November 6, 2015 by Darrell J. Pehr, NMSU News Center
With a renewed focus on external users, the redesigned New Mexico State University website provides a vivid view of the activities, programs and experiences NMSU has to offer. That new look also attracted the attention of judges in the international MarCom awards competition, who selected it as one of the gold award winners for 2015.
The 2015 international awards competition recognizes outstanding creative achievement by marketing and communication professionals. More than 6,500 projects from throughout the United States, Canada and 15 other countries were entered in the 2015 competition.
MarCom entries come from corporate marketing and communication departments, advertising agencies, PR firms, design shops, production companies and freelancers. The competition is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Winners range in size from individual communicators to media conglomerates and Fortune 500 companies.
Melissa Chavira, director of web communications for NMSU’s University Communications, said her initial reaction to news of the award was surprise, followed by “excitement that the design is headed in a positive direction.”
“Designing a website for the university is near and dear to my heart,” Chavira said. “I remember the early stages of the NMSU website in the late 90s and throughout my experience as a student, I had always wanted to get my hands on designing the site. I enjoy the challenge of working on a large-scale design project.”
Chavira, who holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. in curriculum and learning technologies from NMSU, as well as a bachelor’s of fine arts in photo/graphics, also from NMSU, was part of the homepage design committee in 2012, which was chaired by Jeanne Gleason, department head for Media Productions in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
“I think we made a good amount of progress in updating the design of the NMSU website,” Chavira said. “When I took this role in 2013, I wanted to enhance the website and really improve the user experience.”
Enhancing the user experience became the goal of redesigning the NMSU website, as well as making sure the site was mobile friendly and targeted toward a specific audience – prospective students, parents and donors.
Part of the redesign process was to compare notes with staff members at Doña Ana County, who had recently received an award for the redesign of the county website. It was determined that the NMSU website needed to focus on an external audience. Before the focus could be on the design, Chavira and others worked with NMSU’s Information and Communication Technologies on a number of technical milestones to move the homepage to a dedicated, high availability server and ensure that the emergency notification web banner was upgraded.
“Over the past two years we conducted usability studies with prospective students, current students, parents and NMSU alumni,” Chavira said. “Before we launched the design, we worked with the Consumer Behavior Lab in the College of Business to conduct usability testing of prospective students and a sample of current students. We visited Centennial High School and used eye tracking technology and an electronic survey to get an initial round of feedback.”
The first phase of the site was launched in January 2015. Over the summer, usability tests in the form of an electronic survey that targeted parents and NMSU alumni were conducted, further design improvements were conducted and the final phase of the design was launched in August 2015.
Chavira said the award was the result of efforts by several groups around campus.
“I like to think that the work could not have been accomplished without the help from ICT to create an environment for the website to live, the feedback received from the campus community and the support from university leadership to make a drastic change in the approach to the design of the website,” Chavira said.
For the future, Chavira said there is always room for continuous improvement.
“Because of the environment, I have no doubt that the website will change as the environment changes,” she said. “We will always work to create an optimal user experience on the variety of devices that display websites and provide content that is engaging and informative to our target audiences. We will continue to conduct focus groups and usability studies to make the website a great marketing tool and an informative resource to visitors.”