2011 Conference

Everything But the Kitchen Sink – A campus wide web redesign perspective #heweb11

View Session Description and Presenter Bio

Photo by Daves Portfolio, Flickr.

About AU
American University is a 4-year university with around 13,000 students. It has both a politically and socially active student body.

Time to Redesign
Why should AU Redesign their website? Many people felt like it was visually boring, had outdated content, and complained about not finding anything. There were several content errors across the site with conflicting information. “Our website just doesn’t cut it anymore” No one can identify with us, and we are going to lose prospective students.

Redesign Program

  • 2 months of planning
  • 18 months for implementation
  • 4 consulting companies (Design firm, CMS vendor (CommonSpot), Vendor to provide content strategy, and  Virtual Tour consultant)
  • redesign and re-architecture of the entire university website.
  • 100,000+ old pages
  • 140 content publishers
  • 30,000 new pages with new launch
  • 21 focus groups students, alumni, staff, faculty, prospective students (designfeedback)
  • 250 feedback providers


  • Clearly stated redesign goals
    Researched other redesign processes
  • Staff availability and competency
    Looking at skills of staff and what skills are needed
  • Buy-in from staff and academic units
    Everyone agrees to complain, but when you say “here’s what you can do to change”, they change their tone. Needed to ensure coordinated schedules of staff and vendors
  • Budget
    Prepping leadership with what kind of budget is needed  for the process
  • Decision making
  • Long-Haul – need leadership to engage.
    Another challenge in this is AU was in an “Interim” leadership phase where positions of the President, Provost, and VP of Marketing were not set.  Do we start work now, or wait until the leaders are in place? Turns out Admission said AU is 95% tuition driven and things started moving.
  • Lot of work!

Off to a good start, full steam ahead… but what’s all this noise???

Everyone wanted to weigh in their opinions and their comments incorporated. An infinite loop began of receiving feedback, making changes, receiving more feedback, making more changes, etc.  Then people wanted to know “Where is MY button” and saying things like “We need to be in THAT PART” of the page”.
Overall, faculty felt like their needs were not represented. The IT department was having their own debates on what sort of CMS they should get. Users were starting to say “WE have to generate content?!”

Lots of debates – process felt chaotic, stalled.

Committees With a Purpose!

AU conducted several Open Houses to let people know they needed to be responsible for their content. They developed a content strategy to help those people along. AU created a committee just to look at content and ideas on how to get campus to write their own content. Had a committee as a pure technical team working on the choice of the CMS. Committee looking at Apps (Wikipedia-type feedback program, and Event Calendar.)

New Realizations

  • Content is king! Not all writers know how to write for the web – Faculty person conducted workshops on web writing, cabinet members, and campus web editors.
  • CMS too knew for developers
  • Distributed publishing sounds great, need to design support for it.
  • Multiple vendors – managing coordination is painful.
  • Creating content is not a one-time activity (neither was the training)

  • Multiple leadership changes, multiple opinion, rethinking decisions. Every time they had a change in President, Provost or VP Marketing, resulted in more opinions.

To the Finish Line!

The team lost a lot of time in the debates and the budget was running out. They conducted many rounds of testing and QA testing revealed data issues (profile data, office information). Multiple rounds of performance testing. Marketing folks wanted a Launch Party to announce to campus and media.

  • Agile methodology – code objects, write content, package it in the end.
  • Involved faculty to develop and roll out training
  • Full integration testing – multiple rounds
  • QA testing revealed lots of data issues (profile data, office information)
Multiple rounds of performance testing
  • Roll out plan, contingency plan, backup contingency plan. (marketing wanted “Launch party” with tshirts, media and the team had to ensure everything was ready)

Launch and post launch
Everything worked as designed, but not as needed. Pages and applications were re-evaluated and:

  • Homepage was redesigned in the first 90 days
  • AUPedia was redesigned
  • Issues with analytics

… And we keep building

  • Enhanced media integration
  • Social Media integration
  • Facebook fans doubled in the last year
  • Mobile presence

Other Notes:

Usuablity testing had conflicting results, primary audience vs. all audience groups. You should think of your primary audience.

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