The main U-M website — www.umich.edu — will get a significant makeover later this summer to give the university a modern look with best-in-class navigation on a platform that adjusts automatically for any type of digital device.
The project to remake the university’s “gateway” on the Internet is being led by a team at Michigan Creative, the university’s in-house creative agency, which has managed the website for the past decade.
“About half a million unique visitors come to umich.edu every month,” says Christopher Billick, Michigan Creative’s director of digital media. “This gateway serves as the ‘front door’ for the university, so it offers a unique opportunity to tell our story through compelling content, powerful imagery and the smart use of technology.”
Billick says the redesign will go well beyond a fresh look, although visuals are an important aspect. He explains that the new-and-improved website will be developed on a “responsive” platform that makes it just as effective when viewed on a tablet, smart phone or on a desktop computer.
The Michigan Creative team also will make improvements to navigation and functionality, based on research conducted over the past two years.
In 2011, Michigan Creative partnered with the marketing communications firm Lipman Hearne on the initial phase of redesign research. The agency went through a comprehensive discovery process, testing the navigation, features and functions of the existing website. The team studied the way visitors used umich.edu and identified issues around labeling, design and search that could be addressed in the redesign.
“Lipman Hearne’s research was essential to our planning process,” Billick says. “The navigation, the information architecture, the labels, the types of content — everything was informed by what we learned from the analytics and the user testing.”
A key component moving forward was making the website responsive to the increasing types of mobile technology being used to access the site. Many younger people use their phones as their primary source of Internet connectivity. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Report, one in four teens is a “cell mostly” Internet user.
Michigan Creative again looked to research earlier this year when the gateway team worked with website experts at TecEd, an Ann Arbor-based Web user-experience firm, to conduct a usability study of potential designs. The project included participants representing five primary U-M constituencies: prospective students, parents of prospective students, current U-M students, faculty and alumni.
Study participants were given tasks to perform, enabling the user-experience specialists to determine whether the informational paths were appropriate. Participants also were presented with two different website approaches and asked for their feedback. The navigation scored high marks, performing at a 95 percent success rate, confirming that the site architecture was on target.
As work moved toward a launch later this summer, Kelly Fuligni, creative director at Michigan Creative, says the new website also will leverage the refreshed Block M logo and other brand assets unveiled in May.
“The expanded color palette and vibrant imagery will help engage the user,” she says. “And we’re going to take full advantage of informational graphics, which are a great way of effectively communicating complicated information.”
Matt Schlientz, U-M director of marketing, says the redesigned website will continue to communicate key U-M brand attributes and support enrollment, promote academics and provide a high-quality user experience for both internal and external audiences.
“Along with the refreshed Block M logo, the new, responsive gateway website will make U-M accessible any time, in any format, anywhere around the globe.”
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