ hours of Web Communications staff time was spent. The bulk was spent on transitioning content, this is moving the content from the old website into the new. I want to clarify this is not just a copy-and-paste task. It means evaluating and editing every single page, ensuring it’s up to date and possibly splitting it up, removing it, or combining it with other areas across the entire website. This takes dedicated time between the college and Web Communications. We talked daily with Kristin and met every Friday to track progress, ask questions and create a plan for us during the next week. These meetings were grueling but this is exactly a direct reflection of the focused time spent that resulted in a successful website. Simply put, without the talent from the college putting in the hard work, this website redesign would never have been a success.

Time spent - Engineering

Tools that make a communication strategy work

  • College website
  • Departmental websites
  • The ability to share news/events/promotions between them all with a click
  • Faculty Profiles with In the News, Publications, Books, etc.
  • Spotlight on Faculty, Students, Alumni
  • College HTML email template
  • College email newsletter
  • Departmental email newsletters
  • Faculty experts list
  • Social media with support behind the content
  • An analytics package focused on objectives and goals
  • A key employee focused on doing the hard work it takes to bring an entire college together to speak in a single voice to the public

Overview of the Engineering Web content workflow

engineering content workflow

View the new College of Engineering website at 

Apr 7 / Nick DeNardis

Quote: Learning by doing

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

― Aristotle

Apr 5 / Robert Vrabel

The trouble with OS X LCD Font Smoothing and webkit

I recently spent sometime working on a responsive header using foundation 4 and was in the process of testing it on other machines around our office. I noticed on a co-workers machine that the fonts looked a lot different than on my machine. I was puzzled as to why this was occurring.

My browser vs. Co-workers

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 9.45.40 AM

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 9.46.10 AM

We are both using Mountain Lion and Chrome in this example. As you can see the fonts look thicker and bolder on my co-workers machine. I did some investigation and found an option under Mountain Lion’s general system preferences called “Use LCD font smoothing when available”. On my machine this was unchecked. It looks like on newer machines this is checked by default. If you uncheck this option and relaunch your browser (Chrome in this case) you’ll notice the thicker and bolder fonts go away.

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 9.56.10 AM

We wanted to find a solution to normalize this on the web because we preferred the way it looked without font smoothing enabled. We found that if you apply this to your websites it fixes the problem. Please note that this only works in webkit browsers. We have not found any other vendor prefixes that accomplish this.

body {
     -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased;
Apr 1 / Nick DeNardis

Welcome back Rolaine!


Rolaine has been out on maternity the last few months and we missed her terribly. We missed her so bad that we placed something on her desk each time we thought of her. As you can see the items added up quickly and she came back to an overflowing welcome this morning. :)

Welcome back Ro, we missed you!


Mar 21 / Nick DeNardis

Managing distraction: OS X Mail unread count

There is only so much time in the day and if you’re not careful small distractions can chip away at your ability to accomplish tasks. I’m always looking for ways to reduce distractions for myself and my team.

Distractions break “flow”

We are big fans of 37 Signals and they have written about distractions extensively over the years. The nature of our work requires a balance of requests from many constituents around campus and the actual work those requests require. If we can’t accomplish the desired work we might not bother taking it on at all. The desired effect is to get in to a “flow” throughout the day to concentrate on the task at hand and complete it with the clarity and attention that every task deserves.

It takes a village

We have done many things as a team over the years to improve the amount of flow the Web team is able to obtain each day. It may seem like simple things but reducing the amount of sensory input  is a huge help. If you’ve been to the Web office at any time you’ve noticed ten of us work in one open area, which is an efficient use of space but is a slippery slope for distractions. We all work in the dark to reduce visual noise, most everyone wears headphones to reduce auditory noise, and there is very little talking before lunch. It takes the entire team to ensure the environment is respectful of everyone’s personal flow.

“Managing Distractions” series

I though I would start a series on the small things that make a big difference when it comes to managing distractions. The first and what I feel is the most important is the ability to get out of your inbox.

