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The Technology Transfer Office rebrand.

Processes
  • Continuous Delivery
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Kelly Albrecht
  • Senior Architect
    Jeff Landfried
  • Senior Development
    Tom Fleming

The Technology Transfer Office (TTO) at the University of Massachusetts was seeking a total rebrand. They needed to divorce themselves from a department image that had become stale and tired. They replaced a large portion of their staff, brought in new fresh ideas and leadership, and wanted to demonstrate their successful internal restructuring through a bold new website.

We were hired to build a new corporate identity package including logos, branding, a slogan, and a website.

Launching later that fall, we successfully captured the spirit of the restructured department and brought forward their mission to help inventors, artists, and forward-thinkers to access patents, copyrights, protections, and most importantly, attention to their creations.

I’m impressed with the clean look, bold photos and functional organization. The mobile version is especially cool, and is really usable.

Robert MacWright, Director, Technology Transfer Office, University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Blackboard’s shift to a solution-driven digital experience

Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Sean Eddings
  • Senior Architect
    Jeff Landfried
  • Art Director
    Colin Panetta

Blackboard is the largest education technology company in the world, serving nearly 100 million users in every region of the globe. Their comprehensive suite of products and services power institutions looking to teach, engage their community and provide a dynamic educational experience to students. 

Blackboard is an innovative, fast-moving organization, and their digital marketing tools needed to support that. To drive their next phase of growth, Blackboard engaged Last Call Media to build a global marketing platform on Drupal 8. The ability to iterate quickly, launch new marketing campaigns, and spin up sites in new regions is crucial for the Blackboard team. Ultimately moving faster means a better chance of competing against an increasing number of competitors. 

Last Call Media set out to help Blackboard test and implement a bold new approach to digital marketing, and as a result, transformed the way Blackboard.com reached and engaged educators.

Surfacing Blackboard’s value proposition in the main navigation

The largest opportunity with the new global marketing platform was shifting how Blackboard connected with its prospective customers.

Originally, a prospective customer’s journey would begin with selecting their industry to dive deeper into a plethora of information about the different products and services. This experience was informative, but it didn’t make it clear that Blackboard’s competitive edge is not in any one individual product but rather in the interconnectedness of their various products, and how they come together to build a dynamic educational ecosystem, regardless of a customer’s industry. We worked with Blackboard to transition from an industry-focused navigation, originally:

To journeys that surface Blackboard’s value streams first: Teaching & Learning, Community Engagement, and Consulting Services. 

Given the importance of Blackboard.com as a marketing tool to drive revenue, we knew we needed to test our efforts in order to identify any usability issues before the site went live. To do this, we conducted in-person user testing at Blackboard’s annual user convention, BbWorld. We gained valuable insight that informed the final structure of the site navigation. Having positive and constructive real-world user feedback was essential in gaining stakeholder buy-in on this new approach. 

Now, Blackboard.com with its revised primary navigation helps connect prospective customers to the different ways Blackboard provides value to its customers. 

Empowering global marketers through a consistent UX 

Prior to the new platform, one of the major challenges Blackboard’s marketers had with the former Tridion content management system was efficiency. In the past, every page needed to be built manually by Blackboard’s internal web team. Marketers used to submit a form to the web team. Often faced with a backlog several weeks long, the web team created it from scratch as soon as possible. A draft page would be created, sent back to the marketer, and any edits would be returned in a document. This could take several days at best to release a new page or changes to an existing page. 

Blackboard marketers can now add and edit content easily while remaining on brand and demonstrating Blackboard’s impact around the globe.

After understanding this process, the different types of content needed and ways that content can be presented to support the new user journeys, we delivered a collection of over a dozen flexible components. Now marketers worldwide are able to create and edit pages on their own, reducing time to market and costs, and the web team is able to focus on other higher value-creating activities. 

Powered by a modern CMS, Drupal 8  

Blackboard needed an enterprise-grade CMS that was capable of scaling to meet their increasing marketing needs while also remaining easy for their content authors to manage. Drupal was a great choice for Blackboard as it enabled them to respond and make content and code-level changes quickly, including introducing new functionality.

The next iteration of the Blackboard brand, supported by a pattern library

The new platform provided an opportunity to rethink how Blackboard uses space and colors so their digital properties are more consistent in look, feel, and structure to their products. 

Blackboard started using color more sparingly and with greater purpose, and the new platform better utilizes white space and reserves color to truly highlight the content Blackboard wants to bring front and center. Subtle variations in the “Call-to-Action” button styles were added to make it clearer to the site visitor what the next step is. With the new platform, Blackboard has removed many of the bright yellow buttons and softened their approach and introduced a few more “friendlier” color options to their web palette. The outcome here is that Blackboard.com, the flagship marketing platform looks and feels consistent with Blackboard’s products and services. 

A globally consistent brand experience with localized messaging   

As a global company, Blackboard’s marketing team needs to be able to quickly position their products and services to customers in those markets directly, in their language. Further, Blackboard’s marketing and content strategy varies per market and therefore often by language. Simply translating pages into different languages was not sufficient given it’s often the case that not all products and services are available in all markets, and even when they are they are often positioned differently. A product may be marketed differently in Spain and in Germany while also not being available in Australia, for example, which means we needed a different approach to translation that supported localization. Blackboard’s new Drupal 8 site had to not only provide content in different languages but also content specific to each visitor’s geographic location. 

To support this, we built a Global Site feature in the new Blackboard.com that allows the Blackboard marketing team to spin up and manage new sites in different languages quickly without the need to engage development. At launch, this included close to two dozen sites in around 14 different languages.

