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JFalk.jpgJeff Falk (the handsome fellow to the left, in full professional regalia), assistant director of the U's News Service, has some helpful advice today on getting University research and researchers in the news. First step: making sure faculty see the value of media relations. That's where you (we all) come in. Here's Falk's post:

"If your research is stale, if your classroom is boring, if your community engagement is ineffective, you must reinvent yourself, or, frankly, you must step aside," President Kaler implored faculty in his Sept. 22 inauguration ceremony address. "As you expect me to deliver on my job, I expect you to deliver on yours."

Here at the University News Service, we believe there are few better and simpler ways to highlight the value of faculty research and expertise than through focused and strategic media relations. Here are some suggested talking points to emphasize with faculty when discussing the importance of media relations:

--News stories on University of Minnesota research and expertise are read by state legislators, the governor, and Minnesota's Congressional delegation as well as citizens, donors and, when there is national publicity, people at federal funding agencies.

--Research results can help inform decisions on important public issues.

--Many
grant applications require public outreach and education, and there certainly is a need to improve public appreciation of science and how research benefits society.

--Popular press coverage makes it more likely research will be seen and cited by other scientists

--Announcements about grants, appointments, and awards rarely get more coverage than brief mentions in local newspapers. This is why it is important to focus on publicizing research findings and faculty expertise.

--Finally, popular press coverage of research often results in valuable contacts with potential collaborators. Most national and international publicity about the U comes from coverage of peer-reviewed research findings.

As faculty have been charged to push the envelope, we as communicators need to take advantage of this opportunity and help them understand the value and impact of telling their stories.

--Jeff Falk ( jfalk at umn.edu )

I'm catching up on some of my Chronicle of Higher Ed reading today, and I came across a gem of a blog post that gives faculty advice about how to handle disruptive colleagues during meetings.

Getting the juices flowing

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We've all experienced creative block--those dreaded moments when a deadline looms, but inspiration is nowhere to be found. 

Dennis Cass has some ideas for us. In an interview in this blog earlier this week, Cass promised to impart "a variety of metacognitive strategies for overcoming creative block" during his keynote speech at the May 13 UMCF Conference. I, for one, can't wait.

In the meantime, here's a roundup of advice from 25 designers, creatives, and thinkers--their best tips on how to get the juices flowing. 

What are some of your tips for overcoming creative block?

See you at the conference!

Interview: Center for Genome Engineering Web site redesign

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Center for Genome Engineering Web siteThis is the 19th in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Liz Fedie on the Center for Genome Engineering Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
We had recently changed the name of our center and wanted to update our image, so we wanted our website to reflect that with a more modern appearance.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
We didn't do any research or testing, but I imagine our design team did, the campus group ByDesign, which I understand has lost its funding.

What factors went in to the organization of the site?
We wanted a modern, clean look, but with something a little different, an edge.

How did you think about the visual design of your site within the context of the University brand?
We found the University brand to be somewhat restrictive to the designs we had in mind, but ByDesign was able to bring it all together wonderfully.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you get past it?
Probably the biggest challenge was incorporating the design with the University brand. Again, ByDesign was able to handle the issue seamlessly.

How did you manage the project and keep it on track?
ByDesign provided us with an excellent timeline and defined steps to move us forward.

What tips do you have for other units redesigning their Web sites?
I think it's important to have a web designer to keep the project on target and to incorporate important elements that the average person may overlook.

How are you evaluating the redesign's success?
From user's feedback and the general adaptability of the site to our changing needs. So far it has been a great success!

Interview: U of M-Crookston Web site redesign

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Crookston Web siteThis is the 18th in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Amber Bailey on the University of Minnesota, Crookston Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
We are in the process of moving all of our sites to UMContent, and our Admissions site was one of the first major sites to be moved into the system. Our old Admissions site was designed in the summer of 2006, so the age of it was also another driving factor.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
We looked at our current web statistics to determine what our users looked at the most. We also researched other University Admissions sites to see how they were structuring their sites and to see what new features they were using. We also looked at some research that Cappex did on "What High School Counselors Want from College Admissions". Overall, it was many factors that helped us determine how to redesign/re-structure the site.

