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Building the new WPI.edu.

Processes
  • Agile/Scrum
  • XP
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Sean Eddings
  • Senior Architect
    Jeff Landfried
  • Senior Development
    Jeff Landfried

Clinically speaking, our recent work with Worcester Polytechnic Institute is a testimony to Last Call Media’s approach to the initial project phases of Discovery, Strategy, and Information Architecture. That said, the most important part of this story is how our flexible and adaptable work process embraced by both the WPI and Last Call Media teams resulted in a process and a final outcome that meets WPI’s stakeholder needs. Strong partnership-building was the goal from the outset, and it paid off in strong relationships and expectations satisfied.

Project Goals Last year, WPI embarked on a Discovery and Strategy phase with Last Call Media in order to:

  • Improve performance
  • Increase engagement
  • Reduce technical debt and operating costs

Thanks to WPI’s commitment to collaboration, the redesign of wpi.edu represents one of Last Call Media’s most comprehensive involvements from start to finish of any project to date. We acted as more than designers and developers, but instead as all-encompassing strategic management consultants, working with WPI to organize multiple stakeholders toward the realization of stated and unstated goals.

The project had humble beginnings. WPI had a lot of ideas, which they’d translated into a giant content model spreadsheet. We meticulously ensured that we understood it all, guiding a wireframe process in which we were able to make significant contribution to the decision-making that yielded a highly intuitive structure. We took each step iteratively, building piece-by-piece, soliciting feedback, and then building the next iteration. We facilitated a dialogue between administrators, college communications, their design department, their IT department, and Acquia to map the landscape of business requirements, organizational needs, and their desired design aesthetic.  

On the technical side, we reviewed their existing RedDot site, and built a ‘scraper’ to scrape select content out of it and import the data into its new structure in Drupal. We open-sourced the scraper, too. Next, we built a flexible layout system of building blocks that enabled them to build pages however they needed. We dubbed them “widgets,” and WPI called them “elements,” but they were central to satisfying their desire for incredible flexibility that allowed them to build unique layouts on any given page.

As part of the creative partnership, Last Call Media’s creative team worked closely with WPI to improve the look and utility of the Events Pages, the Calendar, and a database of accolades they maintain. The outcome was a set of tools that present information in simple and digestible ways. WPI’s communications team helped LCM fully understand their brand, which enabled us to showcase their identity as we applied it to the work product.

Every step of the way as we constructed functionality, WPI developers, content authors, and staff gave feedback on the project as fidelity increased from a rough, unthemed Drupal site, to a polished release candidate. At the same time, Last Call Media was enabling WPI Developers to be self-sufficient in Drupal so they could help build new functionality. Last Call Media also built a custom ‘faculty importer’ that synced data from their Ellucian Banner system into Drupal, greatly simplifying the construction and accuracy of faculty pages.

Because we were in constant contact, there were never any ‘big reveals’ for WPI leadership to react to that represented hours of work they had to wrestle with approving or sending us back to the drawing board - they’d been part of the process at two week intervals and on board with each decision as it was made.

Today, the ability of the various administrative and academic departments at WPI to use the site is unparalleled in Last Call Media’s experience. The partnership enabled WPI’s content developers, in-house communications staff, designers, and developers to fully leverage the new wpi.edu. As a result, we’re seeing profound stakeholder use of the tools we collectively built. WPI embraces our approach and recognizes the value in the systems our working partnership designed. Such engagement is the dream of every project, and we’re proud it’s being realized at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

We continue an ongoing relationship with WPI providing support and strategic counsel as necessary. What can Last Call Media do for you?

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Drilling down to an education.

Processes
  • Agile/Scrum
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Sean Eddings
  • Senior Architect
    Jeff Landfried
  • Senior Development
    Jeff Landfried

Education sites are huge and contain a lot of information. There are many different personas who frequent these sites, and they’re all looking for a wide variety of resources.

After getting the right personas to the right area of the site, faceted searching was one of the solutions Last Call Media implemented to help visitors drill down further into the specifics. In this case, it was WPI’s areas of study.

We developed a faceted search tool for their degree and certificates catalog to solve the challenge of drilling down through the options to get to a specific area of study. By structuring and categorizing the information of this catalog appropriately in the database, we were able to implement faceted searching functionality for the areas of study across Bachelor, Minor, Certificate, Master, and PhD programs.

Site visitors are able to use this implementation to drill down to very specific information, so this work has substantially increased engagement, as well as conversions.

