Check this out: UIC Library’s new site!

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Library launched a new student-centric website last month, and we are very excited here at Pixo. It was the product of one of our most collaborative projects to date.

Our clients are always in control of the outcomes of their projects, but generally we do the majority of the research, design, and development independently. This project was a little different. We were hand-in-hand with the wonderful librarians and staff at UIC every step of the way (that’s right — through research, design, AND development). They made for superlative partners in a number of ways, including their innate ability to sift through lots of information and their willingness to embrace the minimum viable product (MVP).

Timeline, budget, and features make up the project management triangle; the rule of thumb is that every project can only choose two to prioritize. The UIC Library decided that they would add some wiggle room to features in order to launch their new site in time for the fall semester. The site launched with all the features students needed, along with a plan to iteratively enhance functionality.

Students’ “fill-in-the-blanks,” love letters, and break-up letters letting us know what they thought about the Library. Like every project, this one started off with research: challenging assumptions, understanding users, and becoming a part of our client’s world. The UIC librarians not only helped us formulate our research plan, but also joined us as observers and fellow researchers.
  • We taught a workshop on usability testing, ensuring that research would continue long after we were gone (and that while we were there, we would have some help).
  • Processing our research findings was a group activity. We shared and workshopped what we found, making certain that a variety of perspectives would influence the solution.
  • Speaking of the solution, we collaborated on that too! Students participated in ideation activities, giving them a chance to voice their vision for the Library. Web services librarian Tara Wood (our main project contact) and a lead Pixo UX designer (well, it was me) passed a wireframe back and forth to make sure we got it just right:
Iterating from sketch, to wireframe, to graphic design

We’ve found that content is the factor most likely to delay the launch of a new site. Fortunately, the UIC Library took content seriously, too. In parallel to all the other work happening, our content strategist, Lindsey Gates-Markel, led their team of authors through workshops on writing for the web and best practices for writing knowledge base articles. Authors were assigned topics, met regularly, and had strict deadlines.

Lindsey and Tara workshopping content

Meanwhile, our developers were busy teaming up with the UIC Library development staff. This meant utilizing Slack, Bitbucket, and Jira. It also meant meeting face-to-face to figure out who was doing what.

Pixo developers Matt Sharkey and Charles Suggs created the front end (Did I mention that Tyler Edwards did a wonderful job of interpreting UIC’s branding guidelines again?) and Library developers Allan Berry and Esther Verreau took on the Wordpress backend. The front end and back end were stitched together with Outpost, our tool for creating decoupled content management systems. One of the benefits of a decoupled site is that we do not have to rely on Wordpress as the sole point of content entry, we seamlessly pulled in content from existing tools like LibCal and LibGuides. Documentation within the code made for smoother collaboration as the project grew in complexity.

As the launch date grew close, our UX budget began running low. This meant that the workshop we did months before came back into the picture: our library friends were able to conduct their own usability testing! Some immediate fixes were identified, and goals for future features were solidified. We knew we were launching something good.

The new homepage

While change is always hard, we like to think this change was smoother than others. UIC Library developers are already maintaining and iteratively improving their site. Any new features will be well-informed by their in-house UX research skills. Beyond that, there were no surprises for either team. Shout out to our wonderful project manager Joanna Troutman for making this work so well, and to our quality assurance associate Tyla Taylor for finding the bugs!

Now the UIC library has a beautiful new website and we all have made some lifelong friends.