In Depth: The Evergreen State College

Redesigned The Evergreen State College’s website using the principles of responsive web design.

Duties

Responsive design, HTML, CSS, jQuery, usability testing, user research, content management, branding, and presenting.

The Problem

New student enrollment was down several years in a row and the school was looking to market to prospective students in better ways. The primary website was past-due for a new design, and a separate Admissions website forced prospective students to navigate between two disparate designs with similar content and different navigation.

The Process

In redesigning the website, I wanted to achieve the following goals:

  • Improve prospective student engagement and understanding in measurable ways.
  • Unite the marketing under a single cohesive design.
  • Address the growing mobile market.

Mobile First

I decided to solve the mobile problem first because if the site could work on a tiny, limited mobile device, the content would, at the bare minimum, be readable on a big desktop machine.

To focus our content, I removed everything that didn’t relate to prospective students. Secondary audiences, like current students, are captive audiences that can be taught where to find help and resources. On the other hand, prospective students need to understand the site without any coaching at all.

My research was a combination of live user tests, surveys of prospective students, card sorting, and of course analytics.

Creating a strong primary navigation was a big challenge, and one of my personal goals was to avoid using a “hamburger” menu, which obfuscates valuable links.

A Single Site Design

Creating a single site from the two original designs wasn’t just a matter of putting all the pages into one template. In the old version of the site, all of the good marketing was tucked away in the Admissions pages. Furthermore, my research revealed that users were not visiting these pages to learn about the college; they were only clicking to the Admissions link when they were ready to apply. That means they weren’t seeing the content that was meant for them until after they were ready to send in an application.

To address this issue, I moved all of this valuable marketing information to the homepage and to other pages linked from the primary navigation. Even so, we threw out most of the content and rewrote it to be more clear and more focused. What remained was simplified and reorganized.

A More Useful Experience

Determining how to make the site better for students required understanding what they expect out of their schooling. I sussed this information out in interviews with students and in discussions with the Admissions team. I learned that this audience wants a good education, an understanding of the costs, a good location, and opportunities for fun outside of class.

To address these needs, I streamlined the information architecture of the header and main navigation, added a call-to-action with a new tagline to get students interested in Evergreen’s unique academics, increased visibility of the visit request form, and gathered together and wrote new content to form a new section called Campus Life.

I looked at the analytics and set benchmarks to determine how successful I was in reaching my goals.

Outcome

Though the process was challenging and the road was long, I’ve had incredible success with the new site.

  • Mobile usage has climbed steadily month-over-month, starting at 4% and now averaging over 30% and reaching as high as 50% on key days like graduation and new student orientation.
  • Five streamlined primary navigation links transport students around to information they need. Regular user testing continues to validate their usefulness. I also successfully avoided the hamburger menu.
  • Likewise, the singular design has, during live user tests, noticeably decreased confusion of prospective students.
  • The compelling call-to-action I wrote outperformed other proposed solutions by between 40 to 60%.
  • Visit request form conversion rate, a key metric, is up 18%. Total form completions increased by 60 registrations per month.
  • The new Campus Life page has become one of the top ten most-visited pages on the site. Also notable is the page I developed about the campus’s beach and trails, which is one of the top ten most visited links from the Campus Life page.
  • Finally, the rate of decline in enrollment fell, and the school attracted 100 more incoming freshmen, year-over-year.

Conclusion

Overall the new design was a success. Well-crafted information architecture has streamlined way-finding. Better marketing and content strategy has increased engagement. A mobile-first design meets users where they are, no matter their device. And Evergreen’s senior staff have been grateful for the change. I’m proud to include this site in my portfolio.

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