Prepping for a Web Redesign at Gettysburg College

There are several motivating factors behind a web redesign.

These factors range from flaws with design and content, to organizational concerns.

While in the realm of web redesign, there are different ways to approach it.

Some may choose to completely demolish and start anew. Others might go the route of polishing and trimming an already stable structure.

We recently had an enlightening conversation with Paul Fairbanks, Director of Creative Services at Gettysburg College, where he shared the college’s decision to tear everything down and build it back up from scratch.

In that interview, Paul dove into the nitty gritty about how to prep for and get buy-in for a successful web design process at your institution.

Determining Web Owners vs. Web Stakeholders

At Gettysburg College, no one and everyone owns the website.

Currently, the college is using CMS, a content management system, which allows every department and administrative office to have control over their piece of the website.

It is a distributive model, all things considered.

In the future, Paul foresees moving to a more centralized model. The benefit of the centralized model is that it helps control messaging a little bit better.

During the redesigning process, the college continued with the theme of everyone being a part of the Web Redesign Committee. There are faculty, people from their development office, admissions, financial services, student support, IT, and there is even a student who was invited to have a voice.

It was important to Paul’s team to make sure that everyone on campus knows what is going on, and that they were brought in to the process.

Getting the Web Redesign Committee on the Same Page

Rather than putting out a broad request for proposal, or doing whatever they wanted to do, the college decided to make sure everyone was on board from the very beginning.

How was this done? Here is what Paul’s team did.

In order to have everyone on the same page, and know what they were getting into with the redesign process, a scoping exercise was suggested to do some initial research before the RFP (request for proposal).

The college hired an agency to do some research for and then also do an on campus workshop with the redesign committee. What that did was allow everyone to understand the purpose for going through the exercise and what the goals are after completing it.

The workshop was incredibly valuable because it gave a scope for what was involved during the redesign process. It was also beneficial in exposing some potential pain points that may come along and some understandings of what’s out there. This opportunity educated the Web Redesign Committee on where they were, and what their destination was.

Getting Consensus and Buy-In on the Website’s Primary Goal: Recruitment

Too often, projects get sidetracked for numerous reasons. Having a strong framework from the get go makes all the difference.

Paul shares that one of the most important things his team came out of the scoping exercise with was an agreed primary goal.

This primary goal was recruitment aimed at prospective students and their families. While this may seem obvious to anyone from a marketing viewpoint, it isn’t obvious to everybody else who is involved on the committee.

In higher education web, there will always be a balance between marketing, information, and transactional tools. The website serves many audiences, and it can’t be a 100% marketing tool… depending on who you’re asking.

The value of having some research upfront is that it started to build consensus amongst the different parts of the committee about the “why” in the project.

A very helpful piece of research was taking a look around at what other schools were doing on their websites when it came to engaging prospective students. It helped paint a common goal for Paul’s committee.

Where to Start Your Higher Ed Web Redesign Process

Not the homepage.

The homepage is the billboard.

First, it is important to present some concepts that will build on the educational foundation. A system is being build, not just a homepage with supporting pages.

A goal for the Web Redesign Committee was to take a look at internal pages and start to understand how the different components of different pages will work together. Things can be taken out, and put in so that modularity of atomic design, and a design system will all work together.

The committee has a clear expectation of what’s coming and open communication which is critical for laying a strong foundation to build on.

If any institutions are about to embark on the web design process, it is vital to make sure that their committee is on the same page, and has a shared understanding of why they’re doing it.

While Gettysburg College chose to break it all down and build it up again, there are different paths to take and different strategies to think through.

But most importantly, get everyone on the same page.

Have an agreed primary goal, and encourage open communication throughout the entire project.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Paul Fairbanks from Gettysburg College. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.