Redesign: Campus Retail Shops website

Shops desktop viewShops mobile view

We recently launched a redesigned Campus Retail Shops website. This was another in the set of Business Operations websites to get updated. Unlike the others this site is a living repository of retail tenants and shops available to the campus community. This gives the site a few unique challenges:

Content pulled from campus map

Unlike most of our websites, the content for Shops was managed in a separate database so we could provide additional information for each location. This can be hours, parking information, specials, etc. We decided to centralize that information in the university campus map. This required us to add more fields to each map entry, but gave us the benefit of using that extra information anywhere else the location is viewed (mobile/desktop map website, search, etc). It also allows for a single source of data, no more duplication when locations are added, edited or removed.

OneCard fill locations map

Like the retail shops, there are other locations on campus that are not buildings, but instead are inside buildings or parking structures. These are now in the campus map proper instead of a custom Google map.

Show your OneCard and save locations

Lastly, there are locations which may or may not be on Wayne State’s campus. These are shops that offer a discount to our students/faculty/staff for showing their student ID card. This was a tough decision, should we be storing these outside locations, some many miles away, in the campus map data? In the end we decided to store the information with all other locations. The map already had the structure, no additional programming would be required and it would offer a single spot to manage all locations.

Quick page loads with YouTube SPF

If you’ve been browsing through the site while reading this you may notice how quick each page loads. This site employs a method of navigation that we have used on all sites in the past year. The tool is YouTube’s Structured Page Fragments (SPF).

Data available in the API

Building additional things into an already large data set has it’s advantages. The campus map API will now return this additional information for each location.

View the new Campus Retail Shops website.

Student Center Renovation website: 24 hours from sketch to production

Student Center Website  Recently we were given the task of putting together a website for the Student Center Renovation Project. We knew it was coming but we didn’t have much to go on until the details were approved. On a Thursday we got word everything was approved and set up a conference call to talk requirements, content and images.

Outlining the requirements

After an hour discussion with the client we determined that we had to mirror the messaging/feel of a banner being placed outside on the actual Student Center building. We also determined an initial set of menu items that included: The Project, Visions, Highlights, FAQ and Contact. We had no idea what was going into each of these areas but the task to finalize the content was on the client, so we had to work with Lorem Ipsum.

Sketching exercise

SketchesEveryone in the conference call was then involved in an initial individual sketch exercise. Everyone got 5-10 minutes to sketch one or more ‘wireframe’ layouts of how they perceived the site should be organized. This was a great first step to get designers and non-designers collaborating. Even though everyone was in the same meeting, heard the same questions, responses and decisions from the client, everyone came up with different interpretations of the client’s and project’s needs.

Student Center WireframeOnce the time was up, everyone presented their wireframes and explained why they chose to place elements where they did and how they saw the website working. We talked pro’s and con’s as a group.  In this case everyone agreed all the content could fit on a single long page so we decided to go right to a single wireframe. This time we used a whiteboard so we could draw, move and erase as we worked down the page.

Divide and concur

Once the wireframe was decided upon we split up the tasks to parallelize the work. The tasks broken down:

  • Base CMS and Foundation structure setup
  • Photoshop polished elements
  • Frontend interaction polish
  • Gathering and preparing the assets

Foundation WireframeI started getting the logistics of the base site setup in our CMS, the folder structure on the server and the wireframe mapped out. Once that was in place Tom was able to start working on each section in isolation to get the interaction working so the site functioned with placeholder content. In the meantime, Dan started polishing the design in Photoshop. And lastly, Rolaine worked on gathering, formatting and cutting the images that would be used on the site. We are now about five hours in and things are starting to take shape.

Content creation

While we divided up our work  for the Web, the client and editorial were going back and forth on finalizing and approving the content. This usually starts with Word documents but as soon as the a piece is 80 percent finalized we transition it into its final location in the CMS. This is so it can be edited in the native editor and as we are refreshing the frontend assets we can see real content and how it meshes with the finalizing design.

Putting it all together

Student Center 80 percent doneEight hours in and the elements are starting to come together. The template is now more refined, final content is pulling from the CMS and being updated in real time so we could see and test it within the final site. Assets were polished to ensure pixel-perfect definition and the non-interactive HTML started to get some javascript life.

