Drupal for Higher Ed: Reflections from the Fall 2016 Intern Team

For the past four months we’ve been working at Sanmita as marketing interns. In the second half of our internship, we focused exclusively on building Sanmita’s sister brand, DrupalAnswers. Over the course of our internship we have gained experience in market research, higher education website audits, video marketing, the creation of social media and blog posts, and content curation.

We also learned how to create an integrated content strategy across different platforms. Throughout the entire experience, we worked as a team to complete tasks and brainstorm strategy, which we believe led us to produce even greater results than we would have alone.

When we started this internship we had basic understanding of what exactly web development involves. We understood there were multiple facets to the development process but our grasp of the topic was limited to design and the aesthetic aspect of a site. Throughout our internship, we gained a fuller understanding of what truly encompasses web development.

We now know the importance of the discovery process and why research is a vital part of a website’s strategy and creation. For instance, conducting proper research influences the development of information architecture, which plays a major role in determining the success and organization of a site. As we completed audits of college websites, we also learned several other aspects that contribute to a site’s success, including accessibility, page speed, mobile-friendliness, and how easy it is to navigate through the website’s content. One of our favorite quotes found during our research sums up what we learned perfectly:

“Pretty things can be useless, and ugly things can be useful. Beauty and quality are not always related.” ― Abby Covert, How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody

Essentially, good design rests upon a solid foundation.

Since our company focuses on higher education institutions, we spent a lot of time researching best practices for mission critical sites. Without a doubt, we agree that Drupal is the best CMS for higher education. Drupal is powerful, flexible, and is built to handle the complexity of a higher education site– even the White House chooses Drupal as their go-to CMS. As we’ve learned, Drupal is the best option when stability and scalability are vital to the project, or if it requires close attention to detail and unique customization. An added benefit of Drupal is that most of their extensions and ways to customize the site are free of charge – perfect for higher ed institutions that might be working on a tight budget.

Now with just a week left in our internship, we feel that we have gained experiences that we can apply in the future. One of our favorite parts of the internship was having the opportunity to work on the company’s integrated online marketing strategy. We strategized and executed ways to drive traffic to the website and blog posts through social media, demonstrating the importance of consistent messaging across all platforms. Another aspect of this internship that we were thankful for was being able to see the full lifecycle of the projects we worked on. We were involved in each step of the way, from start to finish. This was a unique experience that we have not received elsewhere. Overall, the skills and experiences we have had working at Sanmita are invaluable to us and will affect the way we will grow as marketers.

 

 

The Secrets of Organizing Your Higher Ed Site, Part 1 of 5: Inventory

In the modern information age, we’re all experiencing information, or cognitive overload. The sheer volume of information we’re exposed to and the frequency with which it arises can be an issue, but researchers tend to agree that it’s not the volume of information; it’s how it’s organized that’s the problem.

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What You Need to Know About Information Architecture

One of the biggest mistakes we see people make when it comes to their websites is not prioritizing information architecture. While the design aspects of a website are fun, glamorous, and ultimately vital to the success of your site, it’s important that you don’t jump straight to the design and forgo the important process of building a solid information architecture and understanding the purpose behind your site and its content.

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How to Select the Right Web Design Firm

You have a lot of choices when it comes to choosing a partner agency for your web design or development project. Here are some things to consider before making your selection:

 

What are their core services?

An agency that has the ability to complete all aspects of your project is going to be more qualified to give you the best solutions and the results you want.

  • Do they offer comprehensive design, development and support services that are up to industry standards?
  • Have they had experience with web projects that require complex problem solving or customization skills and advanced coding capabilities?
  • Are they able to develop mobile applications that are consistent with your other marketing platforms?

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5 Tips for Collecting Feedback on your New Website or Feature

DO Start early

Ideally, feedback should be part of your production plan from the very beginning when you’re looking to release a new website or feature. It’s not only a useful marketing activity to manage your online reputation, but it also may help you find the areas of your business that need improvement. The earlier you ask for feedback, the easier it will be to correct any problems that exist. You can monitor activities manually, or use an all-in-one monitoring service such as Sysomos or Brandwatch.

