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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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Fun and impactful design for inclusive tech event.

Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Kelly Albrecht

The New England Regional Developers Summit (NERDS) came to Last Call Media for a site design that would support their inclusive, educational agenda for their upcoming 2017 event.

Strategy

Last Call employed a few different site strategies in order to best serve NERDS and their users. First, we boiled their content down to short bursts that either told site users everything they needed to know or linked them to where they need to go to complete an action (like signing up for the email newsletter or submitting a session).

We then decided to present each of these pieces of content in a slide of their own, leveraging this modular strategy to organize content depending on audience. We made sure that each slide was flexible and could be updated as needed as the event draws nearer (as “Submit a Session” turns into “Session Schedule,” for example).

Lil NERDy

To give NERDS an immediate, personable (and literal) face, we decided to develop a mascot. The feel of the NERD logo evoked the 70’s to us, and we decided to use Mr. Men, one of that era’s most famous cartoons, as inspiration. The result was Lil’ NERDy. Lil’ NERDy is memorable and adaptable, meaning she can be used in a variety of ways at any size to instantly remind people of the friendly and inclusive nature of NERDS.

Round, green cartoon character with glasses.

 

Site Design

Using Lil’ NERDy as an asset, the site strategy was then implemented to produce a bold, fresh site design. The design uses strong typography and bright colors to create an impactful and informative experience.

NERDS Homepage design.

 

NERDS walked away with a fun, efficient site that keeps users informed and delighted as their event draws closer.

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Healthy U Portal app.

Processes
  • Continuous Delivery
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Kelly Albrecht
  • Senior Architect
    Rob Bayliss
  • Senior Development
    Rob Bayliss
  • Art Director
    Colin Panetta

Cooley-Dickinson Hospital offers an incentive-based healthy lifestyle program to their employees. As employees participate in exercise activities, healthier eating habits, and education classes to learn life-enhancing techniques, they gain points— which translate to greater discounts to their benefits contributions. CDH was tracking this participation program on paper and in Excel for over 1000 employees. Last Call was hired to transform the program into an interactive digital experience to increase participation and automate much of the workflow of managing the program.

We provided an easy-to-use interface to minimize the barrier of entry for users. Maximized by a Mobile First approach, we condensed how much information was presented to allow users to quickly access the main features of the program, which included entering exercise activity. While also accessible through desktop and laptop computers, the primary use case for the app was on the go, from a mobile device, for a user to track their progress. LCM went further, implementing QR Code functionality, allowing CDH to post flyers notifying staff of special activities. Scanning the QR Codes on those notices would transition the user’s experience to the relevant area of the app.

Things went really well with the program, it met all of our needs really well and the employees loved it.

Sam Blasiak, Cooley Dickinson Hospital

The program has been met with amazing reception both from administration, and employee participation. The program is being further expanded and developed to be modular and rapidly deployed at partner healthcare facility partners.

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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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Strategic pivot, design and development.

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

Last Call Media helped the CIO Council team rethink their strategic approach. The CEC Exchange needed to be rebranded and transformed from a place where very few people logged in, to one that showcased the key benefits of membership in the Council: media placements, personalized leadership development, and exclusive access to unique content, events, and peer-matching services.

The CIO Executive Council is a community of Chief Information Officers and other high-level IT professionals from corporate, nonprofit, education, and government backgrounds, gathered together by the International Data Group, a giant technology media, data, and marketing firm responsible for such well-known brands as PCWorld, MacWorld, and CIO Magazine.  

The CIO Executive Council created the CEC Exchange, which had originally been envisioned as a community space for their CIO members to share things of mutual interest. Two years in, the log-in only service was largely unused by the incredibly busy C-Level executives who were members of the Council.  

CEC Exchange uses Salesforce to manage information about each user in their membership pipeline. On the Drupal side, the site contains several main sections that each have their own exclusive resources and content. These sections require a subscription to access. Using a combination of the Salesforce Suite and the Organic Groups module, the site regularly retrieves updated information from Salesforce and syncs it with the Drupal user list, tracking their subscriptions by assigning them to the appropriate groups. The site’s dashboard displays specialized tiles that administrators have full control over, allowing them to highlight featured content and the most sought-after resources within each section for subscribed users. Site visitors and users without a subscription can still see the content that is available from each subscription package, but receive an admin-customizable call to action specific to the content they are attempting to access when they click on a tile from the dashboard.

nav hihglight

phones

 

icons

tablet

Last Call Media designed a much simpler and more attractive interface built around the most compelling products and services that the CIO Exchange has to offer. A CIO visitor to the site can now see how the resources there can help them further their own career, stay on top of the ever-changing trends in technology, reach out to peers facing similar challenges, and access the CIO Exchange’s team of expert concierge staff to answer any questions they may have.

Through a mix of branding and design, Last Call Media re-made the site, which was recently relaunched to incredibly positive initial feedback.

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AIA Top Ten digital transformation.

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

The American Institute of Architects had a legacy web application that displayed contest winners from past AIA Top Ten contests. The entries were complex static HTML pages consisting of more than 10 years worth of winning projects. Each project was explained and judged on around 100 different criteria. Every year, architects would submit their entries via a paper form, which would then be copied and distributed to the judges. At the end of voting, winning entries would be converted into webpages for display on the site. This process required an extremely high level of involvement from applicants, administrators, and judges.

We built a custom form submission system, spanning 13 pages of information, that allowed users to save, resume, and rollback their nominations.

An administrative workflow was added for approval, voting, and judging, plus a PDF exportable version for offline viewing. Winning submissions can be flagged as ‘winner’ which publishes the data to the public website. Non-winning submissions are set back to pending and can be resubmitted annually for up to 10 years.

The result of our work is a streamlined version of the former project submission process. It requires far less work to maintain, and because it was built on a Content Management System, future changes or upgrades to the site are far easier than they would have been with the old bespoke system.

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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
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Modern site design, historic content.

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

The Yale Department of the History of Art sought a design and technical implementation partner to assist with the redesign of their website. The department wanted a more updated online presence that would remain aligned with their status as a center of academic arts excellence. 

How we did it

The team at Yale was great to work with because they were very engaged in the process. Last Call Media brought expertise in user experience, user interface, and design to the table.

We started with some proposed changes to the information architecture and user experience aspects of the site, and the feedback we received informed the work that followed. 

We offered three options of style tiles at the outset of the design process, and we were pretty excited when the Department chose the bold, modern look.

Historic
Style Tile #1: Historic
Museum Card
Style Tile #2: Museum Card
Modern
Style Tile #3: Modern

The implementation of the new design consisted of developing a custom template. The design effort was focused on the homepage and a few key landing pages. After applying the new styles to the existing content, a few minor tweaks were handled by the LCM development team to enhance the remaining pages.

Repsonsive

We created a modernized Art History website that was uncompromisingly “cool,” while maintaining a clean backdrop to showcase esteemed works of art, respected artists, and notable news and events out of a well-known Yale institution.