Adding the interaction layer

Every site we create works for the lowest common denominator browser, basically Google scraping the pages looking for content, links and assets. We then use progressive enhancement to add the style layer of CSS that most users see and browse with. After those foundations are in place we add interaction with javascript. For this project specifically we use Foundation’s ‘top bar’ for the main navigation combined with the ‘fixed’ positioning to allow it to follow the user down the page. We also utilize Foundation’s Magellan to create a ‘smooth’ scrolling effect for the user down the page to the desired content. Add in some alpha transparency on the menu as the user scrolls and it results in what feels like a must more polished experience than just a bunch of static pages that someone has to click through. Lastly, the FAQ’s expand only when needed and the renderings of the floor plans open in lightboxes so users don’t have to leave the page to view them. In order to add the interaction layer efficiently it’s important that everyone can work independently without colliding with anyone else’s work.

The final product

23 hours later the site was ready to be deployed to production. It was tested in all modern browsers and devices, the content was edited several times. The images have been proposed, refined and optimized per device. The open graph, twitter card and other meta data are added. We send the client the signoff and as soon as they are good we run the deploy…

grunt deploy:production

Final Student Center websites

And we’re live! http://studentcenter.wayne.edu/new/

Redesign: Academic Senate Website

academic-senate-oldacademic-senate-new

We recently launched a redesign of the Academic Senate website.

The previous site was a framed website and managed by hand. Since the site isn’t overly complex that workflow was efficient for a long time. There were a few barriers to that approach, though, and the Academic Senate came to us for help with a solution.

What we came up with is a fully responsive website managed through the university’s central CMS and automatically pulls in data from across campus. A few key features of the new site include:

Built on Foundation 5

As we evolve our responsive approach we have settled on Zurb’s Foundation framework. It is light weight, flexible and allows us to extend it where needed without having it feel like a “Bootstrap” site.

Membership lists using CMS profiles

A big part of the Academic Senate website is broken down into committees and related information. Since the membership of these committees changes over time, and people can be on multiple committees, managing this information can be cumbersome. We transitioned each member into the “profiles” area of the CMS where they can be associated with multiple committees if needed and the information can be managed by the people themselves or by the Academic Senate staff with just a Web browser. They can be updated once and published across the site.

Profile images and content pulling from existing sites

Almost all Academic Senate members already have existing profiles on their school/college/department websites. We didn’t want to duplicate this information so we pull their existing profile information to reduce redundancy. When the member updates their profile, it will automatically update on the Academic Senate website.

Under the hood

A few things you won’t notice is we are standardizing our build process with new sites. We have a Yeoman site generator that we use as a base for each project. Next, we’re using Grunt (soon to use Gulp) as our “build” step to check and compile all assets into their appropriate folders. This not only reduces the initial project build time but also separates source files from their rendered machine optimized results. On that same spirit we have begun to deploy sites in a standard way to speed up the process and reduce the possibility for mistakes.

View the new Academic Senate website at: http://academicsenate.wayne.edu/

2013 – Web Year in Review

It’s been a long year and we thought it would be good to look back at what we accomplished. We’re a small team, only ten of us full time (including myself), and a few part timers, to maintain 550+ institutional websites. Over the past five years we have used this blog as a platform, when time permits, to give some insight into our work, workload and processes. We have been quiet the last few months and in those months we have experienced the most change to our team, process and the work we produce.

I thought it would be good for myself, and you (of course), to take a look back at the last year to reflect on what we have done and how we have changed. This year we launched 25 sites. That’s one every other week. I have highlighted a collection of the most public sites:

University homepage

Homepage

This year we took on an ambitious redesign project, take six months to reimagine and reconstruct wayne.edu from the ground up. We put a small team together dedicated to this single project and on December 16th they brought us what you see today. I’ll be writing more about the project in 2014 but we now have a website and platform to build the future upon.

Online Directory

directory
With the launch of the new homepage also came a completely online campus directory. Previously the directory was a print document and static Web pages. We worked with C&IT to integrate the data right into the main campus map and then into a completely new “WSU Directory” frontend.

Office of Military and Veterans Academic Excellence

military

Military and Veterans Academic Excellence was a redesign project to bring their website in line with the new capabilities of the office.

