Known as The University of Silicon Beach, it is blessed with a to-die-for location on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Students gain from countless work experiences and internships in Los Angeles, an international center of culture and creativity, just a short distance away. Informed by its Jesuit heritage, the university and its seven schools cover a broad scope of academic programs, including entrepreneurship, animation, dance, and theology.
Having an orchestra’s worth of instruments, though, only goes so far. You’ve got to write a symphony to use them.
“I had just had lunch with a prospective donor who is a significant player in Silicon Valley, and who had told me that he loved everything about LMU ... but the website,” said Dennis Slon, senior vice president for university relations at LMU. “One of the major challenges that we had in redeveloping LMU.edu was a lack of clarity around campus about how we wanted to talk about ourselves.”
That’s why LMU brought in mStoner: To help rebuild its website and to establish a more effective way of showcasing the university’s many distinctive strengths.
“It is increasingly important for universities in a competitive field to be able to talk about themselves in a way that makes them unique and makes students understand exactly who we are and why we offer something that others don’t necessarily offer,” Slon says.
Technology challenges were also a key factor. LMU’s aging content management system hindered daily website management; even routine tasks like building new pages and featuring timely content were difficult to accomplish. And with dozens of individuals responsible for maintaining different areas of the site, establishing a consistent and coherent tone and style also became an ongoing issue.
mStoner helped LMU stamp its brand identity on the site and develop the framework to ensure the solution would endure long beyond launch day.
“LMU was really at a point where incremental changes weren’t going to do it any more,” says Michael Stoner, mStoner’s co-founder and co-owner. “They needed to make radical changes, blow everything up, figure out ways to handle university news more effectively, and think about ways to represent the strengths of the institution that hadn’t been done effectively across the site.”
The new site draws visitors in with bold photography and video and captures their attention with engaging stories and content.
“We wanted to make sure that we were accomplishing something truly transformative for our institution,” says John Kiralla, executive director of marketing and communications at LMU. “And that means more than just looking at the design. It looks at information architecture, the way we present ourselves in terms of content, the functionality, and just the overall presentation of the institution’s messages.”
And while academic programs are among the most important selling points at any institution, helping students understand their options is often an afterthought on many websites. mStoner developed a best-in-class “Majors and Minors” page for LMU that inspires visitors to explore the university’s diverse academic program offerings.
Prospective students and parents can sort programs by area of interest or degree type — and each program is represented by a drawer that slides open, exposing relevant photography and a 75 - 100 word summary of the program. This approach balances the needs of visitors who want to move quickly and directly to a specific area of interest with the needs of prospective students and parents who wish to spend time browsing and exploring their options in a clean, well-organized space.
The new program finder generated over 150,000 pageviews in its first year and became the fourth most visited page on the main site.
The resulting changes have energized the campus’ marketing and communications team, which now looks at its marketing goals through a web-first lens. And now that team has the tools to manage and maximize content.
“We have to design for basically two audiences,” says Ben Bilow, mStoner’s creative director. “There’s the external audience — the prospective students, the parents, and all the visitors. But we also have to design for the people who actually develop the content and use the content management system. They’ve got to have the right tools, and it’s got to be easy for them to build new pages."
The LMU team credits mStoner with pushing them to take bold steps and move beyond their comfort zone. To Michael Stoner, that’s precisely what mStoner should do: Challenge assumptions and act as a catalyst.
“There are a lot of places they could go and get a site that looks nice,” Stoner says. “When they started thinking about the project, they realized that it wasn't just a design and user experience challenge. It was a strategic challenge. They needed to think through how the LMU brand would be expressed on their website and how they approached their website across the institution. That touches on governance — how they're organized and the kinds of skills they had internally to maintain the site. By addressing each of those, they’ve ensured the site isn’t just sustainable, but that it will continue to evolve and improve.”
The new website has been a hit on campus, and beyond.
Website strategy, prototype development, responsive design, responsive HTML, content development, TERMINALFOUR CMS implementation and training, and usability testing.