Website Redesign Check-in

It’s been a while since our last redesign post, but don’t think we haven’t made some progress. We’ve been averaging about one video call per week, and are getting closer and closer to development work.  Some of the things we’ve done:

Developed Batch 1 Designs

Our first batch of pages included the homepage, a career community page, and a program page. Our assumption is that these are some of the first pages most prospective students are going to look for, so we wanted to dive right into them. Our homepage is definitely going to shift direction, and be focused very narrowly on prospective student.

User Tested Batch 1

To be certain that we were on track with design and the information architecture, we did some intensive testing with some real prospective students. Users were asked to perform specific tasks, with people watching exactly what they did and seeing where they struggled.

Finalized Batch 1 Designs

We made some changes to the designs to address issues uncovered in user testing. Some were easy to address, but one has been a particular thorn.

Lane has a lot of different offerings, and people are confused by them. We have degrees, 2 year certificates, 1 year certificates, less than 1 year certificates, career pathways certificates, and non-credit credentials. There’s even more variety within the certificates. Some are financial aid eligible, some are not. Some are stackable with a degree, some are independent. Some are stackable, but you choose between multiple options. Some are technically stackable, but are marketed to a different market segment than the degree. We’ve gone several rounds with trying to balance standardization of design (to reduce confusion) with the flexibility to accommodate all our programs (to stay accurate). We’ve landed on a layout we think will work, and we hope to test it again, but it’ll be difficult to know if it’s worked for all programs until well after launch.

Reviewed Batch 2 Mockups

Our batch 2 pages included some Registration and Tuition related pages. While we’re pretty happy with the design of these pages, they’ve helped highlight a problem for us: our internal organization doesn’t always match how people think about us. For example, consider how students pay for college. We have a lot of departments that deal with money: a Financial Aid office, a scholarship and student employment office, a veterans benefits office, a bursar, and several people that work with sponsored accounts. There’s probably more. There’s really good reason for splitting them apart, and each requires a ton of very specific expertise. But if I have a question, and I’m not sure which of those areas can answer my question, who do I call?

Started Batch 3

Our Batch 3 designs relate to the application sorter and steps to enroll pages. We’ve done quite a few versions of these since our last redesign in 2013. For instance, our sorter page swapped from being person type oriented to goal oriented. Yet, despite all those changes, our sorter continues to be one of the least liked pages on the site. Our new design is going to try to leverage some of that experience, and include information that can help you navigate either way, while simultaneously emphasizing the most commonly used enrollment pathways.

Content planner

Our greatest amount of work has been the content planner. This maps content on our current website to the new website, and identifies where the gaps are. We’ve got a bunch of folders and empty documents set up in google docs right now where we’ve been starting to develop new content and rewrite some old content. There were more than a hundred pages which we need to keep, but which don’t have an obvious home in the new website, and I’ve been slowly making my way through. Some of the rewritten content will be launched before we launch, while most of the new stuff won’t be launched until the whole site is ready.

Meanwhile, as we continue our review of every page on the website, Lori’s been aggressively working on some of the recommended page merging and deletion. Thank you to the dozens of you that have helped us delete old pages!

What’s next?

After we finalize batch 3 this week, we’re hoping to do another round of prospective student testing. Very soon development will start, and while the site is being built, we’ll continue our work on content.

One of our big challenges will be photography. Normally for a website redesign you’d schedule a couple of professional photo sessions on campus, but due to COVID-19, that’s tricky. Before launch, it’s unlikely campus will look quite as busy as it would normally, we won’t see groups of people together, and the people we do see may be wearing masks. I’ve been trying to make it out to campus once in a while to get some photos, but there’s only so many empty shots of campus we can use. If you have any amazing photos – ideally where everyone in the picture has signed a photo release – and you’d be willing to let us use them, send them our way!

One of the campus turkeys in front of the center building
One of the photos from my weekend adventures shooting photos on campus

Does phone number format matter?

