Ready for Launch

Website Launch Poster

Website Launch Poster

The period for the public website has ended and the survey results are in. We are extremely pleased with the overall response and plan to move forward with a launch. I love the comments from our users, good and bad, they help either way.

The date that has been selected is November 11th, 2013 for the cutover. We are going to go with that based on a number of factors including foot traffic, registration periods, and general web traffic.

Overall updates are few. We continue to revise content and import it into the new site. The content team moved into a mode of fully maintaining two websites: the current one and the new one. Design updates are centered around the audience identifier pages in making sure these are presented correctly. The Faculty and Staff page has been the trickiest (who would have guessed!)

Here is the format that the content team has been relying for weeks now:

  • What do we have, what do we need?
  • Write it for the web
  • Fit it into the IA
  • Hook it up (Create pages and menus within the CMS)
  • Populate it
  • Review it with the subject matter expert (SME) – This is usually a/the process holder.
  • Repeat (x eleventy-billion)

A side note: our WordPress installation is coming online and folks are  really chomping at the bit to use it. I am ready to deploy it myself and get back into that scene.

After the homepage switch we will be on high alert for users looking for content. URL’s will be redirected in several ways so we should be good. Back-up plans and other considerations are on the table if this just doesn’t pan out technically.

As the man once said: “See you on the other side Ray.”

Sneak Peak

Sneaky Kitty

I know there wasn’t much talk here in-between the Tree Testing and now but it was simply taking what we learned, and are still learning, and pounding the IA into a “de-siloed” method of content presentation. I know I am extremely oversimplifying it, but really that’s what we have been doing. Content team as been living and breathing this stuff.

We went from Dev to Pre-production fairly soothly. IT guys really did well.

So without further a-do:

After 2+ years of research, meetings, presentations, and simple hard work. ACC is now in public preview mode with its Drupal-based, responsive, public facing website.

Very proud of all the teams. Check out the Newsroom post.

The Giving Tree – Tree Testing the New Information Architecture

Students taking the tree test and exploring preliminary designs at the ACC Eastview Campus

Students taking the tree test and exploring preliminary designs at the ACC Eastview Campus

What’s a Tree Test?

A tree test defined is “A tree test is like a usability test on the skeleton of your navigation with the design “skin” removed. It allows you to isolate problems in findability in your taxonomy, groups or labels that are not attributable to issues with design distractions, or helpers.” via Jeff Sauro – Measuring Usability

In short a tree test tests how well you have organized content within your site, and how well you have labeled that content.


The card sort phase of the Web Redesign Project was deployed using OptimalSort’s Card Sorting program and we turned to them again for the tree testing part of the project. Using the software, I was able to input the skeleton of our test website into the system and assign several tasks for the testers. We had 9 individual tasks for testers and the tests lasted about 20 min. “Correct” answers are marked within the system. Simple analysis of the test included how quickly users were able to find information and if they selected the correct information at all. More in-depth analysis shows what path down the tree users took and how many times they had to go back up the tree to find the information they felt comfortable with.

After testers were finished with the tree test they we shown the development website and asked to browse around and get a general first impression of it. We asked testers to both explore and consider finding the same type of information they had been tasked with in the tree test. and then fill out a quick paper survey.

I took an online seminar on how best to set up the tree test and actually test the test to make sure it was viable. In our first iteration there were some snags but for the most part I was content with how it read and worked. Since our test site is rather large, setting up the tree was difficult but I finally got it to function. At this point we were ready to deploy the test.

Students taking the tree test and exploring preliminary designs at the ACC South Austin Campus

Students taking the tree test and exploring preliminary designs at the ACC South Austin Campus

Feed the Tree

I set up a vanity URL that was easy to remember and pointed it at the online tree test.

The team then went to South Austin Campus and Eastview Campus on different days to solicit students to become testers. Tests were performed in classrooms that were equipped with computers. Since the test was web based i did not have to install special software or programs, and the test was completed through a web browser. After these to sessions were completed, we edited the tree to take into account what we learned. We then deployed that tree test at Cypress Creek Campus to validate the changes.

Low Hanging Fruit

We quickly discovered that due to the amount of information we have and the specific tasks that students are asked to perform, finding the information proved difficult even with our new information structure. The task often had a driver word that users latched onto, and then went down those paths.

Example 1: “Find student computer access on campus.”

Testers latched on to the “campus” part of the question and initially started on the “Locations” page, which did not have a section for student computers. If students did make it down “Services for Students” section they selected the “Support Center” page which is also incorrect.

Example 2:” You’ve heard the meningitis requirement might affect you. Find the information and see if it affects you.”

Many students marked the Frequently Asked Questions under the “About ACC” section. I did not have this marked as a correct answer but again what this does showcase is how a user may be thinking about a topic and where they feel information should be located.

Spruce the Branches

We are making adjustments to the tree by analyzing where information is located and what we are labeling content as the test progresses. At a given point we will roll out these changes to the actual website once they have been discussed. Again, we are looking for trends and signifiers that will tell us how and where users expect to find particular sets of information and content.

Why not help us out and take the tree test?

Take the tree test here!


