Website redesigns at the University of San Diego take into account a completely new navigation structure (i.e. menu), design, and content strategy. Research and discovery is also included at the beginning of every project so that key stakeholders (such as prospective students and faculty) can provide feedback on their impressions and usage of the current website. The following is the process we follow from start to finish:
- Stategic Vision and Direction
- Research and Discovery
- Content Auditing/Development
- Information Architecture
- Concept/Design Development
- Technical Development/Programming
- Content Migration/Site Build
- Content Maintenance Training
- Beta Testing/Launch
The basis of any effective website is knowing who your school/department's customers are and what your short-term and long-term goals are. The strategic vision and direction phase helps determine the future priorities of the new website and identifies the core/primary audience that she school or department is trying to reach. This allows the new navigation and site structure to best serve the primary audience.
The next step in the redesign process is research and discovery to talk with both internal and external stakeholders to hear about their experience with the school/department and learn about how the current website is (or isn't) meeting those needs. The following steps are taken:
- Focus groups with outside audiences
- Meetings with departments and key stakeholders
- Analytics review
These findings are the basis for our later decisions regarding site architecture, navigation, and design.
At this point the project enters a phase where the existing content is reviewed so that good content can be identified and the site can be trimmed of extra and unnecessary content. This will be the basis for the new site structure and where new/existing content is placed; in many cases content will be archived if it is no longer applicable or needed.
From the research and discovery period and content audit emerge the core goals and objectives for the new website. A redesign committee normally exists for each project which functions to make high-level decisions on behalf of its area or school. Visual appearance, although important, is only one aspect of design. The utility of the site (how well it functions) and its usability (how effectively users can navigate it) are also key factors.
In many cases the core navigation structure of a website normally goes back to when the site was last redesigned. The outdated design does not serve the university's needs and the needs of prospective students. As such, we remove the "business hierarchy" from our websites and support a more user-centric and visitor-friendly form of navigating. The following is an example of a new information architecture based on the core USD website:
|Old Information Architecture||New Information Architecture|
Once the new structure of the website is established and site goals are clear, the project moves into the design phase. Once again the committee meets to review designs for various levels of the new site: home page, landing pages, content pages, and department sites. Home pages are a place to spotlight feature stories that tie back to USD's core values, and the page itself serves as a portal to information about the admissions process, academic programs, and student experience. To enhance the visual impact of the site, the design team specifically works toward including more graphic and media elements in the new site. In many cases the department may opt to work with peer USD departments or consultants to garner new photography and other visual or dynamic elements during the content phase.
All projects are part of an effort toward integrated marketing and branding in which different entities on campus will all have a similar look and feel, making the website instantly identifiable as belonging to USD.
Once the new design is approved by the redesign committee of a particular project, the University Web Services team begins development and programming on the new site. The utility of the site (how well it functions) and its usability (how effectively users can navigate it) are key factors in our redesign endeavors, and these are initiatives carried out by the web team in building the new site.
The University Web Services team builds template files from the design concepts and once these are tested, the new site is built out, including all site directories and pages. Content written and edited earlier in the project is migrated to the new site, and new imagery, related documents, and other elements are added to the new site.
Content transition and content fill are facilitated through the use of USD's CMS (Cascade Server), which is the university's current web maintenance platform. Maintainers are identified in conjunction with the department overseeing the area of website, whether the core site, school website, or a departmental site. Training is provided by University Web Services staff through the IT Training program.
The launch of a redesigned website is handled in two phases. 1) A beta launch provides an opportunity for internal and external audiences to see the site a few weeks before launch and provide feedback. 2) The real site launch occurs roughly 2 - 3 weeks after the beta launch, at which point the old website is removed from the USD web server and the new one is posted in its place. Periodic surveys are normally planned and distributed to gauge responsiveness to the new site and suggestions for improvements.
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