We extended Drupal 8 core’s translate functionality to support the variations in language between American English and Queen’s English and Latin American and Castilian Spanish while maintaining flexibility so that content could also be localized for different regions. 

Blackboard’s requirements were complex and caused us to rethink our typical multilingual strategy. Instead of creating a site that supports content in multiple languages, we built a localization platform that takes into account available product offerings as well as language and regional nuance - creating a platform for an organization that is not only multilingual but truly global.

A commitment to web accessibility 

Blackboard and Last Call Media share a commitment to ensuring what we create is fully accessible to all audiences, regardless of ability. To that end, we had accessibility needs in mind from the very beginning. Our cross-functional approach to product development meant that we were able to validate early on that our work would meet WCAG 2.1 minimums, and by engaging users of assistive technology to assist with testing as development progressed, we knew that the release would also be truly usable on day one. 

Our initial objective was to help Blackboard respond faster to changing customer demands worldwide by improving the content authoring experience for their marketing team, empowering their internal development teams to sustain and iterate on the platform for the long haul, and reducing operating costs. 

With input from Blackboard’s customers and employees, we led the delivery of an improved user experience for Blackboard’s community, created a platform to showcase their products and services, and helped Blackboard tell the story of how they continue to positively impact learners, educators, and institutions around the globe.

The relaunched Blackboard.com saw a decreased bounce rate on the homepage, more users finding their destination quickly, and a dramatic increase in traffic to the free trial page. The new flexible, modern, engagement platform for Blackboard is more a customer-focused digital experience and supports their current and future marketing objectives. It has helped Blackboard thrive in a constantly changing and increasingly competitive edtech environment.

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Engaging and retaining the next generation of experiential learners.

Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Alex Noonan
  • Art Director
    Colin Panetta

Wentworth Institute of Technology is a technical design and engineering university in Boston, Massachusetts. Wentworth is continuously investing in creating transformational educational experiences for its students and embracing a culture of innovation and creativity. 

The goals of the institute translate directly into the digital experience they need to provide to visitors of wit.edu, their current and prospective students, as well as faculty and staff. Last Call Media has been a close partner of Wentworth for years, helping them accomplish important milestones and solve challenging problems: to create an inspiring and meaningful user experience, develop a seamless process for hundreds of content authors, and finally, tackle inefficient development processes.

Design to turn a vision into reality

We began by really thinking outside the box of what a college website “should” be. The institute was looking to showcase their commitment to innovation, diversity and inclusion, as well as exceptional educational experiences. Last Call Media collaborated with the Wentworth team to create their new branding direction and to turn this vision into reality. The Last Call Media design team created a fresh, vibrant new look for wit.edu to capture the attention and excitement of the school’s two key audiences: prospective students and their parents.

After translating existing static graphic designs into UX/UI prototypes with an eye towards accessibility, we introduced the Wentworth team to a new and improved method of designing and site-building by utilizing a design system, so that the site could be built in a systematic way as opposed to every page being conceived of and built individually. This way of building the Wentworth site would set us up to create a great-looking site while having an efficient development phase, and playing to Drupal’s strengths, flexibility and customizability.

WIT-homepage

A consistent, sitewide visual language

To avoid the need to uniquely design and theme every element on every page, Last Call Media created a maximally efficient workflow for Wentworth. We created a consistent sitewide visual language that becomes more intuitive the more users interact with the site.

We implemented a design system-based strategy for the redesign, defining a number of styles and components that would be reusable throughout the site. It included:

  • 40 styles (for things like colors and text styles),
  • 50 elements (which can range in scope from things like buttons to entire sections of pages),
  • 10 fully-responsive page designs—many of these involving multiple design iterations.

Authoring experience for hundreds of content creators

Within an organization like a college or university with often hundreds of content authors, it’s key to remember that site and content changes will often be coming from multiple people throughout the school, who all have varying levels of experience and comfort working within a CMS. This was absolutely the case for Wentworth, and so we varied the flexibility of each content type based on who would be building them. Content types that would be handled by the more experienced members of Wentworth’s web and marketing teams were allowed maximum flexibility—they can essentially put any component on any page they want, in any order they want. Content types that would be used by a wide array of authors with inconsistent levels of technical expertise offered a more structured layout, in order to minimize complexity and maintain the integrity of the website’s information architecture and UX/UI.

The impact of continuous delivery and maintenance

Over the years, we’ve worked with Wentworth to implement industry best practices in terms of programmatic coding, database architecture, and staged deployment and automated testing workflows. Our first engagement with Wentworth involved completing a large set of outstanding updates, setting up Single-Sign-On with Shibboleth, configuring Apache Solr with multicore for development along with boosted “more like this” search results, and other search enhancements.

Our Core Services team was also able to complete Wentworth’s site migration to Pantheon on a tight timeline of less than a week, prior to the school’s Thanksgiving holiday in 2017. This has led to significant cost savings for the school, and provided a clearer path to empowering their small internal development team; the workflows on the new platform were easier for Wentworth to manage, and they benefited greatly from the multidev environment feature.

Our work with the Institute has spanned everything from regular core and module updates, migrating their site to a new hosting platform, to refactoring user groups, URL structures, to accessibility updates and SEO best practice improvements. We maintain a close working relationship with Wentworth in order to continue offering advice and guidance on how to make the most of Drupal

Through a refreshed online presence, the new wit.edu represents Wentworth’s commitment to creating transformational educational experiences for students, and a culture of innovation and creativity. Wentworth is now able to provide site visitors with a more accurate picture of what Wentworth is really about to help them decide whether they can see themselves or their child succeeding at Wentworth. 

Last Call Media is proud to have been Wentworth’s partner in improving user experience, creating a seamless process for making content changes for hundreds of content authors, and modernizing development processes.