Founded in 1903, Lynchburg College is an independent, residential liberal arts college with about 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students. The rolling 214-acre campus sits in the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Central Virginia.
With its new website, the College wanted to communicate more effectively with its many different constituents, all within a simple, clean design. The project stakeholders had to feel confident that they were balancing the varied interests and priorities of both internal and external users.
As is typical of most higher education institutions, large or small, Lynchburg had the challenge of addressing many, sometimes conflicting interests on the project. There were strong opinions on details large and small – about what should be most prominent on the home page for example, or the order in which certain types of information should appear.
So Bluespark proposed a combination of contextual interviews regarding the old site, and initial usability testing of the new site to make sure the new navigation made sense to various users. Our approach was holistic and practical. Instead of ignoring the role politics played in decision making about site structure, we helped stakeholders confront that reality head on by giving them the data they needed to make the best choices.
After outlining some user profiles, we crafted an information architecture and navigation structure based on the identified users needs rather than established political domains. But we knew that such a bold approach would require more than profiles to convince key stakeholders, so we conducted a comparative, iterative usability test on a prototype of the design. We recruited participants from the live site; people would complete a form and if they matched our criteria, we would call them to conduct the test. We observed them completing their task on the current site and then observed them completing the same task on the prototype, updating the prototype based on our observations. The pre-launch usability testing gave stakeholders confidence that they had met their goal of a clearly structured site that made sense to their many different users.
Perhaps the strongest feature of the new Lynchburg College site is the thinking that went into it. Rather than asking stakeholders to determine what they wanted the information structure of the new site to be, Bluespark asked, "What do various users need to do? How can we make it easy for them?"
This approach allowed Lynchburg to balance competing organizational interests with the demonstrated needs of users. The result is an information structure based on how users really approach their various tasks – a site that's easy and productive to use.