Wayne Law

law-school

A complete overhaul of the Law School website and most of its digital communication properties. The new website is people focused and takes advantage of everything Wayne Law is doing.

Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute

mpsi

A few small visual tweaks turned into an almost complete overhaul of the MPSI website. The goal is to use the visual design to build coherence to the Institute of Gerontology.

School of Library and Information Science

slis

Another school where we completely reimagined their online identity. The School of Library and Information Science is much more than just teaching librarians to work in physical libraries. We took that inspiration and designed a website that was information focused and different than any other website we have produced in the past.

10,000 Small Businesses – Detroit

10ksbdetroit

A non-university branded website built to support the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.

Office of Economic Development

economicdevelopment

A new website for an office that did not have a Web presence previously. There is a lot happening in Midtown Detroit and the greater downtown Detroit area. This site highlights how Wayne State University is a driving force in the surrounding area.

Office of International Programs

oip

The OIP is an umbrella department that oversees various international programs.

Educational Outreach

educationaloutreach

As the university’s presence outside of main campus evolves so does our Web presence. Previously we had separate websites for each extension center, with this redesign we changed that. We brought all areas outside of main campus into a single website.

Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

iehs

A reconstruction of an institute’s online presence. The new site is completely different than the previous and now more appropriately aligns to the institute’s goals.

Office of the President

president

This year the university welcomed a new President, and with any new leadership comes a new website. It was a great time to take a step back and analyze the goals and needs of a presidential website. We started from the ground up and created a website that President M. Roy Wilson can build upon as he shapes the university.

Office of Career Services

careerservices

The Career Services website is a project we took on this year. The new site is now responsive and gets straight to the point, connecting employers with students.

Division of Development

giving

A complete redesign from the previous site to focus on events, news and a responsive design.

Alumni

alumni

We also redesigned the Alumni site from a third party CMS to integrate with the rest of the university systems. The goal was to have the same feel as the Giving website but make sure it still maintained its own identity.

Office of Continuing Education – School of Social Work

socialwork-continuing

We were tasked at redesigning the Social Work Continuing Education website from Joomla into our native CMS.

Faculty Orientation

faculty-oritentation

Each year the University welcomes new faculty, we built a website to get them oriented with the University and Detroit.

Digital Signage

signage

In addition to websites our team also launched a few new digital signage templates around campus. The four highlighted above show the range of things we accomplish with the signs.

The College of Nursing uses their signs during the first week of classes to highlight which rooms their classes are in. The Recreation and Fitness Center uses theirs to highlight current and upcoming fitness classes. We created some full screen quotes by our president, M. Roy Wilson, to rotate through each sign. And finally our Welcome Center has a student sign in system, in partnership with the university’s CRM team, we hooked the sign to the data from that system and now display the waiting queue and wait times for students.

HTML Emails

html-emails

Throughout the year we have expanded our HTML email templates and capabilities. We introduced the ability to have multiple editable areas within a single email. There is no way to display the hundreds of emails we impacted this year but here is a subset:

40 Payment RSVP’s

Total RSVP’s integrated, tested and launched. That’s one for every other week of the year.

6 Live Streaming Events

From commencement ceremonies to guest lectures, we promote, stream events live, and moderate the chat during the event.

664.60 Website Maintenance Hours, 13,410.18 Total Hours Tracked

hours-2

The graph above is just an overview, click for a more detailed inventory of how we spent our time this last year.

Looking to 2014

We have a few sites that didn’t make the cut this year to launch, they just weren’t ready. 2014 is going to be a big year, we are on track to relaunch at least four school/college sites and three major divisions. We will be integrating more sites into the new wayne.edu platform and focusing on data driven UX changes. We also have a few surprises up our sleeves, so stay tuned.

Redesign: Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP)

urop-home-oldurop-home-new

The Undergraduate Research program recently went through a transition in the Office of the Provost and so did its website. Both the scope of the program, name and the visual direction have changed to reflect its new goals.

Like all current sites we launched the site taking advantage of our responsive framework. This means that the website will respond to any device size. This technique has its advantages and disadvantages, I won’t go into all of them, but I’ll highlight a few differences for this particular site.

