Virginia has a LOT of picturesque liberal arts colleges. How could Roanoke College stand out? Research insights and strong agency partners helped us open the door for students to discover the real Roanoke College.
May 2022 – August 2023
- Discovery and audience research
- UX and information architecture
- Content strategy
- Content development for admissions and financial aid
- Front-end design system
- Collaboration with brand and CMS platform partners
- Slate RFI integration
- QA testing and launch prep
- Analytics dashboard
Design System: Storybook.js
Search Engine: Algolia
2022 was a time of big change for Roanoke College.
They had made major investments to elevate the student experience. A new president was taking the helm with fresh vision for Roanoke’s future. They’d also taken the bold step of resetting tuition to make their true cost and value more transparent for families. The time was right to revitalize their digital presence.
They chose NewCity as partner not just for a redesign but to reimagine how Roanoke College communicates its unique value to prospective students, alumni, and the broader community.
Starting with Research
We kicked off the project with qualitative and quantitative research, utilizing workshops, interviews, usability tests, surveys, and analytics. This research uncovered key insights:
- Students unfamiliar with Roanoke College who participated in our usability tests came away with the impression that Roanoke was “typical liberal arts:” small, rural, with strong community, lots of activities, and quality degree programs. Positive, but not distinctive.
- Top level navigation was effective, but deeper navigation layers were not intuitive.
- The on-site search engine often failed to return relevant results.
- Mobile users had reached 54% of traffic, but responsive layouts were confusing because the way elements were re-arranged at mobile screen sizes didn’t always make sense.
- Overall user satisfaction scores were mediocre.
Armed with these insights, we chose to focus our efforts for the redesign on improving navigation pathways and the on-site search engine, prioritizing mobile, elevating degree programs, and ensuring the site could more easily support our enrollment marketing in other channels.
A big challenge was the need to launch the new site on a fast timeline with an in-house team of only two. We needed to make changes to the navigation and create a fresh design with updated messaging, but we’d have to do so while migrating 80% of the existing content with minimal labor.
We developed a new information architecture (IA), identifying high priority content that deserved our attention while mapping other content for automated migration. We validated the IA with tree testing and prototyped layouts for key pages. We built a new search engine, offering faceted filters and controlled indexes to surface the most relevant results.
Roanoke’s branding partner Ologie developed new messaging around the theme “When you learn amid mountains, you know how to move them.” As we wrote content for the website this theme helped us lean into Roanoke’s amazing location and connect it to the spirit and drive students find at the college.
We rewrote much of the content for admissions, cost, and financial aid to clarify and simplify the process. We also worked with admissions to create a streamlined Request for Information (RFI) form.
NewCity’s use of Storybook.js for the design system facilitated a dynamic and responsive design process. This approach allowed for real-time feedback and adjustments, ensuring that the design remained accessible and responsive across different devices. It made life easier for CMS partner Ingeniux too, as the modular approach matched perfectly with the content type definitions.
Because of our careful planning, Roanoke College was able to migrate over 10,000 pages into the new architecture and CMS in just 4 weeks!
Launched on August 23, 2023, the redesigned website was met with acclaim from the Roanoke College community. The new site is showing a significant increase in user engagement. Site visitors jumped from 442K to 553K, a 25% increase, with new users up by 35%. More importantly, the percentage of engaged user sessions soared by 41%. We’ll need a full admissions cycle to see the broader impact on inquiries and applications.
The collaboration between Roanoke College and NewCity was more than a typical redesign; it was a strategic partnership that transformed the digital experience of the college. By focusing on human-centered design, embracing the college’s unique identity, and leveraging a flexible design system and CMS, the new Roanoke College website stands as a testament to the power of thoughtful, research-driven design in higher education.