New Homepage and Website Refresh Project 2013

Launch of the new UIS homepage and refreshed department/unit websites

I) Audience

Prospective students, current students, faculty, staff, community.

II) Key Elements

Q) Why are we redesigning our homepage and refreshing our department/unit pages?

A) The redesign and refresh is part of a wider effort to enhance our online presence to our audience. In February 2013, the Office of Web Services collaborated with ITS to implement a new Content Management System. The new system provides us with a streamlined environment to manage our Web enterprise.

Our goal is to help our website authors and editors focus on the content rather than deal with the intricacies of the technology in maintaining a website. Our hope is that this will allow us to represent our university in a way that highlights our academic scholarship, collaborative and co-curricular opportunities, a sense of our campus community, and a tradition of leadership.

Q) The redesign of the homepage is completely different than in the past. Why is that?

A) In the past, redesigns were enhancements and adjustments to existing templates. You might consider that a face-lift. The new homepage design is a complete restructure of the architecture and a transition to the new Content Management System. In addition, we have adapted quickly to changing Web technologies, especially to address the growth of mobile and tablet technologies.

The department/unit websites have been refreshed with an inviting representation of the content. However, no changes have been made to the content or the architecture of the website.

Q) Why is the homepage designed the way it is?

A) The changes in the new homepage reflect industry standards and best practices that have been carefully researched. They have been put in place to better serve our diverse audiences.

The new homepage is also designed in an inviting and confident manner that allows us to tell our story. The visual narrative [photograph] is a strong element of the redesign, which allows us to emphasize on our core attributes.

Our goal was simplicity in design and interaction. Fewer primary navigation items allow us to lead a user along a clear path. We want our visitors to find what they are looking for and also provide, in a subtle way, content that might be useful to them from an institutional perspective.

We know there is a very diverse audience for our website. With more than 4 million unique visitors a year, we know our primary audience is external. Also, with UIS focused on growth and retention, one major focus of the website it prospective students and the retention of current students. It’s really all about students.

Almost all the links that existed in the old homepage are available within one-click on the primary navigation of the new homepage. These links are organized in groups under the primary navigation items. Our Google Analytics data shows that the most used resources on the homepage are 1) A-Z Index, and 2) Search.

Q) Will departments/units have to allocate personnel and time to manage the migration to the refreshed theme?

A) Not at all. The Office of Web Services will handle all the elements that pertain to the refreshed theme. In addition, we will continue to offer weekly workshops and monthly walk-in sessions.

Q) Will links to department/unit web pages change with this refresh?

A) Not at all. The architecture of the department/unit websites has remained the same. The primary and secondary navigation items are similar. However, we have enhanced the capabilities of the websites by the addition of a section wherein departments can add links on a navigational panel. We will continue to make enhancements in the coming academic year.

III) Key Messages

1) Institutional Vision

“Our Vision is grounded in a distinctive combination of four core attributes: we offer a teaching-focused academic experience; an abundance of opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to collaborate in the service of educational goals; a “right-sized” supportive community; and a special emphasis on public affairs and global citizenship.” [UIS Strategic Plan Update, 2013-2016]

To this effect, our homepage allows us to showcase faculty and students in their teaching-learning environments, share important news stories and updates, and showcase our faculty and students who have embraced a leadership role in their respective areas.

  • The visual narrative [large photograph] provides the space to tell stories [research, collaboration, engagement, etc.] about our faculty and students and about their experience at UIS. All the research shows that visuals are critical to a great website.
  • The Latest News, Calendar, and Featured Videos sections allow us to share important stories and updates.
  • The Leadership lived section allows us to showcase faculty and students in their leadership roles.

2) Institutional Alignment

Chancellor Koch has, in consultation with faculty, staff, and students, articulated three priorities for 2013-16:

a) Growth
b) Talent acquisition and retention
c) Facilities

To support these priorities, the Office of Web Services has streamlined the online presence of the university and addresses the university’s digital reputation in the following manner:

a) Web Accessibility

“The Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act (IITAA) requires Illinois agencies and universities to ensure that their web sites, information systems, and information technologies are accessible to people with disabilities.” [Illinois Department of Human Services]

Our websites are accessible to individuals who are differently-abled. For example, if a student is blind, she/he can use a screen reader to browse our websites. Each year we conduct accessibility and validation checks on all our websites.

b) Responsive Web Design

Our websites use Responsive Web Design. This technology allows our websites to automatically respond to a user’s browsing environment: desktops, tablets, and mobile devices. Responsive Web Design eliminates the need for developing a different design for each browsing environment but use the same content for delivery.

c) Mobile

Our websites have seen a steady increase in mobile traffic. Our Google Analytics data shows that in 2010, approximately 80,000 of website traffic was via mobile devices. In 2012, mobile traffic has grown to approximately 464,000. For tablets, the numbers for 2010 was too miniscule for Google Analytics to report. In 2012, approximately 148,000 of website traffic is via tablets. The updates that have been implemented on our websites will allow content to be displayed appropriately on mobile devices and tablets. The fact is, most students and prospective students will view our website via a mobile device, not a desktop computer, and that’s why this kind of design is critical.

Note: In October 2012, the Office of Web Services launched a mobile app for the university that is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play. The mobile app, UIS Mobile, was further enhanced by the availability of student grades and schedules, which were developed by the University of Illinois Administrative Information Technology Services.

d) User Experience

Our websites are accessed in a number of different ways: desktops, tablets, mobile devices, browsers, Internet connections, screen readers, etc. Our audiences are wide and varied. What works for one person might not work for another. Therefore, our goal has been to design for experiences in light of our institutional vision. Our design choices are based on a) benchmarks and best practices, b) current trends in Web technologies, and c) website reviews of peer institutions and groups. In addition, we reviewed websites from the top 150 institutions listed in the U.S. News and World Report.

e) Content Management System

In collaboration with Information Technology Services, Web Services uses a Content Management System to host our websites.

  • From a development standpoint, we are able to manage our websites more effectively. For example, we can centrally manage and make updates to 200+ websites efficiently.
  • From a website editor or author standpoint, it is easier to manage content. For example, as long as one has access to the Internet and a browser, content for the website can be updated from any location.

V) “Content is king”

For websites, content is critical. Most UIS departments and units have assigned content creation to someone already on staff. New trends in both marketing and website development emphasize “content management” and “content creation.”

All UIS units and departments have someone who is designated as a content creator or editor or publisher. To have great content, you need a great content creator. In the UIS structure, Web Services is not responsible for content. The local units are, and their content creators are critical.

Web Services can provide assistance and direction about content, but it is up to the local units to determine what that content is.

VI) Closing

a) Research

The Office of Web Services reviewed 196 websites [Carnegie Classification, COPLAC, and Peer Group] with 23 parameters. In addition, we reviewed the top 150 websites from the U.S. News and World Report. We used this as a benchmark and implemented best practices based on our collective expertise on web, mobile, and new media.

b) Migration

The Office of Web Services migrated 12,500+ web pages and related content from Adobe Contribute to the new Content Management System. The 2013 Migration Project began in March 2013. Approximately 35% of the migration was automated and 65% was manual. As of July 31, we have migrated over 92% of the department/unit websites to the Content Management System.

c) Training

The Office of Web Services has offered over 65+ training sessions on the new Content Management System. The sessions began in March 2013 and will continue for the rest of the year.

d) Enhancements

The Office of Web Services will continue to make technical and architectural enhancements to all the migrated websites during the 2013-14 academic year.