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Consortium Assault Services app.

Processes
  • Continuous Delivery
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Kelly Albrecht
  • Senior Architect
    Rob Bayliss
  • Senior Development
    Rob Bayliss

In response to growing concerns and attention around Sexual Harassment and Assault Nationwide, Amherst College needed a tool to serve students of the Five Colleges with rapid access to Title IX office information and emergency services.

LCM and Amherst College worked together with student advocates, Title IX, LGBTQ, and other campus offices and organizations to design and develop an iOS App that puts valuable information, from a Drupal site Amherst can administer, into the hands of students. The major feature of the app was to direct assault survivors to emergency contact information, help services, and other advocacy groups, anonymously and quickly.

The app was announced to all incoming and returning students during new school year orientation. Information about the app has been circulated through the Five Colleges on promotional materials and “get help” brochures and posters.

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Looking before we leap.

Team Leadership
  • Art Director
    Colin Panetta

After working with Blackboard—the largest education technology and services company in the world—on restructuring and retheming their corporate site Blackboard.com, we knew we needed to test our efforts in order to iron out any problems before the site went live. Normally we may conduct remote moderated user testing for this (watching users navigate the site over a video call to gauge how well it works for them), but Blackboard’s annual user convention, BbWorld, provided a perfect opportunity to conduct this testing in person.

Goals

We wrote a list of goals for our user testing that included learning about user behavior, whether the site was intuitive to navigate, whether free trials were easy to find, and what users thought about the new design. We worked with the team at Blackboard to define these goals and to ensure we were all on the same page about what we would hope to learn from these interviews. We then constructed our interview questions around meeting these goals, asking users to complete tasks that would ultimately give us the necessary insights for the next phase of work.

Testing setup

On-site at BbWorld, we used Formstack to conduct our user interviews. This gave us an adaptable setup that enabled Blackboard staff to conduct testing right alongside us, even though many of them had never done so before. Speaking directly to users about the site gave Blackboard staff a higher level of empathy with their users than if they had just read a report, giving them deeper insight into how users viewed the site. We also made screen recordings of our interviews, for later reference.

The BbWorld attendees we interviewed consisted of institution technologists, instructors, academic leaders, corporate partners (resellers, ed tech vendors), and trainers, mostly in higher education, as opposed to K-12, government, or business. Most were influencers or decision-makers when it comes to purchasing education software for their institution—a valuable perspective to be sure! In the end, we facilitated almost 70 total interviews over just a couple of days! 

There were a number of initiatives in place to encourage people to test the site. These included push notifications from the BbWorld app, a $15 Starbucks gift card that was given at the end of the testing, and an event-wide “passport” attendees could only complete by visiting our table. Most of the people we spoke to came to us for one of these reasons.

Original Blackboard.com site with dark interface and many links
The old Blackboard.com

Learning about the old site

The majority of people we spoke to at BbWorld said they had used Blackboard.com before. We were particularly interested to hear from these experienced users, so we could establish a baseline experience using the old site, to later compare their experience using new site. Measuring these experiences against each other would tell us whether or not the restructure and retheme was an improvement. For example, if someone used the site for gathering specific information about Blackboard, did the new site make it easier or harder for them to do that?

Here’s what that baseline experience looked like:

  • Half of the people we spoke to said the current Blackboard.com was easy to use, with a quarter each saying it was hard or neutral.
  • Most common uses for the site included navigating to Blackboard’s Community site, reviewing the Higher Education section for language on products, or seeking help or support.
  • Finding things or navigating the site were listed as the most common difficulty, although some thought it worked well!
  • Opinions about the navigation were mostly negative.
  • Testers felt that site was clean, but some thought it presented too much information.
  • Most people said they access the site by typing the url in their address bar. (A sure sign of an experienced user!)
  • Almost universally, people accessed the site from a desktop computer.
Redesigned Blackboard.com site with brighter interface and consolidated links
The rethemed Blackboard.com

Learning about the new site

Moderated user testing is often the first time people outside of your team sees your product. While this can be daunting, it’s important to be open to constructive criticism big and small—after all, that’s the point of user testing! So while we were prepared (as always) for negative feedback, the overall response to the new Blackboard.com was extremely positive. Whew!

While we walked into testing thinking that, visually, the new theme was more of a small facelift than a full redesign, people were enthusiastic about the design of the new site. Before we could even ask about the design, many people immediately stated that they thought it was a big improvement, using words like “clean,” “modern,” and “professional” to describe it.