How did you think about the visual design of your site within the
context of the University brand?

On all of our new Crookston sites, we are using the University approved header (with some slight modifications for our campus) and footer. The body of the page will differ from site to site, but will always have a larger banner on the homepage of the site and a smaller (modified) banner on all the subpages. Our campus really likes the flexibility of the 960 grid system.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you get past it?
Our biggest challenge was how to narrow our main navigation down to as few links as possible (even though the list is still a bit long). We worked and reworked the navigation several times - and came up with categories of links.

How did you manage the project and keep it on track?
We kept setting mini-goals. First goal - initial meeting; second goal - research; third goal - site map/structure; fourth goal - design; fifth goal - content creation/refreshment; sixth goal - putting the site together (design/content) in UMContent; seventh goal - training admissions staff to keep the site updated. On each of these goals we set deadlines - it helped keep us on track.

What tips do you have for other units redesigning their Web sites?
I have done many re-designs of websites, and since we are a University and have many different groups/people we need to talk with, it's easy to forget who you said what to and what you decided on. I feel that taking really good notes (with dates attached), keeping a folder with the all the information for a particular site, and writing out "to-do" lists for everyone involved (so they have it in writing) has seemed to make the process of redesign a lot smoother. "Patience" is also a very good thing to have ...things come up during the process that might change things or get them off track... so setting and being able to "reset" those mini-goals is very important.

How are you evaluating the redesign's success?
We continue to look at the website statistics and get verbal and written feedback.

Interview: Minnesota Supercomputing Institute Web site

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Supercomputing Institute Web siteThis is the 17th in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Tracey Bartlett on the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
The old site was dated and we suspected that our users and potential users weren't readily able to find the information they needed. We also needed to redesign the site to meet the U's new standards. And most of us hated the way the old one looked, anyway. :-)

We had not had a full-time webmaster since early 2002, and had relied on part-time students to handle web updates until late 2007, when the Institute's senior management realized that our users expected more from our website and that we needed to put more of our administrative activities online. We hired a full-time web developer in 2008.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
We worked with the Usability Lab to do a card sort, which helped us figure out the kinds of terms that our users understand and expect. We also tracked the questions we get on our help line and the kinds of questions our User Support and Admin staff get when they work with users and potential users.

What factors went in to the organization of the site?
We wanted to make sure that it was easy for our users and potential users to find the forms and information they need. We also wanted to use the website to aid our nascent public-relations efforts.

How did you manage the project and keep it on track?
We set up a web-development team to discuss issues and ideas. The team is headed by the web developer and includes representatives from the three divisions in the Institute (User Support, Systems, Administration). The web developer set a timeline for rollout of the new site and kept the team informed of progress. Team members kept the staffs in their divisions up-to-date with the process and encouraged their review and input as new parts were implemented. Any issues are brought to the team for resolution.

The new website is still very much a work in progress. The next major milestone is that we are going online with our access-request system. We are also implementing a CMS; it's still in beta, but staff are encouraged to use it and submit bug reports.

Senior management involvement was necessary to keeping the timeline on track. All the senior managers and our director have been kept informed of the timeline and when pieces of the new design are planned to be released.

How are you evaluating the redesign's success?
We're monitoring user comments on the help line and in our interactions with the users. We also have feedback links on the site. We're also encouraging staff members to bring up issues to the web team.

Interview: MCDB&G Web site redesign

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MCDB and G Web siteThis is the 16th in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Tami Jauert on the Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology and Genetics Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
A big factor was that the previous site was almost 15 years old and looked it. The site had changed hands at least three times and had been pieced together by each person. It was hard to navigate through and worse yet, it was not updated on a regular basis - which unfortunately meant some pages hadn't been touched in years.

Another factor was that the program structure had changed dramatically since the site originated. The site needed to reflect those changes to help avoid student confusion.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
There was a committee that was there to help make decisions about content and structure. The committee had a hard time agreeing, so we narrowed down the target audience and asked them.