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Designing for the Best Possible Mobile Experience

Image via Unsplash

In recent years, desktop Internet usage has fallen while mobile usage has increased. Last year, Google confirmed that “more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.” If you think the Internet is big, mobile is 10x bigger. Did you know that Google won’t show your website in mobile searches if it isn’t mobile-friendly? But, what does “mobile-friendly” actually mean. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how to design for the best possible mobile user experience of your site

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Website Accessibility: What You Should Know

The average adult spends nearly 20 hours per week on the Internet

The accessible web means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, interact with, and contribute to the web. This encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive and neurological disabilities. But web accessibility also benefits others, not just those with disabilities, including people with “temporary” disabilities such as a broken arm, older people with changing abilities due to aging.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990. Its effects are visible in nearly every public space in the form of disabled parking, ramps as alternatives to stairs, Braille signage, and more. Although the need to provide disabled people with reasonable accommodations has been a civil rights issue for decades, one important public space – the Internet – has been largely overlooked up until now.

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Mega Menus

Navigation has always been a design problem for large websites. Mega drop-down menus are a growing trend in web design that structures navigation choices through layout, typography, and sometimes icons.

 

Mega menus can greatly improve navigation and usability on sites that involve a lot of pages or products. With mega drop-down menus, a visitor can see all their choices at once. For bigger sites with many features, regular drop-down menus typically hide a lot of your site’s content. You can scroll, but this becomes confusing and hides a number of choices at any given point in the navigation process. Mega menus show everything at a glance and through grouping, allows your visitors to visualize the relationships among items on your site. CSS-only dynamic drop-downs are possible, but they don’t offer mouse over/out latency or work in every browser.

 

While mega menus can make it easier for users to find the information they’re looking for deep within a site, a vast number of links can also overwhelm some visitors. Mega menus can help streamline the navigation process by allowing you to group menu items. Chunk options into related sets using concise, yet descriptive labels for each group. Try not to offer huge groups of options that require a lot of time to scan. At the same time, don’t make the groups so small that the menu has an overabundance of groups that your users have to spend time understanding.

 

Just because you can put everything in a mega menu doesn’t necessarily mean you should. The standard usability guideline to “keep it simple” also applies to mega menus. Avoid GUI widgets and other interface elements that involve a lot of interaction. Mega drop-downs are temporary – They appear on hover or click so shouldn’t replace dialog boxes, which should be used for more complex interactions. Even though mega menus have the room to support many options, it’s best to try not to overload your users.

 

From a design standpoint, mega menus can look great and allow you to further express your brand’s personality and creativity. These drop-down menus are a design canvas! They eliminate unnecessary scrolling and offer additional elements such as typography, icons and tooltips to help guide users to the content they came for.

 

Mega menus are common on e-commerce sites because they typically include many categories of products. They’re also useful on other large websites where fewer clicks should be necessary to get to a specific page. Mega menus allow visitors to reach the content they’re looking for no matter where they are on your site.

 

Your site may benefit from a mega menu if:
  • You manage a large number of products (eCommerce sites like REI)
  • You publish and manage a lot of content (content aggregators and news sites like Reuters)
  • You have complex service offerings requiring a lot of supporting content (large association sites, higher education sites like Cornell, government sites like The White House)
  • Your site is information-oriented, diverse, and you offer a lot of long-form web copy

 

You probably don’t need a mega menu if:
  • Your site is small without too much content (small businesses, restaurants)
  • You have fewer pages and focused content
  • Your site is dedicated to a singular function, such as a tool or online calculator

 

Be warned: The increased ability to navigate a site will come at a tradeoff on the SEO front. Too many navigation links in a mega menu may dilute your site’s overall page rank. Google assigns a PageRank score based on the number and quality of links pointing to a webpage. A site’s internal link structure transfers PageRank throughout the site. When you distribute a site’s PageRank in a “broad” way, you dilute the page’s ability to rank competitively in the SERPs. Sites with weaker trust and authority metrics will suffer more than established sites with strong authority and trust metrics. Shoot for 100 links or less, but keep in mind that there are occasions where the SEO hit will be worth it.