Many people also liked the new navigation structure. Comments about it included “All the overwhelming links are gone. Now I can digest what the navigation is offering. It’s highlighting the important information,” and “Navigation is simplified and to the point. More intuitive and easy to navigate, it will take a shorter time to get to what I want.”

Despite having a high level of familiarity with Blackboard, two thirds of the people we spoke to said that they learned something new about Blackboard during their brief time on the new site. Blackboard is working to let the public know that they’re more than just an LMS, so we were happy to hear the site is now aiding in that. Blackboard’s recruiting, safety, and social media management services were among the things people most commonly cited having learned about. 

After performing a few tasks on the new site, half of the people we spoke to said the new site was easier to use than the old site, with a quarter each saying it was harder or the same.

But of course there was still room for improvement. Things that people thought could be improved included:

  • Many people thought the site wasn’t doing a good job of explaining who Blackboard is and what they do.
  • While the new navigation worked well for many people, some expressed confusion over the specifics of what it was presenting. Specifically, they were unsure what was a product and what was a service, and confused about the word “community” being used in two different places to indicate different things.
  • Users would often miss the button for free trials, sometimes not seeing it at all until we pointed it out.

Results

The thing that gives our partners the most pause when pulling the trigger on user testing is that you don’t always know what the results will be ahead of time. How can you justify dedicating time and resources to something when you don’t know what you’re going to get? But that’s the point of testing—to find out things you don’t know. We’ve never walked away from testing without valuable insights that went on to inform the rest of the project, and our Blackboard testing was no exception.

One small but impactful result was that we changed the color of the free trial CTA. We made this pivot quickly in the middle of testing, which enabled us to gauge the impact immediately. People started noticing the button more, and thus the issue was resolved immediately — no muss no fuss! It was gratifying to have something so small make an immediate positive impact and we all laughed at how long we chatted about that button color prior to testing! Post-launch, this CTA is used six times more than it was before the redesign, and the page it links to is now the third most viewed on the site, leading more users to this essential content.

Following user testing we did an extensive redesign of the homepage, and the feedback we received stating the site should tell users who Blackboard is and what they do was our guiding light. The new Blackboard homepage is a top to bottom narrative that tells the story of Blackboard starting with a broad overview, then moves into some specifics, and then shows what Blackboard does in action. Post-launch, Blackboard has seen a decrease in the bounce rate of their homepage, meaning more users are engaging with it.

What we learned in user testing also informed the new site navigation. The site structure had been massively rearranged, shifting from being market-based to value-based. The feedback we received about certain parts of the navigation being unclear helped refine the language used. Post-launch, more Blackboard users have been getting to their destination in 0-2 clicks, meaning they’re using the new navigation to find what they’re looking for faster.

The insight that user testing provides can come in the form of reassurance. Since people were enthusiastic about the new site being easy-to-use, we could move forward with the confidence that there were no big missing pieces. Furthermore, since the new theme was so well received, we realized the visual changes provided a larger impact, shifting our perception of it from being a “facelift” to something closer to a redesign.

Blackboard.com subsequently relaunched and, with the help of the insights we gained in user testing, is seeing a decreased bounce rate on the homepage, more users finding their destination quickly, and a dramatic increase in traffic to the free trial page, meaning teachers and students worldwide have better access to some of the best digital learning tools on the market.

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Annual Fund’s 25th Anniversary Campaign.

Processes
  • Continuous Delivery
Team Leadership

The Advancement Department of Amherst College needed an updated brochure to support their efforts of encouraging donations to the Annual Fund’s 25th Anniversary Program campaign. Last Call Media was excited to build upon our technical experience migrating Amherst to Drupal and in building the Title IX iOS App with a project that could showcase our marketing strategy and design talents.

How we did it

The twenty-fifth anniversary year is an important one for advancement activities. Alumni have generally attained career and financial stability by this time, and it is an important moment in which to encourage a lifetime habit of giving to Amherst College. Amherst needed an accessible and compelling visual that would explain a complicated funding program. Working within existing guidelines and style templates, we worked with the Annual Fund to build a tri-fold brochure that plainly communicated the benefits and procedures of giving during the five years leading up to and including an alumnus’ twenty-fifth anniversary reunion year.

brochure 2

brochure

Staff reported that the leave-behind brochure was incredibly helpful for both their volunteers and donors, and twenty-fifth anniversary giving broke fundraising targets and records in 2015 and 2016.

