The University of Virginia's Darden School of Business regularly ranks among top-tier MBA programs, especially when it comes to student experience and faculty teaching. Yet you wouldn't know it from their website, which was difficult to navigate, lacked a clear messaging hierarchy, and, visually, lagged far behind the school's sharp editorial design. Darden wanted the website to feel as crisp and focused as the print collateral they gave to prospective students.
I worked with a small team to redesign Darden's website, leading workshops with stakeholder groups across the university, developing a new information architecture and messaging strategy, designing page layouts, and testing prototypes with key audiences. By the end of the end of the engagement, Darden's marketing team had a web platform worthy of the quality of their programs.
Balance institutional structure with audience expectations. As we worked with various stakeholder groups to restructure their content on the website, we helped them avoid building an information architecture that simply reflected Darden's internal departments. Prototyping with student audiences kept our IA from becoming too Darden-centric.
Consider content from the start. We knew from the beginning of the project that most, if not all, of the content across the website would need to be rewritten by Darden's small but might marketing team. So we worked with them to develop a content governance plan and provided page-level editorial guidance to show where to draw content from.
Prototype with editorial design in mind. Knowing that our art director would be defining a visual design direction based on my low-fidelity wireframes and Darden's editorial style guide, I worked with him to define flexible patterns for the types of content that would exist in the new system. A well-documented content model showed him the content variations he would need to account for when designing page components at high fidelity.
We began the project by facilitating workshops with the Darden team to identify challenges they faced, goals and KPIs for the redesign, and editorial websites that they admired.
Before we began thinking about a new information architecture, we conducted an audit of their website and gave page-level recommendations for what to do with existing content (more on that process here). Stakeholder groups across the organization then reviewed their content and commented on our recommendations. This table served as a reference point for later workshops where we worked with subject matter experts to make their content more accessible and relevant for student audiences.
We also used this table to begin documenting a new content model for the website. Defining fields and display logic for various fields gave us a head start on low-fidelity prototyping.
I created wireframes for key pages across the site architecture, which were then used as prototypes in usability tests with students. Despite surface similarities, prototyping large content sites is a very different task than prototyping digital products, requiring heightened attention to the content itself — not just the interface copy used in navigation elements, but also content on the pages themselves.
Our art director created a new design system for the website, drawing on Darden's editorial design language and photography. As a higher ed institution, Darden was particularly interested in achieving high levels of WCAG accessibility. Our art director's work reminded me that accessibility and excellent visual design aren't a tradeoff, but that, in fact, accessibility can drive aesthetics.
One of Darden's professors, Edward Freeman, established an approach to business management called Stakeholder Theory, which encourages people to think broadly about business value. Value isn't just reflected in shareholder earnings, but in the effect on any person involved in a product or service, whether internal to a company or not. This mentality sets Darden apart in the world of business schools, their belief that "values create value."
Darden's way of thinking inspired us throughout the project as we sought to put it to practice, even if in small ways, inviting students and people across the school into the process of creating a better platform for their message.
|Mitch Daniels||Content strategy, IA|
|Brandon Dorn||Content strategy, IA, prototyping|
|Elliott Muñoz||Art direction|
|Jessica Sheng||Project management|