Tablet is treated as a desktop

For this site, anything above 770 pixels wide is considered a desktop. Because the website is a basic content-driven site with two main columns we did not present a tablet specific view. Although if the site had a deeper menu structure of multiple columns we would have had to adapt to fit within the smaller screen size.

Non-responsive images

Building upon the decision above, the lack of images on this site led us to use a responsive image technique. The problem of optimizing images for each device situation is changing every week. Our lead developer, Rob Vrabel even highlighted the challenges in a recent blog post. Since we are still standardizing the process, we did not want to launch a process that may change in the coming weeks for a few images which are already pretty small.

It doesn’t look all that different than a “traditional” website

This site is straight forward and does its job presenting the information needed and gets out of the user’s way.  It has allowed us to refine our internal process of designing responsive sites. As we roll out more sites patterns will emerge and we will build upon our research. In the end though its all about the user and their experience. Although it may not look like a huge change, a website implemented this way can make a world of difference for our visitors.

View the site at: http://urop.wayne.edu/

Redesign: Division of Development & Alumni Affairs websites

Last week we launched the redesigned Division of Development & Alumni Affairs websites. These sites allowed us to accomplish some firsts that we’ve been working toward for some time.

The overall goal of the redesigns was to bring both into a similar look, feel and functionality. Previously, both websites were managed separately, in different content management systems and servers. They were not able to share content and the Alumni website didn’t utilize university resources. We set out to change all that and more.

Division of Development

giving-old-home giving-new-home

Over time the needs for the Development website had changed and we needed to refocus the homepage and the content within the site. The first thing that we changed from the old (left) to the new (right) was the centerpiece focus. We brought the stories that were buried and put them up top, front and center. These stories are what change the heart and mind of alumni and donors. The homepage highlights a handful of stories but we built a full donor stories archive where all will be available long term.

We then pulled the news and events up, but also created a clear left column for calls to action. This simple homepage gives the visitor an overview of what is going on while at the same not being overwhelming.

Alumni

alumni-old-homealumni-new-home

The Alumni website is actually two websites, the front facing homepage and a separate members-only community. The focus of our project was to reconstruct the front-facing site while giving a small facelift to the community. Keeping with the same overall feel of the Development website we kept the homepage simple. Alumni engagement events are highlights in the main centerpiece area, three main calls to action are highlighted in the middle and below a list of news, events and longer standing promotions.

The largest change though to the Alumni website was the information architecture. Between the time we started the project and finished, the university changed from a dues-based alumni model to a free one. This change had us and the Alumni staff re-thinking the purpose of every page on the site. It resulted in far fewer pages but the ones that remain are very focused.

Mobile and other firsts

giving-new-mobilegiving-new-child

I made an announcement a few months ago about only launching responsive websites from here on out and we are committed to that. This site started far before that announcement and was the first start we tailored to mobile from the ground up. The wireframes, designs and everything for this website started and continued in the browser environment instead of isolated in Photoshop. The end result is a very usable site on mobile, tablet and desktop, and we learned a lot along the way.

The first thing we tackled is how to handle multiple tier navigation without overwhelming or underwhelming the user. I’ve talked a lot in the past about how 60 percent or more of site visitors enter on an interior page and how to design the best experience around that. Those visitors need to orient themselves quickly with where they are on the site and where they can go from there. We wanted to keep the same approach we take with desktop websites, allow the user to get a sense of where they are at a glance and identify the local navigation quickly. We came up with a simple solution: on a small screen show the breadcrumbs of where a user is on the site, show the most local menu expanded up top, and give the visitor a “Menu” button to expand the full top menu. See an example, above, of the small screen (left) vs. full desktop version of the same page (right).

In addition to the mobile-first responsive design, these two websites are the first to feature a new global Wayne State University header that is also responsive. I will probably do a full post on it once it’s officially released. We are still working through a few specific browser quirks. But overall we were able to reduce the HTML, CSS, and image footprint of it by about 60 percent of the previous header. It only includes a single image, utilizes the same icon font that is used on the pages themselves and is fully responsive.

