The college journey starts well before – and continues long after – students take their first step on campus. And College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC), a state-supported collaboration serving students, parents, and educators, exists to guide all parties through the process, from managing 529 savings account, to tracking year-by-year milestones, finding best-fit schools, completing college applications, and managing student loan payments.
CFNC needed a single, highly organized website to clearly present a wide array of information relating to every aspect of higher education for North Carolinians, while helping users stay on track to get into (and be able to afford) the school of their dreams. And with a diverse group of users (middle and high schools students, adult learners, military, parents, first generation, education professionals, etc.) with their own needs and goals – the site needed to speak across generational and cultural lines.
With all of this in mind, we set out to redesign and redevelop CFNC’s website into a modern and seamless source for all things college in North Carolina.
We love a good challenge and College Foundation, Inc. (CFI), the nonprofit that administers the website for the CFNC collaboration, came to us with some tall technological requirements for the site:
- Because people store personal and financial information on its platform, data security was a chief priority.
- And due to the disparate sources of information involved, there would have to be seamless communication between applications running across multiple servers.
- Finally, because of this site’s importance for users in finding and attending the right school, we needed to distill complex journey maps into clear, succinct paths.
Technology Audit & Recommendations: Our team conducted extensive research and settled on two different platforms as candidates for hosting the site. In the end, CFI chose our recommended content management system, Umbraco, and we began the task of populating it with fresh information and resources.
User Research: To make sure we accounted for every user’s experience, we conducted in-depth interviews with multiple audiences that included students, parents, and school counselors. By crafting an array of user personas, we were able to create an architecture that understands the full scope of needs and the various journeys unique to each of those audiences, and offers custom content to guide each of them along their way.
Brand Refresh: Brands are more than logos, colors, fonts, and templates (even though they do include those things). And while CFNC had built a brand known for helping students achieve their educational goals, their visual brand had fallen a bit behind the times. To help modernize the visual aspect, we refined what existed already with an articulated web style guide that included an updated color palette, typography, graphic elements, photo direction, and iconography.
Spanish-Language Content: North Carolina is a diverse state with a sizable Spanish speaking community, and because of the complexity of the information we needed to convey, we knew Google Translate simply wouldn’t be sufficient on the new CFNC site. So, we made room for content that not only addressed any language gaps, but also addresses any informational needs that are unique to that segment of CFNC users.
Original Photography: Finally, it was time to get creative. Stock photography has its purposes, but it wouldn’t work in a website that has such a personal connection to peoples’ lives. So, we traveled to the Tar Heel State for a two-day photo shoot across multiple high school and college campuses to capture images of real prospective and current college students. These images truly reflect the diverse and inclusive nature of North Carolina’s higher education experience.
UX Health Framework: Even when development was complete and the new site was launched, we knew that a website is never really “done.” It is important for teams to have a framework to know when the website is working to help people achieve their goals, and when it’s time to make some tweaks. We created a framework using key metrics that can be used as a method of gauging the quality of users’ experience on the site. As users’ needs evolve, this dashboard will provide a barometer of when it’s time to make any necessary changes to ensure the website is aligned.
CFNC’s website underwent a striking visual and technical transformation. No longer just a land of links, the website is now a robust portal with all of the resources that North Carolina students, parents, and educators need to navigate the college process together. The site launched in July of 2020, and was well-received by the CFNC team and users alike.
The website’s diverse user groups are utilizing the streamlined paths that guide them to the resources the site offers, while CFNC admins are enjoying the unprecedented flexibility they now have over page templates and content formatting. And the new website has drawn quite a bit of attention from local media in North Carolina, because making it easier for people of all backgrounds to navigate the complicated college journey is a pretty big deal – and an experience we are proud to have been a part of.