In the fall of 2016, I moved my son, Will into his dorm at The University of Texas at Dallas. He had officially become a UTD Comet. About six weeks later, I transitioned from The University of Texas at Arlington to UT Dallas as well, leaving my post as editorial director to become a web content editor. On the surface, it looks like an ultimate helicopter parent move, and I’d be lying if I said working for the same university where I had a student wasn’t appealing, But the real motivation was the opportunity to transition my career into user experience research and design.
I quickly got started on a part of the university’s web pages that were close to my heart — the parents and families microsite.
The site content is published in WordPress and previously had a left side menu with headings like What We Offer and What To Do in a Crisis. (Check it out below) The design was about five years old. The highlighted story for In the News linked to a news release from 2015.
I started devising a more modern look with large photos, animated graphics and, in my dream, a video banner. I did a comprehensive
survey of other university parents pages, decided what worked, elements such as an events calendar with photos, and began the rough design. I also started reworking the site structure using Slickplan.
I did interviews with current parents of students who told me they wanted an easy way to pay — clearly a pain point for any parent paying tuition — and information on how they could get involved with events such as Family Day. Being a parent myself, I also knew that parents play a huge role in helping their student decide where to study and that this site would be an opportunity to impress the parents and families of potential students — or not.
I sifted through images and even took some photos myself for the pages. My original idea was to put together a video banner that mirrored a year in college from the family’s perspective — from move-in day to Family Day to graduation. But due to limited resources, we didn’t have video from the first two events so I only had commencement footage. I cut the banner video showing the pride and tears that flow on that special day. As the parent of a current student I considered it to be aspirational — yes one day your child will graduate! I ended the loop with a photo that I took during the Winter 2016 commencement showing two proud parents and their new grad.
For this project, I utilized user testing on the back end, and am still working to implement changes from the feedback. I’m also in the process of updating the content as we go into the new school year and may look to add that move-in and Family Day footage. The response so far has been great, and overall page views for the microsite are rising. The video banner proved to be such a hit that I was asked to produce one for the University’s main homepage and worked with our staff videographer to make it happen.
The old parents’ site.