We decided the site was mostly directed to students who were already in the program. Incoming students would be directed to another site for application materials etc... So we asked about 10 students to help. We tried to get students who were at different levels of the program and came from different backgrounds. We met with each student individually, giving them index cards with different words and phrases on (things the committee thought should be on the site). The students were asked to decide which things should be "headers" and which things should fall under each "header". They were also given a few blank cards that they could write on - if they felt there was anything missing. In addition, students were allowed to cut items they didn't think needed to be there or felt they would go to another site for.

We tracked the results for each student. Also asking questions about what kinds of visuals were appealing etc...  Most of the students categorized things similarly and in most cases cut the same items. This made it easy for the committee to make decisions about the final site structure.

What was your biggest challenge and how did you get past it?
The biggest challenge was "design by committee." However, it was easy to get past once they agreed the target audience should have some input. Some committee members were skeptical about this process - not sure how the student research was going to help... but when the results came back, there was very little left to discuss.

How are you evaluating the redesign's success?
We are seeing a large increase to the number of return viewers to our site. But the biggest thing, is that we no longer receive the almost daily complaints about the site not working and the information being outdated or incorrect.

Interview: Office of Student Health Benefits Web site redesign

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Office of Student Health Benefits Web siteThis is the 15th in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Britt Bakke on the Office of Student Health Benefits Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
  • improve clarity of information on the web
  • establish the Office of Student Health Benefits as a stand alone website (separate from the Boynton Health Service website)
  • visually tie the Office of Student Health Benefits to the University of Minnesota
What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
We logged feedback from department, staff, and students who visited the site.

What factors went in to the organization of the site?
  • content heavy - wanted information easy for students to find
  • several plans on several campuses - navigation needed to be organized in such a way that a student could easily identify the page that applies to them
How did you think about the visual design of your site within the context of the University brand?
This site needed to go up relatively quickly. We basically used a University template as is. Not very many changes to the design. The design is very simple. This website is information focused.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you get past it?
Fitting all of our content into each page, keeping it well organized and easy to read. Got past this with lots of editing. And still working on it. :)

How did you manage the project and keep it on track?
  • Worked closely with Office of Student Health Benefits staff and web master.
  • Started with a rough outline of the architecture and a timeline and consulted those as needed throughout the project.
What tips do you have for other units redesigning their Web sites? What did you learn from the project?
  • The templates are easy to use
  • CSS rocks
How are you evaluating the site's success?
We continually monitor feedback from departments and current/prospective plan members and make changes as needed.

Interview: BioTechnology Institute Web site redesign

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BioTechnology Institute Web siteThis is the 14th in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Tim Montgomery on the BioTechnology Institute Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
The department/unit site for the BioTechnology Institute needed to be updated to conform to University design standards, and we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to upgrade to a 960 pixel format, conform the look and link navigation between component websites of the Institute (primarily the Biocatalysis Initiative, the Biotechnology Resource Center, the Biotechnology Training Grant, and the Microbial Engineering graduate program), and incorporate a video element and several other features.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
We had several meetings of a marketing/promotions committee and solicited input from users via our Office/Administrative Specialist, who presented examples of websites and website features that she and other users liked to compare and contrast with what the committee members perceived was needed.

What factors went into the organization of the site?
We needed to work within University templates. We wanted universal BioTechnology Institute navigation throughout the different component sites. We wanted special graphic treatment of all home pages including a video element. And, in the end, we ended up carrying through most of the previous navigation structure and content.

Interview: Clinical Virology Programs Web site redesign

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Clinical Virology Programs Web siteThis is the 13th in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Tony Thomas on the Clinical Virology Programs Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
To bring it in line with the approved U of M templates.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
None.

What factors went in to the organization of the site?
We're a small unit, so decisions are made on the fly. Everyone wears several hats, so changes are made ad hoc. Essentially, we just want to keep study participants, potential granters and med students up to date about what our program is doing.

How did you think about the visual design of your site within the context of the University brand?
We're too small of a program to put serious thought and resources into our marketing. I'm given a lot of latitude for making changes on our website. I implemented the U of M templates and then made minor changes after reviewing the site with the principal investigator for our program. The process was very informal.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you get past it?

