Bushnell University

IA, UX, UI, Content Management, Strategy
DISCLOSURE: Bushnell University is a client of AHM Brands, and at the time of this project I was Senior UX/UI designer, and part of a much larger team.
My collegues at AHM Brands and I were responsible for ushering in a top-down redesign for Bushnell University. The client was changing their name and required their physical and digital brand assets to fall in line. The website needed to be burned down and rebuilt from scratch. I was responsible for deep-diving into their information architecture, content, userflows, wireframes and prototypes for testing, and an all-new interface to make sure it was better than before. It was a beast.
What I set out to do
A large scope with high expectations required detailed project management.
I handled everything from the content and information architecture audit and redesign, to developing new userflows, wireframes, and prototypes. I completed card sorting tests and a field study to validate some of our goals. Finally I redesigned the user interface, taking the new identity my colleagues had developed, and created accessible modules and documentation to hand over to the developer. Then I did about 20 other things you can read about below.
Research & Design
Understanding the content so it could be streamlined.
Given that I had never worked on a higher ed website project before, let alone a site with this much content, one of my primary tasks was to invent some ways to be efficient and learn some approaches I'd seen others do, but never executed myself. The first step was to thoroughly study the competition to figure out common user patterns, best practices, and were we could stand apart. Next came the task of auditing their architecture, URLs and content and determining where we could make improvements. I built a spreadsheet of existing URLs in order to clean up content organization and track redirects of renamed URLs for better SEO and user-friendliness. After this I needed to create a visual sitemap in Illustrator so the client team could wrap their heads around the content and architecture changes I was proposing.
Prior to meeting with the department heads for approvals, I did rounds of user testing on new menu labels and content organization to look for blind spots in the information architecture. We did a field study with a group of freshman in order to design a student life section that would provide information students thought was most relevant when they started school. We served up pizza, had a casual getting-to-know-you ice-breaker, and got to work talking about their fav things to do on campus. The needs on this page turned out to be a bit different than what the folks working in the student life office thought. The end result was a diagrammed web page with post-it notes identifying content hierarchy that meant the most to students. All of this data supported our recommendations when we presented to the department heads. It always pays to get user involvement - after a few basic questions the direction was approved.

During this process we were also iterating on wireframes and a clickable prototype using Sketch and InVision. Our team was helping re-write high level content on all key landing pages, and we were using our wireframes to deliver this content for client approval so our module designs were supported by clear use cases. In the meantime, the developer was busy rolling out modules that had been approved.
Outcome & Learning
Always do a project retrospective.
Websites with this much content organization would benefit from a dedicated content redesign phase, prior to any UI design and development. If time had not been so pressing for the client, I would have first built a live content prototype on a plain ol’ neked bootstrap framework in order to migrate and update new content within the new architecture.

This would have provided our small teams more time for content refinement and we would have been able to live with the new URL structure, and understood exactly what modules needed to be built. The UI design process would have been accurate with final content in place. I would have also scaled back on UI details overall. It was nice for the brand facelift to have a unique theme, but some elements going forward may need to be scaled back to stay utilitarian.

In the end the client achieved a massive brand and content facelift across print, screen, and environment in an uncomfortable amount of time. Bushnell University was delivered a new website with improved content organization, URL structures, and user funnels, as well as customized CMS features for better content management. Most importantly, everything had been designed around an “admissions first” purpose, and every section of the site was geared towards helping new students find their way through the application process.

Let's never use the term "synergy".

You need me. I need you.  If we do this, it's gonna make sparks fly and maybe start fires. I'll bring the matches. You bring the kerosene. And a sense of humor.