When a client and firm trust each other to do what each does best, the resulting site is as effective as it is beautiful.
On the Inside Looking In
Auburn University’s College of Education was shouting in a vacuum. On one hand, its undergraduate and graduate programs are considered some of the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Its groundbreaking research and numerous community outreach efforts are the stuff a student’s parents dream of.
On the other hand, outside audiences weren’t paying attention. Site updates were difficult to make, so the content quickly became outdated and even redundant in some places, making it tough for users to trust the accuracy of the information.
The site information was directed toward current students and faculty, but lacked clear direction for prospective students to find the degree pages they wanted. Prospective graduate students in particular were very interested in program and curriculum details, but were often unable to accomplish their goals.
If COE was going to stay relevant, it needed up-to-date information, a new way to navigate it, and a makeover. It was time for us to take a good look at repurposing an entire site, make some compromises, and let the proverbial cream rise to the top.
Not Just a Search Function
We started working with the College of Education in April 2014, conducting stakeholder interviews, reviewing analytics, and consolidating a number of research opportunities into an intensive, two-day discovery process at Auburn.
The results were more than revealing when we got both faculty and students in the same room. It wasn’t so much that they disagreed on the college’s direction, but how they would use the website. For one, the staff navigated the site very differently compared to the students. When asked to map out the new site’s task routes, many faculty and staff members relied almost exclusively on the search function for this process — and assumed students would, too.
But the students saw it differently. They were mapping out task pathways starting with broad informational topics and getting more specific with each click, even if it took more than three.
This was a wake-up call soon to be answered, and also a prevalent symptom of organizational siloing: While the faculty knew where everything belonged, the same couldn’t have been said for the people they were trying to reach.
This was an opportunity for our UX Architect Jennie Salamoun to clean up the site’s navigation, making it more intuitive for prospective students. Retouching the degree page content would also help appeal to their self-interest, and let them know exactly what they could learn at Auburn.
Conversions, such as requesting more information or applying to the university, would likely increase if they were only able to locate what they were looking for in the first place.
One CMS for All
Solving COE’s update predicament proved to be another lesson in web usability, even for NewCity. Our developers felt WordPress’ ease of use would help introduce COE’s content managers to a more user-friendly experience, so creating and changing content would be a more streamlined process.
It was also a chance for us to toy around with the fantastic plug-in support that the WordPress developer community offers. It’s not just easier for content contributors to work with, but our developers find that it’s easy to handle — especially during the end of the project and post-launch, when content is integrated into the CMS.
Another case for WordPress is the tagging feature. Throughout the site, content contributors are able to tag programs, initiatives, and news items with their owners (e.g. Department of Curriculum and Teaching, School of Kinesiology) and/or purpose (e.g. Research, Outreach). WordPress then recognizes the tag and places that information (or a link to it) on specified pages to better connect related content.
So, if a particular outreach initiative is managed by the Agriscience Education program, it only takes one click for that information to appear as a link on the Ag. Ed. page. It’s not just intuitive for the person entering that content, but for anyone scouring the new site.