Get out of your inbox

Email is not a to-do list or an immediate trigger for action. If someone needed something this second they would call or rush in to your office. Emails never stop and reading/responding to them as they come in will keep you caught up in the thick of the thin all day. Before your know it, no real work actually gets done.


I’ve found the best way to remove the distraction that an email is “waiting to be read” is to get rid of the badge on the OS X Mail dock icon. Many would argue that never opening the Mail app in the first place accomplishes the same goal. But it doesn’t, because if you need to send an email or reading through a folder other than your inbox, that unread is there just begging for your attention.


Removing the badge is actually quite easy, just go in to the Notification Center and click Options. In here you can manage all the annoying alerts that each app can produce. Find “Mail” and uncheck the “Badge app icon” to remove it completely.

Overall I recommend turning any “push” type of alert off except for the absolutely necessary ones. But this one alone can make a world of difference. Try it for a week, my bet is you’ll focus more on the task at hand and check email only when you have a few minutes to dedicate to it.

Mar 20 / Nick DeNardis

You’re invited to the Michigan Regional HighEdWeb Conference in Flint, May 20-21


I mentioned a little while back that I was co-chairing a Michigan regional of the HighEdWeb conference on May 20-21, 2013, at the University of Michigan-Flint.

HighEdWeb Michigan is a conference designed for higher education communication and Web professionals—writers, marketers, designers, developers—who want to explore the unique Web issues facing colleges and universities.

As more of the campus moves towards implementing an integrated content strategy with ever growing properties, Web, digital signage, email, social media, video, etc. We encourage all Wayne State University faculty, staff, and students to consider taking advantage of this invaluable opportunity to meet colleagues from across the Midwest and learn how to approach the university website in a more effective manner.

Content strategy built in

The keynote presenter is Kristina Halvorson. Halvorson is widely recognized as one of the most important voices in the realm of content strategy. Other session topics will include social media, content strategy, project management, responsive Web design, content management systems, and more.

Speaker line-up now available

Learn more about the conference and presenters by following @hewebMI and #hewebMI on Twitter

Registration is now open!

The registration for the conference is just $75. To view the conference schedule and to register, visit

HighEdWeb Michigan is an approved regional conference of the Higher Education Web Professionals Association, an organization of web professionals working in higher education to design, develop, manage, and map the futures of higher education websites. The Association’s mission is “To advance web professionals, technologies, and standards in higher education.”

Mar 12 / Nick DeNardis

HigherEdLive – Creative Team Leadership – March 14, 2013

On Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 7pm EST I’ll (Nick DeNardis) be hosting HigherEdLive. I’ll be joined by some amazing guests to talk about Creative Team Leadership. It’s one thing to bring creative ideas to life as an individual, it’s another to lead a team of creatives to produce the highest quality work and always push the envelope. I’ve asked some of the best creative leaders to join me to talk about what makes a team successful and what skills/environment is necessary to sustain it long term.

My guests, in no particular order, are Ben CallahanBob Crisler, and Nick Johnson. They are not only accomplished in their own right, but also lead successful creative teams inside and outside higher education.

Mark your calendars, it will be an information packed show with plenty to take away as a director or member of a creative team.

Ben Callahan

Ben CallahanPresident of Sparkbox and founder of the Build Responsively workshop series, Ben shares his ideas about the Web on the Sparkbox Foundry and other industry blogs. His leadership at Sparkbox has driven the team to be a pioneer in responsive Web design techniques and he continues to push for great user experiences outside the context of specific devices.


Nick Johnson

Nick JohsonNick Johnson is the Managing Director of Marketing Communication at the University of Notre Dame. His Web team handles design, development and content strategy for most of the university’s Web properties, working within a cost recovery model.

With an entrepreneurial background in marketing, design and management, Nick’s greatest professional joy is creative problem solving and the hunt for the correct strategic path.

Nick and his wife, Anna, recently welcomed their first child, Zoey Marie, in to the world.