We use Wordpress to manage the content of our site, so I had to take the templates as they exist now and make them into a Wordpress "theme." Honestly, it wasn't much of a barrier. It mostly consisted of taking the template stylesheet and hooking it onto the Wordpress HTML elements that exist in the default theme.

How did you manage the project and keep it on track?
Easy to do with a staff of one.  ;-)

What tips do you have for other units redesigning their Web sites?
I wish I had advice to give. I think a lot of the decisions are made simply by having templates available and asking units to use them.

How are you evaluating the site's success?
We do use Google Analytics to monitor site traffic, but we don't have a formal review process in place for reasons stated above.

Interview: MICaB Web site redesign

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Microbiology Immunology and Cancer Biology Graduate Program Web siteThis is the twelfth in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Tim Leonard on the Microbiology Immunology and Cancer Biology Graduate Program Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
  • The Web site was old and although used a lot it was inefficient and required more clicks than necessary to reach the desired information.
  • The University is requiring compliance with the new format.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
  • After designing test pages I presented it to the director and Louise [Shand].
  • Currently we are accepting requests for alterations from users.

What factors went in to the organization of the site?
Ease of getting to important and often used data like: our weekly seminars, application data for prospective students and course information for students during the course

How did you think about the visual design of your site within the context of the University brand?
I took the University templates and decided how to fit our content and make use of the multi panel layout.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you get past it?
  • Creating pull-down menus to incorporate immediately accessible links that most users need
  • Learning to use the CSS
  • Both issues required a lot of study and trial and error.

How did you manage the project and keep it on track?
There was no time frame other than the end-of-2010 U of M deadline. I was the only one working on the project until I put it online.

What did you learn from the process?
Learning CSS is challenging but doable. For us it was best to have one person do the study and the design. For other units there may be more needs and comments than we have so the challenges will differ.

How are you evaluating the site's success?
It will all be based on comments from students, faculty, and a new director of graduate studies when that person takes over.

Interview: Center for Austrian Studies Web site redesign

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Center for Austrian Studies Web siteThis is the eleventh in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Daniel Pinkerton on the 2006 Center for Austrian Studies Web site redesign

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
We had two reasons: First, the Center for Austrian Studies hadn't changed the appearance or the organization of the site since it was first designed and implemented in 1996. That's TEN years. Second, CLA-OIT wanted to design new websites for everyone that would have some features in common with other CLA websites. We were one of the first units to get help from them, because we are so small and our website is relatively simple.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
None.

What factors went in to the organization of the site?
Gary Cohen, CAS director, myself, and CLA-OIT Web Development's Paul Coroneos and Karen Bencke (now Swoverland) had a series of meetings to talk about what everyone wanted in a design and the best organization for the material we needed to put on the web. Paul, in particular, had great design sense and was very good at translating our ideas into a clean, attractive, user-friendly design. Karen was a facilitator and also made sure that the necessary visual and verbal material was included --- wordmarks, EO wording, what have you. Gary and I worked on the content, though I have training and experience as a designer, so I was also a part of that process. And Gary had to keep an eye out for the Center's image and its worldwide constituency.

Interview: CEHD Web site redesign

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CEHD Web siteThis is the tenth in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Susan Andre and Nuria Sheehan on the College of Education and Human Development Web site redesign

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
It really had been pretty clear that the site was overdue for a redesign. The last redesign had been in 2001 and since that time not only had Web standards evolved, but CEHD also drastically changed, becoming a new college.

The primary goal in redesigning the site was to create a straightforward, intuitive structure and design for our audiences. A secondary goal was to be able to implement not only the actual site, but also an internal overall process that could be flexible and agile in order adapt to new types of content or update easily with changing Web standards. An important part of this flexibility involved creating content dynamically driven by our blogs or other applications.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
User testing was very important to us in this process and we did testing on terminology, homepage concepts, and overall wireframe usability. Because we identified the primary purpose of the site as a tool for recruiting and retaining students, most of the testing focused on student content.

