Simpson College

Simpson College

One of the first mobile-friendly education websites, we helped unify Simpson College’s online presence. We extended WordPress to create an easy-to-manage system with per-department content permissions, and an auto-updating staff roster.

Simpson College wanted a new website that exemplified a brand new design and a number of robust features to help them administer and maintain that new site.

One of the core features of this new website was to unify all the various college / department websites into one cohesive site with a consistent look and feel across all. The site still needed to allow each department to manage their own content; from faculty and staff who update their individual biographies to administrators who need to manage all pages within their department.

That consistent look and feel also needed to work well across devices of all sizes (desktop, tablet, and mobile), while being implemented and launched within a tight timeframe. Being a seasonal educational institution, the new website needed to launch before mid-May 2012 (the conclusion of the school year), to ensure the content contributors could publish all their content before leaving for the summer break.

simpson-home

Planning

Given these high level requirements, we worked with our direct contacts on the Simpson College team (from marketing, IT, and content strategy) to plan out the specific content and site needs. These included:

  • a list of identified features to fit the high level requirements
  • user stories for each feature identified
  • content by department
  • user roles and what permissions each should have
  • annotated wireframes
  • priority assignment to features

It took about a month of planning to cover the full spectrum of how the site should work. This was time well spent as it shaped how we approached the design and content architecture phases of the project. It also helped us make sure we created a system that they could maintain; one that worked in concert with their processes.

simpson-sub

All the while, Simpson College was still in the process of establishing and refining their new design. Part-way through reviewing in-progress mockups, we all quickly realized the designs would additional considerations in order to be full responsive and to utilize a mobile-first approach. We took the initiative to propose iterative design ideas that aligned with the site overall objectives, mapped to the provided wireframes, and how those would look/behave in desktop, tablet, and mobile views.

While taking the time to step in and help out with design certainly compressed the already tight timeline, it proved fruitful in solidifying the requirements and eliminating questions that could hang up development. Designs were approved at the end of March and development began the first of April; giving us less than two months for implementation. Despite this limitation we were able to work from the prioritized list and launch on time with critical features, while working with Simpson to further refine the site in a post launch prioritized todo list. As we like to say around here, sites are only launched, never finished.

Architecture

All of the requirements documentation, planning discussions, and the final designs became the foundation for the robust data architecture to house all the various bits of content from all the different colleges/departments. Using custom post types for shared content (“Why Simpson”, “Facilities”, “News Center”, “Success Stories”) and custom taxonomy groupings for “Departments” that are integrated with menus, we built a site that is easy to use, administer, and manage.

  • Faculty and staff members can build a custom biographies through the fully-featured WordPress editor screen (and even add and edit their own photos and videos).
  • Authors can create and edit posts specific to their assigned departments.
  • Editors can manage pages, posts, and navigation menus for their assigned departments.
  • Admins can do it all.

And nobody ever sees posts or pages in the admin interface that they don’t have access to. Voila! Publishing & site updates made simple.

Implementation

With the content architecture in place, we were in a position to start building the new theme. We took a “mobile first” approach to the implementation. Leveraging media queries and a flexible grid, we implemented a responsive site that delivers a great browsing experience for not only desktop browsers, but also mobile and tablet devices. This implementation also provides custom mobile presentation for certain features (such as the photo and video carousel on the home page).

Simpson College Responsive Website

Simpson’s prospective students are coming to the site from the device they have with them – browsing is no longer restricted to the desktop. The site gracefully adapts for mobile devices; the content doesn’t change, it’s just formatted appropriately for the device being used.

The most common way to handle silos of content and associated permissions when using WordPress as a CMS is to use the features of WordPress Multi-Site (WPMS) to effectively create separate sites that segregate the users and content from each other. In the case of Simpson College, one of their primary goals was to unify the school’s website rather than having disparate sites. Using WPMS would have flown directly in the face of this goal, so we got a little creative.

One of the most flexible features of WordPress are its taxonomies. We decided to leverage these to tie site content to contributors (and restrict access accordingly). We created a “Departments” taxonomy that allowed for easy editorial control over the necessary divisions within the college. We then dynamically create WordPress permissions based on those departments and so that the site administrator can allocate the proper permissions to the proper users. As content is created, the proper department taxonomies are automatically applied.

This creative integration of WordPress taxonomies with permissions allowed us to create a single site to house all of Simpson’s content, maintain the type of access that works best for their organization, and make it easy to leverage content across areas of the site.

Features & Integrations

Nobody likes busywork. Simpson is already keeping track of all of their faculty and staff members in their HR management software. We built an integration with Datatel (the HR management software) to import their latest staffing changes on a daily basis. This keeps their staff list up to date without the need for additional data management.

simpson-survey-wide

Recruiting is one of the main purposes of a collegiate website. One important tool we helped create is a survey for prospective students to identify and learn more about extracurricular activities and programs of interest across educational departments. Once the tool generates a custom page of these interests, a personal link is generated to reference back to. This helps Simpson’s admissions team identify prospective students’ interests and customize their programs and marketing efforts accordingly.

The news center is the way to keep a finger on the pulse of Simpson. The latest photos and videos of newsworthy items are added here. These posts can be related to one or more department at Simpson, and you can easily see more news from a department by following the department’s link right on the page. The Simpson team had a requirement for a “category busting website”, which is exemplified in the News Center. News Center posts cross over departments so that users can catch up on all of the Simpson news in one location. These posts are also related to department categories. This way individual departments can reference news posts that are relevant to their college.

We knew we wanted the new Simpson College website to be built on WordPress, and we chose Crowd Favorite based on their excellent reputation for building enterprise-level WordPress sites. They delivered on the challenge to build the “category busting” website we were looking for. The architecture of our site was complex, but Crowd Favorite navigated through the complexity and maintained our core goal which was to have a site that is easy for editors across campus to maintain. Crowd Favorite led the effort to build a responsive site that ensures a pleasant user experience across all mobile devices. The site you see today puts Simpson College in the forefront of the responsive design evolution.

Crowd Favorite did an excellent job collaborating with us and continually communicating project updates throughout the entire process. We thoroughly enjoyed working with Crowd Favorite’s team who is very quick to respond to questions and ideas. They remained calm when we came up with outlandish requirements and met our expectations on functionality, admin interface, user experience, and design. Now we can focus on authoring our content (Simpson College is never short on things to publish online) with the confidence that our visitors will see a beautiful site that loads fast, is easy to navigate, and works on whatever device they are using.

Greg VotavaSimpson College

We like to use house construction metaphors when we build websites. When we think of the Simpson College website we think of the sound data architecture as a solid foundation. The auto-updating staff feature is a good plumbing system and the easy-to-use administrative features are the nice finish touches that make you smile when you come down to make breakfast in the morning. The front-end presentation (and mobile-friendly design) is a beautiful paint job with meticulous landscaping; awesome curb appeal.

This is a house we’d want to buy.

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