Lessons learned

Because our redesign projects typically span 9-12 months from initial meeting to launch, that leaves a lot to happen in the Web world. This website is no exception, over that span of time the CSS framework we used, Foundation, for the wireframes and the resulting design, updated from version 3 to 4 and changed completely (for the better) the way it handles HTML and CSS. By the time that happened we couldn’t go back and redo everything. The biggest lesson we learned from this was we have to be nimble when it comes to locking ourselves into a single framework.

ie8-usage-giving

The biggest lesson we learned though was about browser support. Most all of the newest Web technologies are supported fully only in the newest browsers. This isn’t a problem for most (95 percent+) of our external website visitors. But the world of higher education is filled with large enterprise systems that our campus relies on every day. Unfortunately those systems are slow to update and support those most recent browsers and thus there are a larger portion of computers on campus running older versions of browsers (read Internet Explorer 8). Recently a rash of Web technologies have begun to drop IE8 support, the Development and Alumni websites were not immune to that speed bump. So we had to put in an uncomfortable amount of small bug fixes and ended up relying on respond.js to bandaid the situation until we see IE8 visitors drop off enough. I’m hoping to have an official announcement soon about what are browser support will be long term.

View the sites: http://giving.wayne.edu/ and http://alumni.wayne.edu/

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 http://engineering.wayne.edu/ 

Dining menu now available everywhere

Besides studying, a favorite activity of college students is eating and our students are no exception. The Housing department approached us a few months ago because they were opening a new dining facility on campus and wanted to promote it.

Gold ‘n’ Greens

The new facility, which was scheduled to open on the first day of Fall semester 2012, had a menu that catered to vegetarian, vegan, kosher and gluten-free diets. The only problem was it didn’t have a name yet. So, as we often do, we looked to our students. We put a poll on Facebook with a few suggestions but left it open for write-in entries. By far, “Gold ‘n’ Greens was the clear winner.

Now that it had a name we had to get the word out about the new facility. After some informal interviews with students it became clear that there was a misconception about campus dining.

  • Perception was that campus dining facilities were only open to students in the resident halls.
  • Didn’t know it was a flat fee all-you-can-eat.
  • Didn’t know there were different breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus.
  • Didn’t know non-residents could purchase a meal plan
  • Didn’t know what was on the menu, so they opted for more familiar eateries.

Didn’t know what was on the menu

The last misconception was by far the most noted, students said they would rather go to McDonald’s, where they knew what there were going to be able to eat than to take a chance on a dining facility. We dug deeper into this and found it was true, the dining facility menus were only listed in two spots. On a static digital sign inside one of the resident halls and as a PDF on the food vendor’s website.

We set out to change this and give this crucial information to anyone who wanted it. We started with creating a database of food items, dates and specials. We worked with Housing and our food vendor to populate the database with as much information as possible: attributes about each dish, nutritional info, food restrictions and a photo if available.

Because we wanted this information as open as possible we exposed it via our API. Now anyone who wants access to the information can integrate it into their site/app/email/etc. Since we are a huge fan of  eating our own dog food, we use that same API to populate student areas around campus.

On the Housing website

Of course we had to get the information out of PDF format and allow students to see the menu from day-to-day, and not just a “schedule” of what is available. The above screenshot is from the Housing & Residential Life website. It allows a student to pick their facility and see the entire menu for the day.

On campus digital signage

Students may not be at a desk, but instead walking through campus between classes or sitting in a study area. We utilized the digital signage around campus to promote the facilities and their menus. The screenshot above gives a clear overview of what is available at one of the dining facilities right now.

On our mobile website/app

Lastly, students who may not be near a sign or computer can now log on to m.wayne.edu or our mobile app and get a concise list of the dining facilities and their menus. This option at the moment is the least fancy but gets right to the point and displays the menu items to the student as quickly as possible. It will also be the first to be expanded with supplemental information in the near future.

Open data

Because we are committed to making any information available that could potentially help students and the university as a whole, our data is your data. If you’re interested in getting API access, currently available by request only, to use this information on your website/app, just let us know.

Redesign: Office of Student Financial Aid

Previous Financial Aid HomepageNew Financial Aid Homepage

This week we launched a redesigned Office of Student Financial Aid website. The previous (left) and new site (right) are pictured above.

Not only was the website due for a redesign but it also marks the end of a milestone for the work that we produce. This site will be the last non-responsive major department website that was in our pipeline. From here on out we will be designing and implementing for mobile first and responsive.

