Building a New Website for SUNY: Feedback, Decisions, and Plans for the Futureby mStoner Staff
ESTIMATED READING TIME: 3 minutes
A chancellor who consults for President Obama, thousands of applications received each month, and 64 campuses to showcase. That’s SUNY.
The size and scope of the largest public system of education in the U.S. was a fascinating and complex backdrop as we worked to relaunch the website with a new design, new information architecture (IA), new content, and a new user experience. Now SUNY.edu features a streamlined, mobile-friendly IA and two homepages: SUNY.edu to meet the needs of the public and external audiences, and System.SUNY.edu for an internal community of nearly half a million students and 100,000+ faculty and staff on 64 campuses.
One goal for the suite of design templates mStoner created for the site was to present storytelling about SUNY impact, outcomes, and transformations:
David Belsky, director of marketing and creative services, led the SUNY team during the website relaunch project that officially kicked off in March 2013. David and I had a chance to debrief and this is what we talked about:
What did you bring to the project? What are the two most critical skills needed to lead a web relaunch project in higher ed?
Honestly, I think the best thing you can do as the executive sponsor of a web project is to stay out of its way. Of course I’m not saying to sit back and let everyone do the work for you — but it’s important to let your team own what they are doing, and to listen to your colleagues’ ideas even if you already have a vision. On the flip side, you also need to play the role of “guide.” Career Services might want some whiz-bang feature, your job is to meet their needs in a feasible way.
What did you overhear on the day the new site went live? What comments stand out?
“It’s so slick!” That was probably number one, which isn’t surprising considering the site we were moving away from. But I was thrilled that the runner-up comments included positive reactions to our unique navigation structure, how we put student information front and center, and how we really brought the SUNY brand alive. Unavoidably, we also had the snipes about a few broken links and the like, but thankfully just enough that we were able to keep up with all of that feedback on day one of the launch.
When the mStoner team first proposed a two-homepages strategy, what was your reaction? Did you like it immediately? Why do you think it works?
We had always thought about separating the more internally-focused content from SUNY.edu as the right call, but had never gone as far as thinking two homepages was the solution. But when mStoner laid that out on the table, it was almost like an epiphany – duh, why didn’t we think of that? It was a great solution for SUNY — the majority of our traffic comes from prospective students, and our biggest potential market is alumni, and so of course our homepage should cater to them. But we also had a unique set of audiences both internal to SUNY and across state government that needed to access our site for all kinds of other information related to how we run the system, that needed a home, but it didn’t need to clutter the experience of others. Two homepages (SUNY.edu and System.SUNY.edu) allowed us to make almost everyone happy.
If you could turn back time, what would you do differently?
Allowed more time. We were all very excited to get a new website up and running, but in hindsight, we should’ve planned on a longer development process so we could launch with more of the bells and whistles we had on our wish list from day one.
One of my favorite David Belsky quotes from the project was, “I think that super footer is a little too super.” What do you remember about that conversation and what are your thoughts about where we landed footer-wise?
Ha, that was a good day. The mStoner team presented some great design mockups and indeed, I felt the footer was too long. After a solid discussion about best practices and actual use cases, I think the collapsible footer brought us to a middle ground that truly addressed our needs and that our team was more comfortable with. A win-win for everyone.
What’s up next for SUNY? How do you think your team will evolve the site over time? What are you planning for the remainder of 2014?
Bigger. Better. Faster. Stronger. We’re now going back to start implementing more of our wish list items, finishing the transition of any remaining content, and looking at more integrations with many of our existing and upcoming student web applications to create an even more seamless experience. So, stay tuned.
When you think back over the past 10 or 11 months, what are you most proud about?
It’s remarkable to me how every stakeholder was able to get behind what we were trying to achieve. So I guess I’m most proud that we rolled out a result that really reflected so many people’s input and ideas, yet still presented one, unified State University. We are 64 campuses strong, but there is no question at SUNY.edu that we are one system.
SUNY is bigger than big. And, the website relaunch project for SUNY was pretty big too. So big, there’s enough to talk about for a second blog post. Stay tuned for more about how mStoner’s strategic and innovative approach addressed some of SUNY’s core challenges. In the meantime, all of us at mStoner send Big Congrats! to the SUNY team. </useofthewordbig>