We first completed the terminology testing with the Usability Lab last summer. Then, when students were back on campus, we did the homepage concept testing at the CEHD block party. We surveyed students, faculty, and staff on three distinct concepts for the homepage splash module: academic departments (focusing on the disciplines within each department), people (highlighting CEHD students, faculty, and alumni), and history (which showed the historic advances at the U in the areas of education and human development alongside current innovations). From this survey we received over 130 responses with the "people" concept getting the most votes.

When we had completed wireframes, we did the usability testing with the Usability Lab. From that testing we found that the overall structure was working well and which specific areas needed to be reworked.

Interview: Giving to the U of M Web site redesign

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Giving Web site This is the ninth in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: A team effort! Glen Beltt, Christina Morgan, Mike Peluso, Todd Proctor, and Karl Raschke on the Giving to the U of M Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
Our team had a few main goals. Above all, we needed to more effectively highlight the terrific multimedia features being created within the Foundation that show donors what their gifts are helping to achieve. To do that, we included a jQuery content rotator that's working pretty well so far. Incidentally, we'd love to share our multimedia content with other units around the U through Media Mill or whatever other means is most convenient to use as appropriate within their own sites .

In addition, we wanted to update the Giving site in various ways: to strengthen our continuity with the University by using the new templates, to modernize the visual look of the site, and to update the code to make it more semantic and accessible using tableless CSS and clean HTML. Those changes have made the site easier to maintain as well. Also, we implemented Dreamweaver templating for the first time.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
Mostly we ended up relying on the "Rule of Common Sense." Because we overhauled our site in phases, and had to work in the redesign between a lot of other projects, we're doing our research and testing more after the fact, primarily through informal feedback and review of our Google Analytics stats, which we use extensively. We've recently learned about some interesting usability tools that we're beginning to test out.

What factors went in to the organization of the site?
Aside from the need to highlight multimedia content, we took a lot of our cues from the University templates. Our navigation and other aspects of our information architecture were already pretty well settled and appeared to be working well. One challenge, to which we're still refining our response, is how to best take advantage of the wider view port. We were optimized for 800x600 before, but now we're up to 960 wide. We've added a narrow right column to most pages, and we're gradually developing ideas for how to use the extra space. The 960 width provides some nice multimedia options, too.

Interview: Alumni Association Web site redesign

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Alumni Association Web siteThis is the eighth in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Forum member Chris Coughlan Smith on the Alumni Association Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
Some aspects of our old site were not user friendly and the CMS was not able to handle updates and interactive features that Web users have come to expect. Our old look was dated - essentially the same as it had been since 2001 with only minor updates to our CSS when we went through branding.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
We had done extensive surveys and focus groups as part of the branding research, and then we did more focus groups with campus constituents and partners. As we refined our site structure we did some quick online navigation testing and then a round of usability testing with the Usability Lab. Both were extremely helpful. I'd highly recommend building in a few weeks to test and revamp your site before launch.

What factors went in to the organization of the site?
We hired a design firm to come up with an information architecture that made sense to an outside user. At the same time we had a number of strong branding personality concepts that we wanted to include. The outside firm helped us refine categories and sort our major areas of information and do the testing.

Interview: Electrical and Computer Engineering Web site

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Electrical and Computer Engineering Web siteThis is the seventh in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites with the University templates. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Forum member Paula Beck on the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
A dated look, out of date information, difficult to navigate, and a lack of branding compliance.

  1. The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering values the University of Minnesota brand and desires to be associated with the messages it carries. Our university brand delivers messages of a worldwide respected leader in research, a quality educational experience, and an organization that values and respects diversity.
  2. The department's communications function became centralized with the creation of a communications coordinator position. We are now able to assure a Web site with continuous, up-to-date content maintenance and user-friendly, clean design.
What kind of user research or user testing did you do?

  1. Viewed a number of University of Minnesota sites as well as sites from other major universities with Electrical and Communications departments.
  2. Asked staff, faculty and students for suggestions.
  3. Tested site with OIT staff, identified outside communications professionals, students, staff and faculty before the site went live.
  4. Six months after the site was built, we surveyed users for feedback.
  5. We wanted to do a usability testing; however the bid we received was well beyond our budget.

