Emory University School of Medicine

A new Cascade site for a prestigious medical school.

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We worked with a savvy, dedicated client team to create a new website in Hannon Hill’s Cascade CMS that reflects this prestigious institution's top-tier education, research, and clinical programs.

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The Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, is a prestigious medical school with some of the nation’s top-ranked programs in biomedical education, research, and healthcare services. They’re the ones the world calls on when there’s a public health crisis or for a groundbreaking new medical treatment.

Their reach is massive — the SOM offers 106 accredited programs and more than half of the residency training positions in Georgia. Their faculty complete more than 5 million patient visits each year in Emory’s affiliated teaching hospitals and outpatient venues throughout the state. And they’re one of the fastest-growing research institutions in total NIH awards, with $456 million in sponsored research in 2018.

They needed a website with a unifying information architecture to help audiences navigate the complex institutional structure and a bold design to reflect their prestige and passion for what they do.

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The Diagnosis

The catalyst propelling this project forward was a new dean with ambitious goals to not only elevate the school’s national profile, but for Emory to lead the way in changing how the world thinks about medicine. To support that, he wanted to strengthen the school’s branding, especially on their outdated website.

As we started the redesign, Emory University was just finishing a rebrand, so the new SOM website would be one of the first places the public would see it in action.

The school’s goal was to remain in clear alignment with the Emory University brand while also establishing their own unique, complementary one. To maintain its integrity and consistency across the many branches of the school’s web presence, the SOM also wanted to establish a new content governance strategy. And the dean created a new office of communications to make sure they’d have the staff and budget to support it.

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Pre-Op

The School of Medicine’s site was in Hannon Hill’s Cascade CMS, which they planned to stick with for the redesign.

In addition to the central site, there were 30 department and center websites under the SOM umbrella being managed by different groups distributed across the school. The structure, content, design, and technical platforms of these sites varied widely. To encourage widespread adoption of the new system, it was important to create templates, training, and guidelines that would support individual site admins as they migrated and maintained their own subdomains.

And if that wasn’t enough to think about, the school had identified another serious challenge: The existing site offered a confusing user experience for external audiences. Haphazardly mixed administrative and marketing content was threatening the school’s business goals and leading to unclear navigation points, administrative privacy issues, and poor branding and reputation management.

To improve the situation, they wanted to create a separate intranet site to better serve internal audiences while allowing the public website to serve as a cleaner, more effective marketing tool for external audiences.

Together, the SOM and the NewCity teams outlined a set of goals for the project:

  • An architecture that makes it easy for key audiences to find what they’re looking for
  • Messaging that gives visitors a clear sense of what the SOM is and does, as well as its impact
  • More centralized content that demonstrates the full student experience
  • A consistently implemented brand that feels cohesive and aligns with the university and all departments would adopt
  • A new content governance strategy with staff and budget to match it
  • A clean, uncluttered look
  • An end to departments building spin-off websites because the school’s templates don’t meet their needs
  • Accessible design and content

Test Panels

Senior User Experience Architect Eva Floyd led a mixed-methods research approach to analyze the existing site and explore ways to better serve audience needs. Her methods included click tracking on key pages, surveys, peer evaluations, and audience interviews.

Her results guided decisions the team made throughout the project, and presentations of her findings were important for getting leadership on board with the direction of the redesign.

“The Discovery data really resonated with our stakeholders,” said Elizabeth Thompson, Senior Associate Director of Web Projects and Communications. “That was, I would say, the highlight of the project. The process was great; the tools were so impressive. We were able to show the heat maps to the Council of Chairs, for example. They are still talking about the results!”

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Brand New Messaging

As the school’s primary public-facing communications and marketing tool, the website needed to genuinely and effectively convey its character as a top-tier organization.

The messaging was another opportunity to involve SOM leadership. The NewCity team attended a retreat to lead workshops with the school’s top leaders to help clarify the brand and key messages.

The leadership group really engaged in the exercises; some even got emotional as they expressed their passion for the SOM’s work. The words people used and stories they told contributed directly to the final messaging.

“They really love what they do, so we pulled that out, and now those things are included in the top-level messaging woven throughout the site,” said NewCity Content Strategist Rachel DeLauder.

Those experiences combined with our research interactions with students, faculty, and stakeholders and our visits to see the clinical facilities firsthand helped us develop a deep appreciation for the school’s work and an understanding for what makes it so special.

“Your process went a long way toward helping us build the consensus we needed to get this site launched,” said Jen King, Emory SOM’s Director of Communications. “I felt like everyone was genuinely interested in getting to know us and understand both our internal climate and our external differentiators.”

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The Content Prescription

The old site lacked clear messaging and had an inconsistent tone and voice. Content at the school level was competing with, duplicating, and confusing the content on the department sub-sites, which all used different content structures to display similar information.

With key external audiences in mind, Eva and Rachel designed an architecture that pulled communal information, like guides to living in Atlanta, up to the school level and drove traffic out to the department sites for unique details. They also recommended standards for departments to follow as they worked towards adopting the new templates in the months after the initial launch.

With new messaging and information architecture in hand, the existing content needed to be evaluated and rewritten before moving to the new site.

With NewCity’s guidance, the SOM team completed a content work plan, meeting with their departmental content owners to identify each page that needed to be pruned, moved to the planned intranet, or edited to work in its new location.

Overhauling content for a redesign is a huge job for the client project team, including editorial work, managing stakeholder expectations, and laying out each page content in the CMS’s new design components. Rachel provided advising and support in weekly content office hours, where Emory’s content team could ask questions, share examples, and think through tricky spots together as they made their way through the content work plan.

“It works well for clients because they can get specific issues addressed, and working through the example together helps them understand better because it’s a tangible problem being solved,” Rachel said. “If you can look at the screen together, it’s more efficient and clear. The content contributors need practice and they need coaching. They don’t just need a big document full of general rules.”

Eva agreed, “I think that’s the exact reason why brand guides don’t often hold up or work, because the client needs a lot of practice and examples to really be able to use it. Going over things together during those meetings was a lifesaver.”

The Emory team has taken the guidance and run with it, creating engaging new pages and sections to better serve their audiences and incorporating more than 1,000 new photos.