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Custom tailoring Haverford.edu.

Processes
  • Agile/Scrum
  • Continuous Delivery
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Kelly Albrecht
  • Senior Architect
    Jeff Landfried
  • Senior Development
    Jeff Landfried

When LCM got the call from Haverford about redoing their site in Drupal, we thought it was going to be a redesign. After an initial conversation we agreed to do a Discovery and Strategy engagement first, to determine what the true needs were and then develop a strategy for solutions. We conducted stakeholder interviews and developed the User Personas of who our work was to be for. Interestingly, none of these personas ended up being an anonymous site visitor, but instead were different types of content editors and administrators.

Haverford didn’t need a redesign; their site looked great already. The biggest issue they needed to solve was not having enough time to do new feature development themselves. They were a smart and capable team and over many years had developed and maintained a large custom PHP implementation for college’s website needs. They were finding, however, that too much of their time was being spent updating pages for college members and groups. Their hope was for us to build them a site that looked and functioned like their current site, but built on a modern CMS with exceptional user management and publishing workflows.

Once we had alignment on their needs and a strategy for solutions, we built out a Content Model, Product Backlog, and Information Architecture. The project was completed with Drupal in steady collaboration with the Haverford Communications team, in 5 development Sprints, and launched on the Acquia Infrastructure.

The Haverford Team really jumped in and took off with it. It was really great!

You can read more about this project as LCM’s Acquia Certified Grand Master Developer, Jeff Landfried shares details of his experience here.

Since then, Last Call Media has continued to work with Haverford on an ongoing basis as part of our dedicated Continuous Delivery relationship, where our dedicated team of developers helps to keep their site secure, up-to-date, and assists as needed with anything from strategy to design to development.

The migration of Haverford to Drupal on Acquia remains one of our favorite projects to date, and it’s a great source of professional pride for all of us. We look forward to a long partnership with Haverford as we continuously evaluate how their online experience is meeting the needs of the College.  

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Redesigning the College of Biological Sciences.

Processes
  • Agile/Scrum
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Kelly Albrecht
  • Senior Architect
    Tom Fleming
  • Senior Development
    Tom Fleming
  • Art Director
    Colin Panetta

Developing a digital media strategy with measurable results.

Challenged to increase enrollment, the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota looked to Last Call Media for ways to develop a digital media strategy with measurable results. Last Call Media focused on increasing engagement with CBS’ primary audiences— prospective and current students— by implementing fresh designs with improved pathways and navigation. LCM also coordinated the final migration and deployment of the site to the University’s Acquia platform.

Working with CBS, we took the project from initial discovery and goal validation through information architecture, design, and development.

We were able to deliver a compelling, modern, and effective site. With CBS’s target users in mind, Last Call Media improved site navigation and menu structure, re-working the existing navigation system to create a more fluid experience visiting the site.

The site was launched in summer, in time to function as an active recruitment tool for the school year. After receiving consistent positive feedback, CBS and LCM received an award for the design and functionality. The CBS team has continued to add and manage new content on top of the sound foundation built by Last Call Media.

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A modern site home to the treasures of the world.

Processes
  • Agile/Scrum
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Sean Eddings
  • Senior Architect
    Tom Fleming
  • Senior Development
    Tom Fleming

Aligning an aging website with modern organizational goals.

The Center of the Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (MAVCOR) at Yale University sought the expertise of LCM to help bring their aging website in line with their strategic organizational goals. As an online archive of objects of religion, often accompanied by narratives or conversations, the academic source was to behave like an online museum: delivering the user to the content in the most unobstructed way so they can focus on it.

Much like a museum would, it’ll recommend related content for further exploration.

MAVCOR is a unique peer-reviewed publication and community that gathers visual culture and hosts multidisciplinary collaborations of scholars from around the globe. This necessitates a virtual space that is the only one of its kind. Previously confined to the Yale departmental design template, MAVCOR came to us to design and develop a Drupal 7 site to enhance the functionality of their user experience, robust asset management, and spotlight their obvious visual culture.

Different devices show MAVCOR's responsive homepage.

LCM partnered with the MAVCOR team to develop new and enhanced functionality to their Fellow’s Portal, Asset Management, Material Objects Archive, and Search in a visually-centric design honoring their unique and growing community.

The new MAVCOR is a literal and virtual center of publicly accessible collaborative scholarship.