The comments the students left us on the new website questionnaire can be viewed here. Thanks to the testing team for putting this together!

Design Mock Up: Round 1

Taking what we have learned from the research phase of the web redesign project, our designers have created the first iteration of what our new template may look like..

Let’s go from top to bottom on this design. Remember, menus and groupings have already been established and the following is the first visual representation of those findings. Click the images to go to the development pages themselves.

ACC Homepage

ACC Homepage Mockup

ACC Homepage Mockup

Topic Based Content (Graduation Information)

Graduation Information Page Mock Up

Graduation Information Page Mock Up

The very top menu bar is our utility bar. This hold links to our most accessed online applications.  It contains an audience identifier drop down which can guide users who self select a choice to the appropriate landing page which will hold content that pertains to them. Secondary menu bars that contain the search box and other highly accessed links appear just beneath this.

Visually, the ACC logo is in the upper right which is a common placement and a general best practice. We are still working on how our slogan Start Here. Get there will be incorporated into the design, if at all.

Our main menu links have been incorporated into a type of “mega-menu”. These menus will serve as gateways to our top-tasks and most accessed content while bringing many success geared content types to the top of our information architecture. These menus will be reviewed on a consistent basis so that users have direct access to the required information at any point within the user experience.

Large images that reinforce content will be  on many high-level pages. These images will again reinforce to a user the content type and nature while underscoring ACC’s brand and values.

A left hand side main menu seems to be default but is not always the case in many new designs in higher education. The design team has elected (for now) to use the left hand side menu with the main content to the right. Our webpage is being built on a grid system so many new types of content signifiers such as sidebars will be possible without special accommodation. Typography and stylistic elements within the main content area are still in development at this time.  All content types such as headings, paragraphs, charts, tables, lists, block-quotes, videos, important notes, and so on will have a distinct style, and will be controlled through the main style sheet.  While placement of these elements will have some leeway, look and feel of the content will remain consistent.

Moving past the main content area is a kind of pre-footer. This area will hold links and other functions such as contact forms or knowledge base queries. The “Quicklinks” link section of this area  will be incorporated into the menus and homepage components.

For now the footer reflects the very same links that are located within the main menus at the top of the page. This may or may not change based on usability tests. Also located within the footer is “i am acc” sub-brand and links to ACC’s social media presence.  These elements are also in review.

Again, this is the first iteration and mock-up, so no style or content placement has been confirmed. These mock-ups do however show the direction of look and feel as the project moves forward.

Set Phasers to Stun

Almost all web redesign projects that I have kept up with have been rolled out in phases. I have seen very few projects have been a full cut-over without any links,layouts, or content that reference the old website. ACC’s website will follow suit. There will be several phases of content migration with the most noticeable being the homepage and “top-level” content.  This is a preliminary schedule that does not have any dates set to it per-say, but will be a guide for addressing content as it gets reviewed and then migrated into where it is supposed to live.

Using the content inventory, the following phases will consist of:

Phase 1

All of the public facing content that is aimed at future students, current students, and the community will move into the Drupal CMS. It will serve as the “top level” of the website.
This content is located on websites under the “External Information” and “Special Purpose (if applicable)” categories on the spreadsheet.
At this point in time we could launch the new website if we wanted to do so.

Phase 2

All of the internal facing content that is aimed at faculty, staff, and administrators will move into the Drupal CMS or WordPress CMS.
This content is located on websites under the “Internal Admin Info”, “Internal Admin Dept” and “Special Purpose (if applicable)” categories on the spreadsheet.

Phase  3

All Academic Department Sites will either move to the Drupal CMS, WordPress CMS, or Google Sites.  The content team will have to work with these folks and I see this one as the most problematic.
This content is located on websites under the “Academic Dept” and “Instructional” categories on the spreadsheet.

Phase 4

All faculty website content is moved into Google Sites or the instructional content server (if approved).
This content is located on websites under the “Faculty – Listed” categories on the spreadsheet.
Hopefully IDS has been moving instructional websites off to Google Sites the way it has been described in some preliminary meetings that have been held.

At this time we can rename the old www box and give it a viking funeral. (I hope it makes it this far).

Systems Admin decommissions old server

Systems Admin decommissions old server

Pick a Card, Any Card


Playing Cards

The Shuffle and The Deal

Part of developing the information architecture of a website is the activity known as a “card sort”. In a nutshell, this entails putting content descriptors down on actual paper cards and then grouping the cards together based on how an individual feels they should be.

This revels the nature of how users may look for particular pieces of content on a website, navigation structures, the way content is described, and other website elements. Six Revisions has an excellent post that explains the process.

Big Blinds

ACC’s card sort started with an analysis of the types of links and content that community colleges had on their home pages. Using a list provided by the University of Texas at Austin, each website was reviewed for links and content.

Many elements we common, but there were a few that expressed a new way of approaching certain content pieces and even design. A list was created of all the different labels and menu items that I saw on these websites. The list can be viewed here.

The Flop

The list was then distributed to the Web Redesign Team members and others who reviewed which content labels and types should stay on the list and which should be eliminated. The resulting list made up our final top level content sort.

