Website Redesign Milestones
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 their parents) can provide feedback on their impressions and usage of the website. The following is the process we follow from start to finish:
- Strategic Vision and Direction
- Research and Discovery
- Information Architecture and User Experience
- Content Auditing and Development
- Concept Development
- Design Sprints and Usability Testing
- Development and Programming
- Content Migration and Site Build
- Photography and Media Sourcing
- Q/A, Testing, Site Review
- Content Maintenance Training and Governance
- Beta Site/Launches
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 the school or department is trying to reach.
This step involves talking with both internal and external stakeholders about their needs and experience with the school/department and learning about how the current website is (or isn't) meeting those needs. This phase also helps uncover whether the department/school's perceptions are aligned with the customer's perceptions of that department/school. These findings are the basis for later decisions regarding site architecture, navigation and design.
- Focus groups with outside audiences
- Interviews with departments and key stakeholders
- Analytics review
- Heatmap review
- Competitive analysis of peer/aspirational school websites
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 data and information gathered in the previous stages helps define goals and objectives for the department/school moving forward. The existing content is also 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for the new site structure and where new/existing content is placed; in many cases content will be archived if it is no longer applicable or needed.
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. Based on the findings in previous stages supporting content must be created and edited following the new architecture that is in place for the website.
Once the new structure of the website is established and site goals are clear, the project moves into the design phase. 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.
The project enters a usability testing phase once the wireframes and initial design concepts are drafted. The team meets to review the user personas identified earlier in the project and works to enhance those into more detailed scenarios of students applying to the university for undergraduate or graduate studies. Based on these scenarios features are conceptualized, pitched, and voted upon for inclusion and prototyping. One or more prototypes are then validated with the website audience to ensure that the website and its features will be useful and efficient for website visitors, ahead of the actual website build.
Once the design is finalized and validated via the usability phase, 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 aspects continue to be tested and enhanced by the web team in building the new site.
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.
The Web Services area helps the customer to coordinate high-quality and applicable photography for the website in the form of photographer or media professional bidding. Funding is handled through the customer department and needed assets are based on a shot sheet provided during the project.
As the development process winds down, there is a final review of site with team and a beta site URL is sent to key parties for internal site review. Final testing is done across supported web browsers and viewports to ensure functionality and usability.
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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