This 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 siteWhat 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 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.