Interview: Humphrey Institute Web site redesign

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Humphrey Institute web siteThis is the sixth in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites with the University templates. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Julie Lund on the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
The University's branding policy calling for all sites on the umn.edu domain meet specific visual guidelines coincided with our desire to significantly upgrade the look and feel of the Humphrey Institute's website. Due to the hiring pause, we had one-time money that we used to conduct qualitative research and help with information architecture and graphic design.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
Using Google Analytics, we determined that the vast majority of our website traffic was admissions-related. We supplemented that quantitative information with focus group interviews with prospective students. We also wanted to improve the utility of our site for practitioners and those who might be interested in our revenue-generating professional development programs, so we conducted interviews with representatives of those audiences, as well.

What factors went in to the organization of the site?
The feedback that we received from prospective students was that our existing site was fine at proving "just the facts, Ma'am." What we learned was that students want to be inspired to aspire to something great. They really do want to change the world and they want us to call them forth to realize that goal. We made our language more personal and more passionate and have included a lot of videos on the new site of students and alumni talking about their dreams and accomplishments to literally speak to what students want to hear.

How did you think about the visual design of your site within the context of the University brand?
We used the University's brand framework as the base for a simple, clean design. Our new website has much more white space, less text (and that text is more direct), and bigger, bolder images. Since launching the new website last August (2009), we have begun to redesign all of our printed materials, like our newsletter and recruitment pieces, to make them part of a new design family.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you get past it?
It is an ongoing challenge to work with the many units that make up even our small college. Because our central staff is so small, we expect about two dozen people across the Institute to create and update content. So many authors makes consistency hard to attain. It also is challenging to help staff communicate effectively with target audiences . . . to eliminate jargon and acronyms or to organize content in a way that is intuitive to users rather than reflective of internal politics or org charts. They are expects in the content but they have to trust that we are experts in communicating it.

How did you manage the project and keep it on track?
The site redesign was a team effort among the communications staff (of two), our IT director, and our web coordinator. We met (and continue to meet) weekly to keep the project on track. Our initial timeline was much too ambitious, so the site launch was four months later than intended (although still in time for the fall recruiting season).

What did you learn from the process?
Having valid research to rely upon is very helpful. On the old site, we had pages that were pet projects of staff members. It was much easier to convince people to take down or reorganize the information when Google Analytics revealed that the pages were never accessed. Having research helps to make decision making rational . . . I am not rewriting your web page because I don't like it (or you). I am rewriting it because prospective students found it unclear.

How are you evaluating the redesign's success?
At this point, our evidence is mainly anecdotal. We have very good feedback from prospective students, who actively compare our site with competitor schools' as they investigate their options. Alumni and current student also appreciate being included on the site in videos and profiles. And, just today I learned that our professional development programs recently received five inquiries from new clients, all of whom learned of our services through the website.

Interview: Rec Sports Web site redesign

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Rec Sports web siteThis is the fifth in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites with the University templates. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Brad Hunt on the Department of Recreational Sports Web site redesign

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
We had several reasons. First we wanted to redesign the site so we could get our department aligned with the new University standards as quickly as possible. Being a department of our size, we felt that being a good steward toward the University of Minnesota is our main priority.

We also wanted to make our site more navigable. We built our site two years ago to limit the amount of clicks a person had to make to three. Although this was a huge success, we also kept a close eye on how people navigated through the site. We found that by having our primary links on the left navigation and the secondary links on the right side of the navigation, this created delays in our current and prospective members getting the information they needed in the timeliest manner. Therefore, we chose to redesign our site so that all of the information could be found either vertically (along the left navigation) or horizontally (along the top navigation).

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
We sent the site to our professional staff and students of the department and gathered their feedback for where they felt the site was strong vs. where there needed to be improvements. We also gathered statistical data from our Google Analytics page which showed where our patrons were visiting, what site pathways were strong, and what pathways could be improved.

We are also in an ongoing process of making sure that our site can be easily read in various graphic and non-graphical browsers, text to speech readers, etc. Although we believe that the site is very well constructed for all browsers and readers, we understand that we need to continually be testing the site to ensure that there are no issues.

