Our latest effort at HSU went live a week or so ago: First Year Connections. This project was a challenge, in that it highlights 5 separate programs that are administered by 5 different groups on campus. Those of you that work at Universities probably are rolling your eyes in sympathy right now, thinking that this is the formula for a nightmare of a site. And it has been in the past, but this time we were actually able to pull off a really great campaign that includes both printed materials and a web site. I thought I’d document our process here, as much for myself as for you, my five readers, so that I can remember how to pull this off in the future.

First, I have to credit the clients for realizing that it would be helpful to the audience (students that have just been admitted to their first year of study) to give them information about all these programs in a single publication/site. They were able to see beyond their department walls and understand the big picture here. They were also able to set aside their previous efforts and let my department do what we’ve been trained to do.

I am part of the Graphic Services department, which means that I work with professional graphic designers. When I first got the job I thought that this might be a bone of contention— I’ve heard lots of horror stories about how print people don’t understand the web and yadda yadda. But it has been quite the opposite. I have learned about print design and they have learned about the medium of the web, and we have worked well together, each bringing our own skills to the table.

So the first thing we did was sit down with the clients as a department— web and print folks all together— and talk to the clients about the project. We talked about the goals of the client and the users, what kind of publications and web sites from our university these users have already interacted with, what questions they would have, and how we could make the process of sigining up to a bunch of separate programs as easy as possible. We went over the ways they have handled this information in the past and talked to them about what worked and what didn’t.

Then we started brainstorming about the form the campaign could take, both in print and on the web. How can we get the main message across in an interesting way? How can we make signups easy? How can we make a complicated set of programs understandable to the students? How can we spark their interest to want to learn more? And how can we do it all with the limitations we have in terms of time and budget? Ask questions like this to a room full of creatives, and the energy and ideas will flow.

We came up with a print poster that contained basic information, great photos, and a clear call to action for students to go to the web site to learn more and sign up. We really focused on the writing of the poster, borrowing a young creative guy from PR to help us. That step was a major boon to the project— we finally had words that fit with the designs we were doing, words written by someone who understands marketing and young people rather that by the director of the program or one of the employees that processes the registrations. We also removed as many of the acronyms of the programs as possible. There are so many that I can’t even keep them straight, let alone a student that hasn’t even been to campus yet.

For the web site, I took design concepts from the printed piece and adapted them to the new medium. I focused on user interaction— how a student would move through the site, and how to orgainize the large amount of information that is there. Since the print piece was a poster rather than a booklet, the bulk of the information went on the web, including course descriptions, fees, testamonials, and signup forms. So the architecture of the site became essential.

We then spent a lot of time working out an interactive signup form, that allows folks to sign up for the various programs in one place. The form sends the essential information to the various separate departments involved, while being transparent to the student. I can’t stress this enough. Students don’t care who is in charge of what on campus. They just want to do what they need to do and move on. This was a major goal of ours, which we largely met.

The project has been a success so far, and it is one that everyone involved is proud of, which is some feat. There is some refining to be done for next year, but when is the first iteration ever perfect? Goals have been met so far— signups are way ahead of where they were last year and almost all feedback is good.

It’s nice to feel victorious. Too often university projects are ruined by politics, budget, and territoriality.