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The Redesign Process

 

Why a New www.dcccd.edu?

We’ve redesigned DCCCD.edu with one main goal: to help DCCCD’s primary audience — students — find what they need faster and more easily.

The DCCCD website attracts an astounding number of visitors — the latest count of visitors shows well over 5.5 million visits annually, just on the home page. Students, both credit and continuing education, are overwhelmingly the largest user group for the website. Add in those who are considering becoming students at DCCCD, and the student user numbers grow even larger.

Changes in Information Organization

The old district site was organized around “audience” — information was categorized based on who people are (current student, future student, CE student, business, etc.) instead of by relevancy.

This led to duplication of common information in several places (information about admissions, student life, financial aid, etc.). It also made it difficult to keep information consistent, and led to confusion for people who got to the “wrong audience” page via search on our site or via external search engines.

Our new approach to information architecture is more “task-based.” Visitors will navigate the website based on the task they came to the website to complete, such as enrolling online, finding an address or other contact information, or selecting a program. In this new architecture, information is gathered into sections by relevancy, making it easier to find. The goal: enabling our visitors to find what they need easily and with fewer clicks.

What Works on Websites NOW

The new design follows extensive research on what works best on college websites. The design is simpler, cleaner, with more room for flexibility down the road. A neutral color palette was chosen to highlight faces and images, to harmoniously encompass all of our colleges’ colors, and to help the design take a back seat to the information on our website.

A strong influence on the redesign process was a report titled “College Students on the Web/Usability Guidelines for Creating Compelling Websites for College Students.” The authors of the report, Nielsen Norman Group, a respected organization specializing in usability on the Web, researched how students use college websites at 12 colleges or universities in four countries with usability tests and ethnographic observation of 217 websites.

Their research refutes certain prevalent myths about students’ use of the Internet:

  • Myth #1: Students crave multimedia and fancy design: “Students are impressed by websites that … exclude frivolous elements that disrupted their task [… and …] allow users to get information efficiently.” (p. 25) They “consider gratuitous interactive elements childish and a waste of time” (p. 116).
  • Myth #2: Students are technology wizards: They are comfortable with technology, but it can’t be assumed that they are technology experts. “They pass over areas that appear too difficult or cumbersome to use. If they don‘t perceive an immediate payoff for their efforts, they won‘t click on a link, fix an error, or read detailed instructions.”

Thus, the redesign is strategically focused on simplicity and efficiency without sacrificing aesthetics. Elements of the design were carefully aligned to this strategy, and none were added simply for decoration.

Students Tested Our Design

Before we redesigned our website, we gathered information from students to find out what they wanted from a website. We looked at other college websites. We researched what works on the Web. Then we tested our ideas with students at the DCCCD colleges. Students tried out our website design to see what worked and what did not. We tweaked our design, then we re-tested it with students.

Again, we simplified things or changed labels based on their input. Then we tested it again. In the end, our final version of this design is based on what students told us they wanted from a district website.

Helping Our Employees

Because of this new focus on tasks and information relevancy, employees haven’t been neglected in this project. The redesign’s focus on clearer information organization should enable employees to find what they need on the website more quickly, too. All employee, business and community, and other information used by staff remains — it’s just in different places.

For example, Employees and Business/Community sites have simply been moved from the top of the home page to the navigation area at the bottom of the home page. Jobs/Human Resources is also be more prominent and easier to find than before, at the bottom of the page next to Employees.

Plus, if students can find basic information they need on the website, that means employees can help with special cases instead of answering general information questions.

Behind the Scenes

Rather than hire a Web design firm, the redesign was implemented in-house by the District Website Redesign Project Team. Colleen Lin, who served on that team but recently left the district to start her own business, SandShop Media, designed the usability tests and website before striking out on her own. The District Website Redesign Project Team also includes:

  • April Ellis, senior Web editor
  • Travis Haapala, Web programmer analyst II
  • Dawn Hellmund, Web programmer analyst II
  • Joanna Jordan, Web writer/editor
  • Georgeann Moss, director of Internet Publishing
  • Jon Novak, Internet/Intranet project manager
  • Rick Rosen, senior Web editor

Special Thanks

We want to say a big thank you to all of the students who helped us on the redesign — we truly couldn’t have done it without you!

We’d also like to thank the many people who have supported this redesign since its inception: the members of the Districtwide Web Action Team (DWAT), J.D. Haight, Ed DesPlas and our executive sponsor, Justin Lonon.