Interview: Center for Cognitive Sciences Web site redesign

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Center for Cognitive Sciences web site screenshotThis is the fourth in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites with the University templates. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Roger Dumas on the Center for Cognitive Sciences Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
Our old design was based on tables and I wanted to move to CSS and server-side includes to make the site look better and make my life easier.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?

I asked co-workers, friends and family to look at the design on different platforms and browsers.

What factors went in to the organization of the site?
I wanted quick loading, which meant creating style sheets, writing re-usable HTML (includes) and using fewer graphics.

How did you think about the visual design of your site within the context of the University brand?
This was a hard one, mostly because I was limited to a few colors and no logos.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you get past it?
Learning how to properly use server-side includes was a big challenge. The site works at this point, but my pages are all at the same level for technical reasons. Gotta figure how to make their graphics appear after I put them in folders. Also, scrapping the idea of a logo for the department put a wrench in the works. Instead, I used a watermark and an interesting font.

How did you manage the project and keep it on track?
Since I'm the entire team, I only had to manage my own time (on top of my research and three other sites.)

What did you learn from the process?
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and server-side includes are not too difficult to learn and implement, plus they are saving me tons of time making the inevitable changes. I weaned myself from total reliance on Dreamweaver templates and am very glad I took the time to do it.

How are you evaluating the redesign's success?
I'm continuing to make adjustments to account for IE6's idiosyncrasies as people tell me about them.

Interview: CFANS Web site redesign

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CFANS Web site screen shotThis is the third in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites with the University templates. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Forum member Rachel Lam on the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
Our old website had grown quite a bit since we created it several years earlier. Information was often buried and hard to find. In addition, we needed to move our site out of our old CMS and into UMContent. This was a great opportunity for us to reexamine our structure and content and to freshen up the general look of the site.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
We did some informal surveys and focus groups to discover what info people were looking for and what they had trouble finding. We used that to create a demo of the new site and then did usability testing with the Usability Lab to see whether our new structure and design were easier to use.

What factors went in to the organization of the site?
We looked at our stats to see what pages people were visiting (or searching for) most often and then tried to make them easier to get to. For example, "Majors & Minors" was one of our most popular pages, but it took 5 clicks to get to it. Now it's just 2 clicks from the home page.

How did you think about the visual design of your site within the context of the University brand?
We used the University's new templates as the basis for our site structure and design and picked a color scheme that harmonized with maroon and gold.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you get past it?
I think our biggest challenge was going through all of our content and asking: Do we need it? Is it up to date? Where should it go?

How did you manage the project and keep it on track?
Honey VanderVenter did a great job with organizing regular meetings and checking in with people to make sure content revision and uploading was still on track. I focused more on helping with organization issues, accessibility, and developing templates for the site.

What did you learn from the process?

The usability testing was really eye-opening. Sometimes we discovered that people were looking for information in a part of the site we hadn't expected (like wanting to find "Majors & Minors" under "About CFANS", rather than "Undergraduate Students"). We also learned that some of our terminology didn't make sense to the users, so we spent quite a bit of time trying to find more appropriate words.

How are you evaluating the redesign's success?
I think the biggest sign of our success is that people have been telling us how much easier it is to use the new site. We don't get nearly as many "I couldn't find ____ on your website" emails as we did in the past.

Interview: OFYP Web site redesign

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OFYP web site screenshotThis is the second in a several-part series of interviews with communicators who have redesigned or updated their Web sites with the University templates. If you have redesigned your site or have a site to suggest for these interviews, let us know.

In this edition: Forum member Bill O'Connor on the Office of First Year Programs (OFYP) Web site

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?
The OFYP site was last redesigned in 2006 by Kris Layon, so with the introduction of new U of M Web standards we decided the time was right. We also recognized that each year we were printing less and turning more to eCommunication. We realized that this was a great opportunity to streamline and improve our communication efforts.

What kind of user research or user testing did you do?
Every fall we host focus groups from the freshmen, transfer students, and parents that attended our summer programs. From that we were able to figure out what our users valued about the site, as well as what aspects we needed to change. We also talked with current students about their preferred Web tools and technology. Once the new site was created we went through usability testing through Usability Services.

