This project took place at Multiple States whilst I was director between 2014 and 2017. We wrote our case studies as interviews between members of the team. Here is that interview. Credits for everyone specifically associated with the project are at the end of the article.
Waverley College is an independent Catholic school for boys in Sydney’s eastern suburbs with three campuses. As part of a complete rebrand, Multiple States were commissioned to redesign and build the website.
Kevin Beck talks to Will McLean about working collaboratively, limiting sections of the site to help users find information, engaging with users by allowing them to report incorrect information and planning for the future within development.
This looks like a major overhaul of the school’s online presence. What instigated it?
Waverley College had identified the need to revamp their brand guidelines. A new headmaster arrived at the school who introduced a new learning strategy: ‘Liberate the potential in every learner’. It focuses on making a student feel safe and confident in their learning environment, so that they can then reach their learning potential. To match that new learning strategy, a set of brand guidelines needed to be developed. As a way of showcasing those changes to the brand, a new website was needed.
You worked closely with another agency in adding a digital section to the new brand guidelines. Can you tell us about that?
Our friends at Fog & Co. in Australia were working on the branding and got in touch with us to develop the site alongside it. By the time we got involved, the first stage of the brand guidelines had been completed. The second stage involved adding a digital section to these guidelines. This was done alongside the design of the site as we needed to see if compositions worked before creating rules around them and adding these rules to the guidelines.
Tell us about ‘Everyday is an open day’, the theme for the new branding and site.
‘Everyday is an open day’ was a concept developed by Fog & Co. for the new branding. The idea behind it is that, up until now, new and current parents could only get a behind-the-scenes view of the school on two open days each year. Fog & Co. wanted the branding to give a behind-the-scenes view of the school every day.
How did you use this theme within the concept for the new site?
The website was a very important part of this concept. It guided us when we were curating the content, creating user journeys, creating page layouts and setting the site structure. It was the reason behind the main section of the site, ‘Conversations’. These are candid conversations with members of staff, students and members of the Waverley College community. When browsing these, we hope a user gets an insight into the characters, values, environments and methods that make up Waverley College.
For such a large site there are only a few site sections. Can you explain the thinking behind that?
The idea behind limiting the site sections is to offer a very simple way to access information. A school like Waverley, with three campuses and countless faculties, has such a plethora of information that it is easy to get carried away with pages, sub-pages and sub-sub-pages etc. This depth of information actually makes it harder to digest the information not easier. We were very keen to avoid that.
We divided the site content into four categories: Conversations, Information, News and Events. Conversations would hold the rich content being generated by Fog & Co.; Information would hold the contacts and administrative information; and News and Events contain what those headings suggest. As a team we were happy with this, but within the first round of user testing the overwhelming response was that the users wanted a Contacts section, as well as an administrative information one. So we extended the sections of the site to the final five we have now: Conversations, Information, Contacts, News and Events.
That large amount of content must have taken some time to collect. Can you tell us about that?
The Fog & Co. team and Jennifer Divall at Waverley were in charge of creating all the new content. We were tasked with repurposing all the content from the old site and categorising the content as a whole. It is important to always begin a build with a thorough content review. It is the first step in the entire process.
The photography is a very successful part of the site. Tell us about that.
The images are all based around the theme set by Fog & Co.: ‘Everyday is an open day’. You can see that they are of real interactions between students, teachers and interviewees and not staged ones that are so often used on school websites. That gives an air of authenticity to the rest of the content as well. That was very important to all of us involved. You can really see a consistent style amongst the imagery and this was down to it all being shot by one photographer, Milos Mlynarik.
There are a few ‘calls to action’ around the site asking users to report issues or submit suggestions. What is the thinking behind this?
With a site like this it is important to constantly gather feedback from your users. They are all part of the school community and so deserve to have their say over the direction of the site. The call to action in the footer, “How can we improve this site?” is directed at them. The more ideas that are put to us as a design and development team the greater the site will become.
The calls to action at the bottom of the information section of the site are designed to always have the most up to date and correct information possible on the site. Sometimes administrative information can become out of date, despite the best efforts of the people responsible for that information. If users can report back when they spot something wrong, then it is a good process for correcting those pieces of content and users don’t feel powerless in the face of incorrect information.
The following versions of the site sound exciting. Can you let us know about those?
A detailed roadmap for the future development of the site has been created. New features will be released in incremental versions of the site over the next few years. Version 1 of the site was all about creating a good base for the future of the Waverley College site. It was about wading through the huge swathes of information that need to go on the site, organising it and making it easy to add that and any new information to the site. Version 2 is where we are going to start creating some very interesting and engaging ways to interact with that content. One feature is an interactive map that groups content based on the area of the school it relates to. We have lots to still work out but the work we have done in Version 1 has made this feature far easier and cheaper. This is due to the forward planning by the development team in this first stage.
How many people upload content to the site? Is that problematic?
With an organisation like a school, there are always a large number of people that need access to the backend of the site in order to update content. We identified this very early on and so spent a good deal of time making sure that the user documentation was easy to use. As well as this we put clear instructions on the point of content entry. In addition to this, the guys at Fog & Co. carry out staff training days on a regular basis. With all of these things in place, the Waverley staff have had no problems uploading their content.
What is your favourite part of the site?
Definitely the Conversations section. If I was a parent looking for a school for my child, I would greatly appreciate the sort of insight into the people who would be teaching my child. It is something I have not seen on any other school’s website.