Information Architecture

Like most of our redesigns the push came from the overgrowth of the original scope of the navigation. Users can deal with “old” looking visuals, but as soon as the website is hard to find crucial information, it’s time for an overhaul. Our first task was to reign in the thirteen item main menu to just six. This helped the visitor scan and find a direction quickly.

We then took to overhauling the architecture of the information on the homepage. The previous website had information where it didn’t belong. New programs, deadlines and priorities cluttered the previous homepage. We set out to compartmentalize information in easy to scan columns that could expand if needed in the future.

Visuals

The structure of the page content was not the worst we have seen, but there were a lot of areas that needed improvement. For example, the new information chunking on the homepage gave us the ability to visually separate different information and allow for areas to grow in the future. For example the promotion buttons below the menu can expand or contract depending on the time of the year. The main image can be clickable if needed and each column can have more or less resources as needed.

On the child pages we highlighted the selected menu area to make it stand out. Since we only have six main menu items, the secondary menu list is a little larger than normal. We didn’t want to remove the other main menu items so we could keep the context but at the same time we didn’t want the local menu items to get lost. We also added a “Related Links” right side menu to each page. This allows the Financial Aid department to pull specific resources to the top even if they are linked from the content area.

View the new Office of Student Financial Aid website at http://finaid.wayne.edu/

Redesign: Computing & Information Technology website

Just in time for classes to start we’ve rolled out a new Computing & Information Technology (C&IT) website. The new site takes in to consideration all the feedback and analytics we’ve gathered since the last relaunch in 2010.

Information overload

C&IT offers a lot of services, and everyone at the institution has to interact with a handful of their services every day. We discovered that the needs of the site change based on time of year and audience. Faculty/staff are always in need of base services but often don’t realize the full breadth of what C&IT offers. Students who have just enrolled need to get connected to the network quickly and communicate with their professors. This website is key to making that a seamless process.

The previous homepage and directory of services put everything right out front in order to be “comprehensive”. But this approach suffered from information paralysis, lots of links, lots of text, and too much to scan. Visitors ended up clicking on the main menu item for “Services” instead of going to the category of service they needed. The “Services” pages did have the same information as the homepage but presented it in a slightly different way.

Service catalog before (left) vs. after (right)

Previous services pageNew services page

In conjunction with C&IT we tackled this information overload on two fronts. The first is a simplified list of services on the homepage organized by “category” which include a colored image. Less information + visual cues means it is easy to scan.

Diving deeper in to the services landing page shows even more optimization. Building on the idea of “discovery” we added a few options in addition to the simple A-Z list. This page now allows for organization by audience, category and built-in search. This method helps both the frequent and infrequent visitor find what they’re looking for with context about additional services they may not know about.

Building on consistency

The previous website had a large focus on getting out as much information about a service as possible which seemed very logical. But a consequence of having each department maintain their own pages led to inconsistency. Some areas had a lot of resources on their pages while others just had the bare minimum. We knew being able to compare services apples to apples would help visitors feel confident in their decision based on Web content instead of having to call and talk to someone.

Service information before (left) vs. after (right)

As you can see from the two screenshots above, the previous version on the left has a lot of information in a full paragraph, it takes time to scan and read it. The new website breaks content in to specific fields so they can be displayed under common headers and easy to scan formatting.

Extending the CMS

This consistency was accomplished by a small but powerful addition to our CMS, Custom Fields. Inspired by WordPress we had a need to attach structured information to each page. What we figured out after adding the ability for each site to have their own free form title and value pair is that we stumbled on something very powerful.

Below are some of the custom fields for the GroupID service. There is now basic structured information that we can use throughout the website. You can also notice that we allow for multiple fields, there are two “audiences” below.

Custom Fields in the CMS

Because the website content is always evolving and C&IT can add/remove services at any time we wanted to make sure they didn’t have to maintain the page content plus another service catalog database to organize it. We have a custom field called “Service Title” that we are able to use to pull all active pages with that field in to the service listing page. It allows the website to stay updated in multiple places simply by attaching the correct meta information to each page. It’s very natural.

A few other small gems

View the new Computing & Information Technology website at: http://computing.wayne.edu/