What factors went in to the organization of the site?
We identified our various audiences and tried to create intuitive paths for every subject. As with every communication item we create, it always comes back to the question "where would you expect to find this information?" Sometimes it results in some creative duplication, but for the most part it works. We also had our content providers meet with Kristin Cleveland from University Relations to make sure that our content was appropriate for Web.

How did you think about the visual design of your site within the context of the University brand?
I like the idea of consistency and connection, especially when it benefits the end user. So we thought of the U branding as a frame that would connect OFYP to all people and resources throughout the U of M. For the past few years we have tried to connect the OFYP brand to our print communications by visual consistencies like color, images, etc.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you get past it?
Our previous site was built and managed using Dreamweaver templates, but we wanted to move towards utilizing a content management system. We settled on a CMS called Joomla, which had a steep learning curve. Before switching to a content management system, we were managing multiple versions of the site for our seasonal content cycles.

How did you manage the project and keep it on track?
We were very specific with roles and expectations. I was the project manager; my intern Micah Spieler designed the layout, managed graphics and color, and made content updates; our technical specialist Josh Huston was responsible for programming, browser testing, Joomla training, etc.; and each of our program coordinators was responsible for creating and updating their content. We set a lengthy timeline, and built in enough flexibility to allow for changes.

What tips do you have for other units redesigning their Web sites?
Define your audience and what they need to know, get their input throughout the entire process, and build your site so that it is flexible and can be changed easily.

How are you evaluating the site's success?
We look at email and call volume, and with every question received we examine our communication (Web, email, print) to see how easy it is to find the answer. We constantly encourage feedback, and will host focus groups after the summer programming.

Interview: Office of Classroom Management site redesign

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101009.pngOffice of Classroom Management (OCM) is one of the many units with recently redesigned Web sites. I talked to Toni Pangborn, OCM support manager, about the process.

What were your reasons for redesigning the site?

Our original site was put together as our department developed and expanded services, and we considered the site "home-grown." Over time, we added sections and new content within a basic design shell, but had not developed objectives regarding specific architecture on how best to present our content. During the same time frame (8 years) the visitors to the site also evolved, and the information they needed was not easy to locate. Since we had written and added the content, we could find the information, but often the users could not. We also did not do a good job of introducing what was available on the site, or how our organizational units worked to support them. They often could not find the solutions to issues that we knew were included on the site.

Also during this time, Web site search tools were becoming more enhanced, and U Relations was more proactive in determining what each site should, or should not include. It was within this context that we started a project to redesign the site.


What kind of user research did you do?

In addition to candid comments from staff and users via direct communications or survey results, we gathered data from our post-service incident reviews. (A service ticket is created for any classroom issue that requires repair or additional action. Upon resolution, we complete a post-service review with the original caller.) We also invited faculty to participate in a focus group in which the web site was the only topic of discussion.

Armed with user feedback, we researched web site resources and obtained good information regarding best practices, and then melded this with the course work our lead staff member completed.

How were keywords and navigation chosen/developed?

Navigation is through a combination of functional and organizational outlines. Keywords are from customer/user feedback and staff experience. In keeping with the project objectives, we wanted the headers and the navigation to use the wording that our customers use.

What did you learn from the process?

We needed to have strong web programming resources available to make the desired changes. Without this we'd have a great plan, and wonderful content, but we wouldn't be in a position to implement it. In order to get this done well, the additional ASR resources were a key part of our team.

Another learning moment was that it took much more time to implement than we originally expected. In order to apply the new University templates, we would not be simply modifying the current pages, and the new design meant a much longer process was required.

And lastly, not everyone on the team had the same definition or impression of "good writing" or "good design." Our layouts and content was revised more than once, but by having the project plan established at the beginning, we were able to steer decisions back to the original objectives and stay on track.

Thanks, Toni! Readers: What is your experience with site redesigns? Discuss in the comments.

Also, if there's someone you think we should interview, or a project we should feature, let us know.

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