A website redesign can be fraught with challenges, but it is possible to change an institution’s culture during the process according to Robert Heyser and Samantha Windschitl.
Heyser and Windschitl work at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas. On Tuesday the pair walked HighEdWeb17 attendees through the redesign and launch of TCC’s new site in a session titled “It’s Not About You: Changing Culture Through a Web Redesign.”
The entire project took five years to finish and survived personality clashes, interdepartmental fighting, and leadership changes at the college, Heyser said. It size and scope of the redesign forced his team to adapt, build stronger cross-campus relationships, and earn the support of key stakeholders.
Windschitl and Heyser said they wanted to focus the redesign an a few key areas. They hoped to make information easier to find for prospective students, reduce clutter and improve responsiveness, and rely more often on data in choosing what content to feature on the home page.
The communications team ran into immediate challenges. Decisions at TCC were often made in a top-down fashion, Heyser said. Satellite campuses had their own competing priorities. And many faculty members felt they were not being heard.
“I needed to rely on networking and using connections to get buy in,” Heyser said. As an alumnus and longtime employee of TCC, he had ideas about who he could turn to. Heyser and the team reached out to faculty members they knew well, helped them understand the process, and empowered them to spread the word.
The team also had support among key administrators.
“The Vice Chancellor for Communications told critics at the college that the site wasn’t for them,” Windschitl said. “He said ‘It’s not about you. It’s about prospective students.’”
She said that level of institutional support made a big difference.
Heyser and Windschitl said the redesign taught them what worked and what didn’t. They shared several key suggestions for others taking on a redesign:
- Usability Testing: Conduct usability testing with students and other users. Teams can take notes (free) or use software (paid) to learn what works well on the site and what needs improvement. Testing helps teams make data-driven choices.
- Develop Advocates: Reach out to well-respected and well-liked faculty members, administrators, and staff. Explain the redesign process the reasoning behind the changes being made—they can help build community support.
- Seek Feedback: Talk to students, staff, administrators, and faculty before, during, and after a redesign. Learn what their wants and needs are. Connect with people on campus you wouldn’t otherwise during your normal day-to-day.
- Establish Clear Rules: Having great content is only valuable when it’s easy to find. Create and share guidelines for content, accessibility, and web styling. Having established rules can help keep content consistent and reduce workload on communications staff.
TCC’s new website launched in 2016 and earned high praise from users, Windschitl said. They liked that the site was more user-friendly and that information was much easier to find. Emails and messages sharing feedback included exclamation points—lots of them.
Heyser said the process also improved interdepartmental collaboration, and that the results justified the team’s process.
“It proved the right decisions were made,” he said.