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Forklift to Drupal 7 in 8 weeks

Processes
  • Agile/Kanban
  • Agile/Scrum
  • Continuous Delivery
  • XP
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Sean Eddings
  • Senior Architect
    Tom Fleming

Leveraging a small multidisciplinary production team and agile methodologies, LCM migrated SUNY Potsdam from their self-hosted legacy CommonSpot CMS to Drupal 7 on Acquia in just 8 weeks.

The small team at the SUNY Potsdam Office of Public Affairs had been managing the proprietary CommonSpot CMS since its implementation in 2008. It was inflexible and the team struggled with reliability issues, so SUNY Potsdam was looking for a more useable, stable, efficient, and scalable solution. They chose Drupal 7, Acquia, and Last Call Media.  

SUNY Potsdam partnered with Last Call Media and Acquia to migrate their site to Drupal 7. Leveraging the scrum methodology, LCM broke down and organized the major site features into a prioritized backlog, groomed for two-week iterations. While planning and backlog refinement was ongoing several times a week, the core development team at LCM met with Potsdam every other Friday to review work completed, provide training on the new CMS, and to facilitate the feedback-gathering process.

Since SUNY Potsdam had recently gone through a redesign, the project required the new site to maintain the existing look and feel. We began with an in-depth audit of all the different page types and page elements. Instead of doing this manually page by page, we first looked for a programmatic solution. Since CommonSpot did not provide a way to generate this information within the CMS, LCM used its HTML Crawler tool to programmatically crawl the existing production site and analyze the various HTML tags to determine page elements (such as slideshows, feeds, etc), including where and how often they appear. This provided tremendous visibility into the site’s underlying structure, which was critical in planning our approach to the migration to Drupal.

Potsdam Art Page

 

After reviewing this data with SUNY Potsdam, we began the process of consolidation– instead of building one-off page elements, we consolidated similar elements into single widgets that behaved differently based on where on the page it was placed. This helped reduce the vast number of options a content author has to choose from, making it easier for them to do what they need to do: focus on the content. To achieve the desired platform flexibility, LCM built a repository of flexible and adaptable widgets to allow the marketing team at Potsdam to build custom pages. 

The migration included several different page templates and tens of thousands of pieces of content, which required writing and testing a series of migration scripts to get all the content from one CMS to another without downtime or a lengthy content freeze. Since the CommonSpot installation did not have a concept of structured content, LCM used it’s HTML crawler tool again to programmatically identify page content and then map it to its new location in Drupal. Once the custom scripts were written and tested, the migration took only 15 minutes for tens of thousands of pieces of unique content and the associated metadata, such as date published, authoring information, and URL

Potsdam Events Page

 

The new site also pulls in events automatically from their event management system, SOGo, and tags the event to the relevant department or office in the CMS so that it appears on that organization’s page.  

Lastly, in order to make it as easy as possible for content authors to login to the site, we leveraged the identity management service at Potsdam, Active Directory, to allow users to use their domain credentials to authenticate with Drupal.

This project addressed several internal pain points with the SUNY Potsdam main website, allowing the marketing team to move from maintenance and support tasks to other organizational priorities. The site loads blazingly fast on Acquia, and Potsdam continues to work with LCM in an ongoing support relationship.   

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Exploration and research.

Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Kelly Albrecht
  • Senior Architect
    Colin Panetta

As part of a comprehensive interior remodeling, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts partnered with Last Call to carry their visual, communication, and wayfinding efforts through to the digital experiences offered by the museum.

We worked with the UMFA Marketing and Communications team to understand the personas of their visitors and to strategize the messaging and functionality needed to design and build a digital experience that could anticipate and provide needed information to the right visitor at the right time. This included identifying and prioritizing the most valuable calls to action desired by, and of, a visitor; building in strategy to persuade the visitor appropriately, directly, and contextually, to complete the goals that are mutually and wholly beneficial to the experience.

Last Call’s Creative team brought their expertise in Strategy, User Experieince, and Design to research, audit, and produce content structure and governance, functionality prototypes, and design deliverables. These deliverables were used in a two-day immersion visit, which culminated in a day of alignment with stakeholders, senior management, and the Marketing and Communications team. This exploration, research, and resulting strategy and design direction will act as the foundation informing the design and development of UMFA’s new digital experience, to launch in time for their annual membership drive and the reopening of their museum.

Kudos continue to roll in about the website… We just loving using it too.

Mindy Wilson, Marketing & Communications Director