Bob Crisler

Bob CrislerBob leads the overall Web development effort of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as Director of Internet and Interactive Media. IIM is organized as a partnership of University Communications and Information Services at UNL. Bob also leads the UNL Web Developer Network, a 300+ -member group formed to support UNL’s unique single-codebase Web development path. A 1986 graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Journalism and Mass Communications, Bob has been with UNL since 1992, working first in print design, and stepping out to lead UNL’s Web effort as the university’s first staff member fully dedicated to the medium (in 2000).

UNL occupies a unique position in higher education Web development. At UNL, a single codebase underlies all sites that are part of the university organization. The UNLedu Web Framework is continually strengthened through the efforts of IIM staff and the contributions of partners through the WDN organization. See for more information.

This is a cross post from

Jan 30 / Nick DeNardis

Announcing the HighEdWeb Michigan Regional Conference – May 20-21, 2013

The past few years I have been attending and speaking at the HighEdWeb national event. I’m happy to announce that we are bringing a HighEdWeb regional event to Michigan! I am co-chairing the event with Alaina Wiens from University of Michigan Flint. The Conference will be held Monday, May 20, and Tuesday, May 21, 2013 in downtown Flint, Michigan.


HighEdWeb is an organization of Web professionals working at institutions of higher education. We design, develop, manage and map the futures of higher education Web sites. ~ About HighEdWeb 

Straight up Michigan

UofM Flint

Michigan has always had a strong root in education, we have 106 public, private and community colleges across the state. We have a rich community of sharing and collaboration. This conference environment is the perfect opportunity to continue those themes in person. If you’re a Web worker inside or outside of Michigan this is a conference you’re not going to want to miss.

Keynote – Kristina Halvorson


We are also pleased to announce the keynote speaker for this year’s conference, Kristina Halvorson.

Kristina Halvorson is widely recognized as one of the most important voices in content strategy. She is the owner of Brain Traffic, the author of “Content Strategy for the Web,” and the founder of Confab: The Content Strategy Conference. Kristina speaks all over the world about the importance of content strategy and how to get it done. Her agency Brain Traffic is home to a team of renowned content strategists, serving clients like Autodesk, Coca-Cola, Best Buy, Thedacare, Dell, Wells Fargo, and the University of Minnesota. Kristina lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her two kids, who often get quoted on Twitter (@halvorson).

This year’s keynote speaker is made possible by Higher Ed Experts. Higher Ed Experts has always been a strong supporter of conferences held by HighEdWeb, and has committed as the Silver-level Keynote Sponsor for all five of HighEdWeb’s 2013 regional conferences.

Submit a proposal

Downtown Flint, MIPresentation proposals are being accepted until Feb. 13, and are welcome on a variety of topics. We’d love to hear from you, and are happy to offer presenters a discounted registration rate. Find more information and submit your proposal.

Attend the conference

The conference is going to be held Monday and Tuesday, May 20 – 21, 2013, hosted by the University of Michigan-Flint. Registration will be open soon.

In the meantime, keep up with HighEdWeb Michigan on Twitter by following @hewebMI, or using the #hewebMI hashtag.

Jan 23 / Nick DeNardis

Welcome Hassan Bazzi! Our new full-time Web Developer

Hassan BazziAfter an extensive search we are proud to announce Hassan Bazzi as our newest full-time Web Developer! Hassan comes to us from a local agency where he did end-to-end client website development. In addition to his agency work he also did freelance work on the side. His work experience has ranged from simple mobile projects to complete eCommerce systems with massive amounts of traffic.

The right fit

Finding the best fit for a position is hard, the requirements for every position are shifting every day as the Web advances and more is being demanded. Our students expect the university to stay on top of technologies, services, and more, to give them the best experience possible. The only way to achieve this is to find someone hungry to learn and make change.

Hassan personifies the drive to get things done and absorb every bit of knowledge possible in the process. In the fast-paced environment we work in every one of us has dozens of competing priorities, and short and long term initiatives that can impact individual students every day and their success long term.


I have a feeling you’ll be seeing the impact Hassan is making pretty quickly. Follow him at @habazzi and on this blog.