This list was then loaded into an online card sorting program. This allows users to organize content and menus the way they want from the convenience of their own machine. This also helps eliminate the influence of others on an individual card sort.

River of Dreams

Please take the time to do the card sort for us! It will really help us in the next phase of the Web Redesign Project.

Launch the Card Sort!

Web Assessment Report Completion

As part of the “Research and Discovery” phase of the Web Redesign Project, the Web Assessment Report has been completed and made available. This document justifies the need for a redesign of ACC’s website and provides a snapshot of where the college stands as far as its web presence is concerned.

The Web Assessment Report highlights who ACC’s website’s users are and what they use the website for. The report calls to attention where the website succeeds as well as where it fails. The report also makes some general suggestions, but focuses more on the current state of the ACC website while positioning itself as a resource as the Web Redesign Project moves forward.

Developing a Strategy for Content Review and User Experience Testing

A sub-group of the team met to discuss strategy for content review, and to begin planning for user research focusing on the task completion scenarios provided to us by the outside consultant.

At this point in the process we are working toward a “state of the web report” known as the Web Assessment Report. As stated in the creative brief, this report addresses the following topics.

  • Audiences Strengths and weaknesses
  • Summary of data that was reviewed and gathered
  • List of critical attributes
  • Guiding principals and goals
  • Proposed plan for representing campus constituencies and collecting feedback
  • Recommended timetable
  • Budget impact
  • Proposed administrative model for sustaining the website
  • Summary of data that was collected

The Web Assessment Report is our first milestone and we are planning to have that complied by August. The Web Assessment Report is going to be the guidepost for the next steps in the Web Redesign Project.

The consensus of the group was to begin analyzing content, not necessarily re-writing it. We want to identify our strengths and weaknesses as far as content within our scope goes, so we can develop a plan of attack when it comes to developing, formatting, and producing content for the redesign.

The group also wants to begin planning for our user testing. Social media, soliciting students at orientation events, and other avenues will be used to recruit students to participate. The group that it was key to have a diverse set of users testing the website, which included a users computer skill set, as well as other factors.

Updates to these two tasks will be reported moving toward the Web Assessment Report milestone.

Analysis from an outside expert has been made available to the team. ACC will enter into contract with Stewart Foss of eduStyle to provide the group with his services. Stewart and his team will provide the group with a 10 page report that includes specific recommendations to help improve the design and usability of our site. It also includes code samples and examples of best practices. This report will be incorporated into the Web Assessment Report overall.

Announcing Web Redesign of

The college has begun the vital project of redesigning the top level public facing portion of  The scope of the project focuses on the most used content on ACC’s website such as our homepage and other landing pages, but also helps areas of the college enhance and update their own web presence through new tools, resources, and technology.

The following is the creative brief for the Web Redesign Project 2011-2012 which sets the tone, scope, and focus of the project. This can, and will be revised moving forward, but it is used as a guidepost for the overall direction we are headed in with the project.


The Austin Community College website is the college’s most important public facing asset on the World Wide Web. The purpose of the website is to provide all users, including current and prospective students as well as faculty, staff and other audiences with information and serve as a gateway to college services and resources. The information and content that the website provides must be relevant, timely, and useful while at the same time reinforcing ACC’s brand and core mission. The creation and maintenance of this information in conjunction with the appropriate delivery method and executions are vital to student recruitment and success. The College seeks to begin a comprehensive redesign of its web presence.

The Audience:

In accordance with the Student Success Initiative and other programs at ACC, the primary focus will move toward current students and their successful college experience. Secondary audiences will include faculty, staff, and prospective students as well as other smaller groups.

Objectives and Goals:

The goal of the redesign project is to strictly define the College’s website as a key strategic communication asset that supports the College’s priority initiatives, reflects its key messages, and reinforces the College’s brand on the web. The project will encompass reinventing content architectures while enhancing design and user experience. Key goals and measurements include:

  • A renewed focus on the user and their needs
  • A user experience that allows for the access and provision of the appropriate content and/or service at the required time
  • A balanced approach to the unique characteristics of diverse audiences
  • A consistent design that coincides with the College’s communication initiatives
  • An intuitive information structure that takes into account readability and accessibility requirements.
  • Establishing the College’s web presence as the primary gateway to information regarding curriculum, academic and administrative policies, and access to College resources.


Projects of a similar nature have taken anywhere from 12 months to several years based on the scope of the project. Having a product in place within the next 12 months would be optimal, so that it coincides with other projects highlighted in ACC’s Master Plan.

The Responsible Parties:

The Public Information and College Marketing department at Austin Community College has been the initiator and main point of contact for similar projects in the past, and will continue to be so.

This office will:

  • Establish process and workflows
  • Assist key areas with task completion
  • Communicate project progress to the ACC community, while taking input from stakeholders
  • Sign off on final executions

The project will be managed by Web Administrator, Edward Terry along with key people within Public Information and College Marketing. Updates to the project will be posted here at the Web Development Blog, and distributed to a wide variety of college audiences and stakeholders.

We are extremely excited to begin this process and hope to produce something that is a pride-point for the college, and the people it serves.