Redesigning the Grinnell College Website: Part 1

Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012 11:44 pm

 

As we've been working on redesigning the main website for Grinnell College, they asked us if we'd be interested in guest blogging as we went along. Below is our first post:

Thank you for letting us introduce ourselves and talk a little about the design process for the new Grinnell College website. Rogue Element was founded 14 years ago with a mission to use graphic design problem-solving to more effectively communicate our clients' stories, and we think that this blog is the perfect place to start.

Last year we worked with our Drupal development and support partner Promet Solutions to audit the current Grinnell College site, focusing on how well the site reflected Grinnell as a community and how usable and useful the site is to the community it serves. We visited the campus in person and interviewed groups of students, faculty, and staff. Additionally we sent out an online survey to both the college community as well as prospective students and high school guidance counselors. We wanted to find out what people who use Grinnell's website want out of the site, and what they were getting.

As many of you know, we found near-universal dissatisfaction with the current site. Rather than reflecting who Grinnell is and what distinguishes this school from its peers, many felt that this site could just as easily be for a bank or credit union. The navigation is not intuitive or consistent in its logic, and even the search function works poorly. There is nothing in the current website that reflects the personality of the school, or what a student can expect when they arrive on campus.

So that is the problem. How about the good news?

We have here a "perfect storm" of circumstances to reinvent the Grinnell College web presence from the ground up, transforming the website into a truly effective interactive destination for the Grinnell community and providing an engaging way to communicate the distinctiveness of this community to the rest of the world.

  1. The entire site, site architecture, navigational structure and content management system (CMS) needs to be redesigned. Meaning there are no legacy constraints which limit our thinking on how to organize and design the website, and we can think holistically to design a comprehensive and flexible system for the entire college website...
  2. As we found in last year's audit, there is a somewhat surprising level of near universal agreement between students, faculty, staff and alumni on what makes this institution and its students unique. Grinnell also possesses a dynamic President committed to sharing Grinnell's distinctiveness with the rest of the world...
  3. The entire college community, students, alumni, faculty and staff are engaged in the effort (as seen in the tremendous response rate to our online survey) and the staff in particular is committed to building a successful communication system for both front-end and back-end users. This is key, as these are the folks who are often the ones who keep the information on the website current and relevant, and will have to relearn how to use the upgraded CMS and training systems we and Promet will develop...
  4. With approximately 1,600 students, the College is small enough to do some innovative things with interactive technology which would not be as feasible with a larger-scale institution. There is a world of difference between a 1,600 student institution versus a 16,000 or 60,000 student institution in terms of the sheer amount of information managed. Coupled with a culture used to taking unconventional paths and an administration willing to step out of the comfortable to make the website more effective, this means that we can experiment with strategies to create a truly interactive destination that will serve the community...
  5. We are deeply and profoundly inspired by this school. Grinnell's student culture of independence, inclusiveness and commitment to social engagement, the uniquely pristine setting, and its fierce spirit of independence and self-governance is contagious. It inspires us to find innovative ways to express the school culture. More than once our design team has commented "gee, I wish I were going to school there"...

So what's next? The design process begins with defining the problem: the core message(s) which need to be conveyed, the practical constraints which need to be addressed and the audiences who need to be reached. Next we develop a conceptual framework and craft visual designs to express that framework, which will be reviewed by the web team, tested by users, and refined through a collaborative process to craft the most effective tool possible for Grinnell.

If this process sounds like a collaboration, that is because it is. We want your input as the people who live the Grinnell experience so that we can create the most useful and successful online destination possible. We know we can't please everybody; as Dita Von Teese once said, "You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches." But we want to take your voice into account as we work with you to create an online experience that truly reflects this unique institution. So please comment! What do you think makes Grinnell distinctive and unique? What would you like to be able to do and find on your college website?