Website Redesign Project
Project Began: June 2017
Project Completed: January 2019
A website’s shelf life depends on many factors, such as industry, competition, product, and business goals. Technological advances and design trends influence the longevity, as well. As the School of Information expanded its program offerings and mobile accessibility became mainstream, it recognized the need to redesign its website.
In June 2017, the iSchool opened the RFP process for the website project. The scope of work entailed research, design, content architecture and organization, development, and programming with the goal of a new user interface that employed the best in user experience web design and prioritized mobile first. Using a Drupal theme, the site map was reorganized, the design was modernized, and the content was streamlined.
One of the major differences in the new design was the transition to a hamburger menu instead of a header menu with various terms placed horizontally across the top for the primary way to navigate the site. When clicked, the hamburger site menu drops down.
In addition, the former website’s architecture was largely organized by audience type (e.g., Prospective Students, Current Students). This no longer worked as well when the school expanded its program offerings because there was a lot of duplicate content in these sections.
To address this issue, the Programs section now includes relevant information for both prospective and current students separated by the individual program. For example, each program includes an overview, admissions information, courses, and advising. Content that applies to all students, no matter which program they are enrolled in, was placed under Student Resources. This content includes registration, scholarships, technology support, and graduation, for example.
The website main navigation is now organized into six sections, as follows:
- Student Resources
- Career Development
- Faculty and Research
- News and Events
Student assistant Havilah Steinman wrote a post published January 29, 2019 on the iStudent blog that highlighted some of the navigation changes. She especially appreciates the easy access to the events calendar. “How great is it that this calendar is available from wherever you are on the site,” she commented. She also outlined the new home page design, which showcases iSchool alumni and students.
The user experience is deeply influenced by the website’s functionality. For instance, if a page takes too long to load, the user will get frustrated. The iSchool’s website is content heavy and users must be able to access it quickly across numerous platforms. The RFP included technical requirements, as follows:
- Shall meet accessibility standards: sec. 508 or WCAG
- Shall be purely mobile first (i.e., super-fast and designed for the special needs of the mobile user like small screen, thick fingers, limited attention span, and possible poor data rate)
- Shall be rendered as a Drupal theme.
- Shall be optimized based on the most current search engine algorithms
- Shall comply with SJSU identity standards
The iSchool choose Digital Deployment (DD) as the vendor for its website project for a variety of technical and non-technical reasons.
On a technical level, DD is a “Drupal” house, meaning they only deploy Drupal-based websites and they maintain their own in-house advanced version of Drupal. For instance, they have added to/or extended the basic Drupal CMS with their own proprietary customization options that results in the iSchool getting Drupal+ functionality, such as the custom extensions of the calendar and hamburger menu. Of course, the design is mobile first by default. In addition, DD’s design team have gone above and beyond the call on accessibility by making sure the website meets the standards set by ABA 434 (new California law requiring all state websites meet the highest levels of ADA compliance).
On a non-technical level, DD has deep experience in developing websites for the public sector, including but not limited to: UC Davis School of Management, Sierra College, Long Beach City College, Sacramento City College, as well as a host of public retirement systems across the nation. Working with them on the design and migration of the iSchool’s website was enhanced a great deal by their experience in the public education sector.
One of the big pluses (on a technical level) is that DD is the host, as well as the website developer. This means the iSchool gets to use the Pantheon CDN (content delivery network*), which is the world’s most advanced. Everyone from the ACLU to Google to The United Nations use Pantheon. In essence, this means the website is virtually guaranteed 100% uptime. At a technical level, it is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of having the website on Pantheon. DDOS attacks are no longer a consideration. So much of the potential downside of maintaining a website is mitigated by having a best in class CDN host.
Also, the technical support provided by DD is world class. DD uses a trouble ticket system whereby the iSchool can choose the level of urgency from “low” to “emergency – site is down.” Needless to say, the iSchool has never experienced the latter and DD’s responsiveness to all ongoing concerns is first rate.
In addition, DD developed a CSS wrapper for the ischoolapps.sjsu.edu server where many of the in-house CMSs and applications reside. Unless the user is closely paying attention to the URLs, they would not notice any difference in look, feel, or functionality.
Lastly, using Drupal means the iSchool has a distributed workforce and the ability to create fields of competence whereby certain individuals “own” various sections of the website and have varying permissions. Whether a writer merely saves a draft or publishes new content, the website’s administrators are notified of each and every change made to the website.
In summary, the iSchool gets the best of Drupal and the best hosting and the very best in customer support from Drupal experts. It truly is hard to overstate how much benefit is derived from this relationship with the developer/hosting provider: mobile-first design, Pantheon CDN, Drupal coding extensions, superior accessibility compliance, and people who understand the iSchool’s needs as an institution of higher learning.
*CDN a content delivery network uses clones of the website scattered around the globe on separate servers/networks. For example, a visitor to the website in the U.S. might use any of half a dozen servers to access the website, whereas a Chinese user may hit servers in the Philippines or Iceland. The iSchool’s website is, technically speaking, nowhere and everywhere at the same time. This massive redundancy ensures there is no single point of failure.