Graduate & Faculty Ministries Consulting

Refreshing the information architecture and content design

Sticky Notes for the win!

I pulled up Timehop and saw a picture I’d taken a year ago- working on InterVarsity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministries website.

I was brought on to do some work they just didn’t have the expertise for — what is the right categorization of pages and how can they improve the content design for some of the key pages of their website?

To the left is a map of the website pages that the web manager and I collaborated on. I’m honestly not sure why it’s on the back of a door, but I guess it’s a reminder that you don’t need whiteboard walls and large spaces to do good work!

There were a myriad of small and bigger things we did to refresh the website, but I’ll highlight some of my favorites:

Homepage

One major issue that InterVarsity struggles with is describing what InterVarsity is. For the most part, almost all 42 informational websites relied on rotating banners as the first section of their website, and sometimes had information text, but often did not. GFM did, but the moving visual of the banner distracts your eye away from learning about what GFM actually is!

Design tip:

Rotating banners are great for solving internal arguments about what’s important, but are actually really terrible for people using your website, for these reasons.

  • Most people only see the first banner and rarely interact with others after it. If that’s the only place you have that content, you can be 98% certain that no one is seeing it (so, you haven’t really solved that internal argument).
  • You’ll never find the right settings for everyone’s reading speed, but if you leave autoplay off then people will definitely never see the other slides.
  • For the most part, unless they’re implemented in a very specific way, rotating banners are terrible on mobile devices. Right? Have you ever interacted with a mobile rotating banner that you actually liked?

So, one of my biggest changes was to remove the rotating banner and to put a concise descriptive paragraph about the ministry.

There were other more minor changes, like updating the bottom sections to be a little more informative and to more closely reflect what the national site looks like.

Information Architecture (IA)

In a nutshell, information architecture on a website is the categorization of stuff — whether that’s pages, products, images, etc. When you see a website menu that has additional options inside like, About > The Team, The Vision, etc., that’s the information architecture! With this simplistic example, information architecture doesn’t seem all that hard, but you’ll see later why IA can be so hard.

Grad & Faculty Ministries has 2 main audiences — graduate students and faculty, and one secondary audience — InterVarsity Staff. However, the way the site was categorized, it was hard to tell what content was for who, especially differentiating between graduate student and faculty content.

For instance, here’s the architecture for the ministries:

What isn’t immediately obvious to someone who isn’t familiar with GFM, is that everything from Black Scholars and Professionals are focused ministries related to graduate students.

Internally, all those focused ministries live under Focused Ministries, not GFM. So, to us inside the organization, having them listed alongside Graduate Student Ministries makes sense.

To the people who use our website though, these ministries make sense to sit inside of Graduate Student Ministries.

So, we changed the architecture to just reflect who was visiting the site, and then revamped the Graduate Student Ministries page to more closely reflect what people are experiencing, not how our organization is set up.

Content Strategy

Oftentimes, when you change the Information Architecture, your content design/content strategy will have to change — now that our smaller focused ministries were de-emphasized, we had to re-work how their pages and the pathway pages to them.

We took that sticky note map from above and made it digital, where we could play with how content would change. I describe this process and the rationale more thoroughly in The Marriage of Content Strategy and Sitemaps.

Essentially — anything in purple was a page and a menu item before gets turned into a section linking out to the page on the Graduate Students page. Now we have a proper hierarchy of our ministries and can quickly get our audience to the content they’re most interested in.

Below is how we created the pathway page.

Yes, we are still learning how to be concise 😅

This wasn’t a major overhaul and not a ‘re-design’ by most standards — very little changed visually, but I hope you can see how you tackling strategic areas like the types of elements used, information architecture, and content design can really improve a website; and it only took 3 weeks!


Ashley Crutcher is a Digital Designer at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with her furkiddos, working with yarn, ringing handbells, and thinking too much about everything.