 

Navigation has a huge impact on your website’s usability and appearance, so make sure you have the right menu for your site’s content, layout and visitors. This article features several free and premium WordPress plugin options that can help you create a responsive menu, or make your existing navigation compatible with mobile devices.

 

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Psychology of a Website: Color Palette

When it comes to web design, don’t underestimate the power of color.

Colors have a strong impact on the design solutions we produce and the experiences our users take away. As you may already know, colors help to create an atmosphere. They can radically alter our mood, our perception of value, and even influence the choices that we make. For this reason, understanding color psychology is crucial for the success of your website and its content.

 

Are you considering how your design and color palette influences your audience? A poor color choice can negatively change the impact of your message. Get it wrong and your messages may be avoided entirely. There’s no absolute right color choice you should make, as the way we interpret colors and their meanings is dependent on a host of factors. However, here are a few tips and considerations to help you with your selection:

 

Research has found that color appropriateness in relation to the product is much more important than the individual color itself. For example, someone in the market for a motorcycle would probably shy away from brands that use pink or glittery color schemes.

 

Choose colors that connect with your customers’ perceptions of your brand’s personality. Certain colors do align with more specific traits and it’s important that the ones you choose support the personality you want to portray, but colors aren’t exclusive to single traits. For example, green can allude to the ruggedness and environment (Timberland’s G.R.E.E.N standard) or to money (Mint.com).

 

Emotions people associate with color can change depending on their individual, cultural or religious backgrounds. Here are some typical associations western cultures make with color:
  • Black: sophistication and power
  • White: cleanliness, sophistication, virtue
  • Red: courage, power, strength; can also stimulate appetite
  • Blue: calmness, peace, trust, safety
  • Yellow: optimism, happiness
  • Green: balance, sustainability growth
  • Purple: royalty, spiritual awareness, luxury
  • Orange: friendliness, comfort, and food
  • Pink: tranquility, femininity, sexuality

 

Contrast matters. People often assume that difference in color is what creates contrast, but that isn’t true. Two colors can be completely different but have no contrast because their tone is the same. An easy way to test your color contrast is to convert it to grayscale. Generally, high contrast is the best choice for important content. Dark on light or light on dark may not be very exciting, but it is legible to your users. Keep in mind, however, that if everything is in high contrast, nothing will stand out.

 

People like simplicity. Each color adds or takes away from your content. Too many colors make for a confusing message. Choose 2 or 3 colors to make your content easier to interpret and understand. The color wheel is a great tool for helping you make this choice.

 

There are a few different types of geometric relationships on the color wheel that make up what is known as “color harmony.”
  • Complementary: colors opposite to each other on the color wheel
  • Analogous: colors that sit next to each other. These are “related” colors that create pleasing and relaxed visuals when used together. They don’t stand out from one another, but can create subtle and beautiful content. You may need to add a complementary color to make a particular item stand out.
  • Triad: a color combination made of three colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel
  • Split-complementary: Choose one color as your base, and combine with two complementary colors adjacent to its opposite
  • Rectangle: a color combination made up of four colors in complementary pairs
  • Square: similar to a rectangle palette, but the two sets of complementary pairs are colors evenly spaced around the circle

 

Caution: Color Blindness

Individuals with color blindness have a hard time distinguishing between certain colors. Red and green are two complementary colors that pose a common problem to people who are colorblind. Remember to use colors with high contrast and try to never use color as the sole information source to avoid any issues.

 

More resources:

Here are some tools you can use to help you choose a color palette for your site:
  • colr.org – lets you upload an image and see the range of colors within that image
  • colorblender – generates a set of five colors that will work well together
  • Adobe Colour CC – lets you try out and create different color schemes
  • Check my colours  – lets you determine if you’re using the right color combinations in your web design


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