The other day, Lori pointed out that the phone number format on one of the mockups from iFactory was different from what we normally use. In accordance with AP style, we use (541) 463-3000. But the new mockups use the format 541-463-3000. And it’s pretty common to see phone numbers formatted with two dots: 541.463.3000. Does the format matter?

Yes. It turns out google is better at recognizing some formats as phone numbers than others. That post tested ten different formats, and found that the one we use and the one iFactory used are the ones best recognized by Google. The double dot notation? To quote the linked blog: “The phone number format you should avoid at all costs is #3: [###.###.###].

Of course, that doesn’t settle which of those two is best. So I checked to see if there are any accessibility considerations with phone numbers. There are, but they don’t relate to visible format. All phone number formats are terrible, and something like (541) 463-3000 would probably be read to a blind person as “five hundred forty-one [pause] four hundred sixty-three three thousand”. There’s a fix for that, using aria-label on a surrounding link, but that just adds something for my todo list, and doesn’t solve the debate here.

And that’s how I found myself at 10pm, doing a survey of college websites, to see how they format phone numbers:

541-463-3000 25 Harvard, UO, OSU, Washington, UC Denver, KSU, UMass, FSU, F&M, UCLA, MIT, Cal State Fullerton, Ohio State, Penn State, VT, Louisiana State, Wisconsin State, Yale, Georgetown, Alaska, Berkeley, Skidmore, Colby, Baylor, OHSU
541.463.3000 10 Portland State, Gettysburg, NYU, SNHU, WGU, U Phoenix, UVA, Middlebury, GA Tech, U Maine
(541) 463.3000 1 Gonzaga
(541) 363-3000 13 Idaho, UVM, Dickinson, Michigan State, Kentucky State, U Penn, UConn, Binghamton, Dartmouth, Cornell, Ithaca, Notre Dame, American
Mix 2 Rutgers, Princeton
This, for a variety of reasons, is not a scientific study. They’re just the first 50 colleges and universities that came to mind (and now you know I don’t follow college sports), and I didn’t check their style guide. I just looked at the first contact number I could find. As I said, not a scientific study. Just evidence of a person who’s too far down this rabbit hole to give up, far too late on a weeknight.
 
Of course, that left me with a clear winner. And I had to know why. From a blog post in 2006, I learned AP changed their preferred style, and Lane hasn’t kept up. A quick email to someone who owns a recent AP style guide verified it.
 
So we’ll probably go with 541-463-3000. The parenthetical format, (541) 463-3000, feels like it come from an age when area codes were mostly optional. And for many of us, me included, that’s no longer the case. Just please don’t use the dotted phone notation on your pages!
related XKCD comic
 

Progress on the Website Redesign

We’ve been working on the website redesign for a while, but I’m afraid that I’ve totally dropped the ball at posting updates to this blog. Things have been much busier than anticipated. Though I’m sure I’m missing some parts, here’s a quick overview of what’s happened so far.

Completed a brand and identity inventory

In order to help iFactory get to know Lane as a college, we answered a multi-page inventory covering basic items like what our roles are, questions on our market, our programs offerings, and even our guided pathways efforts.

Hosted an on-site visit by the iFactory team

Three iFactory employees came to campus to get to know us even better, eat some delicious Eugene food, and conduct focus groups with students and employees to learn more about what the campus thinks is important in the website. Afterward, they surveyed more than one hundred current students for their thoughts about our website.

Developed four personas to make sure our web content meets everyone’s needs

Well, at least as many needs as we can. Think of personas as pretend people which you can use to evaluate the site. For instance, we have Colleen, a traditional high school student interested in taking some classes at Lane to save money before transferring to a 4-year college. The other three are even more complicated, with tricky backstories. While we’ll never capture every unique situation at Lane, our personas are different enough to make sure we look at every piece of this redesign from at least four very different perspectives.

Evaluated six different mood boards to see which images and designs most feel like Lane

Having collected a lot of information about the college, we were presented with six different mood boards. You can think of these like Pinterest boards for the college, with different collections of pictures and screenshots of other college websites. We provided feedback on each one, and explained why they did or didn’t feel like Lane.

Evaluated three different mockups of potential homepage elements, to get a feel for the design language which will eventually build our site

From the mood boards, some simulated pieces of a  new site were created for us to critique. We provided feedback again on which directions we wanted to pursue.

Provided feedback on two rounds of information architecture for the new site.

While working on some of the design tasks, we were presented with two iterations of an information architecture (IA). The IA is how the site is going to be structured, and starts to provide some structure to the navigation on our site. While we’re pretty confident the IA we’re going to use is roughly correct, it’s still being polished.

Completed a content inventory

We were provided with a spreadsheet of more than ten thousand different URLs that are a part of the Lane domain. While they weren’t all part of the Lane website, they were each linked somehow from the Lane website and a part of our domain. Our job was to determine what to do with each page. Was the content correct? Could it be merged elsewhere? Should it be archived? This task took several weeks of near full time work, and resulted in our cleaning a lot of content. Due to the sheer number of pages to look at, we weren’t able to consult with everyone on each page, but I did talk to dozens of people about their content throughout December and January.

Provided feedback on several rounds of wireframes of possible college pages

One common step in website development is to draw a rough layout of content, without putting any color or pictures in it. The goal is to get you to stop thinking about the appearance of the content and instead think about the layout and the flow of the text. Some wireframing software will even make the lines look like they were drawn with a crayon or thick marker, just so that you know immediately that we’re just roughing in content elements.

Evaluated two different homepage mockups (with help from 44 of you!) to see what direction we want to go with the college homepage.

This is when things got really exciting. Finally, in the last month, we’re starting to see some fairly polished concepts of what the new homepage might look like. We’re still finalizing some of the language, so they’re not quite ready to share, but we’re getting close.

What’s next?

We’re currently working through wireframes and mockups for several other types of pages, and have started preliminary conversations with their developer. Soon, we’re going get an outside perspective on the actual content of our website, and see where we have some gaps. Quite a bit of time this spring is likely to be occupied with content development, since we know we have some content gaps.

I’d also like to share the first change that we’re confident that is going to impact our web editors. On the current site, almost all of your content is in one field called “Body”. This is great, in that it’s very customizable, and terrible, in that it’s very customizable, leading to broken, inconsistent pages. Best practices developed a few years after our previous launch suggest  providing reusable components that you can plug into any part of your site: a slideshow here, a callout quote there, some text over there. They also suggest making them remixable, so you can lay out your page however you’d like, using a common language of elements, letting your page be instantly familiar to everyone as a Lane page, but also customized to your content.

We’re going to be adopting that approach as a part of this website launch, which I hope will help meet some of the website customization needs I haven’t been able to meet over the last few years!

More details soon, honest!

Kicking off a Website Redesign

With the start of the new school year comes to the launching of our website redesign project! We’re pleased to announce that over this year, we’ll be working together closely with iFactory, a Boston based company specializing in higher education and non-profit websites, to completely re-envision what Lane’s front door on the web looks like.  iFactory has done a lot of college websites, including Santa Barbara City College, Central Wyoming College,  and Prince George’s Community College, and has already impressed us with their transparency and project management skill.

Since our last redesign, it’s become clear that the front page of an effective college website needs to be oriented to the needs of prospective students. The other primary audiences (current students and employees) need to have a better home online which more directly serves their needs, and which integrates the tools they most commonly use. So as part of this launch, we’re hoping to move some employee-centric pages (like CPDT, FPD, Budget, and others – there’s about 1000 pages in total that are really only important to employees) to a more employee oriented site, where we can offer greater flexibility in terms of content editing and viability. 

And we’re interested in your opinions on the college website. Some folks from iFactory will be coming to visit soon, and they’ll be conducting some interviews with folks around campus. But of course they won’t be able to talk to everyone. So if you have any feedback on the website (and remember, we’re just talking about www.lanecc.edu here – myLane and Moodle are outside the scope of the redesign), please email us at webmaster@lanecc.edu. We’ll be sure to pass that feedback along and use it as part of the research phase in this redesign.