Climate Control: Using Information Architecture to Organise The Walker Institute’s New Website
13.09.2016 by Jon
Every day we come into work, we’re reminded how lucky we are to have our offices at the University of Reading, and to be part of the diverse and dynamic community of businesses that call the campus their home.
Our location means we have some very interesting neighbours, and since we’ve been here, we’ve got to work with a few of them – most recently, The Walker Institute for Climate System Research who briefed us to design and build their new website.
The Walker Institute supports the development of climate-resilient societies. Its vision is to be a world leader in integrated climate system research and to deliver better knowledge and understanding of future climate and its impacts for the benefit of society. To do this, the Institute draws together a number of internationally renowned climate system research groups and centres with expertise across a wide range of core disciplines central to climate system science.
The Institute’s original website had served it well since 2006, but after 10 years had become outdated – both from a visual perspective and in terms of the very limited functionality it offered to visitors and members. As information was added ad hoc over a long period, the site became increasingly unwieldy and difficult for users to navigate. Because it had been created in HTML with no Content Management System (CMS) behind it, the old site did not allow the Institute to make edits and updates without going through the site’s designer, which became increasingly time-consuming. Finally, the site was not mobile-friendly, which meant that users accessing it via mobile devices were not getting a consistent viewing experience.
The Institute asked Studio 18 to design and build a more intuitive and user-friendly website, one capable of curating its increasing range of resources, and making them more easily accessible to members.
The principles of Information Architecture and User Experience (UX) Design underpin every project we work on at Studio 18, but they were especially important considerations for this site in view of the volume and complexity of content being hosted.
Our first step was to organise an Information Architecture workshop through our partners, Perceptive Flow, with key stakeholders from the Institute to discuss the structure of the new website in detail. We needed to understand which elements from the old site were redundant and which would migrate across, what new areas needed to be added in and what kind of functionality we needed to build in. Crucially, we wanted to understand the expectations of the different user groups in order that we could ensure the new website delivered the best possible user experience to each of them.
Only when we had complete clarity on these areas and our client had signed off our site map, were we able to begin work on designing and building the site itself.
From a creative perspective, we’ve given the new site a much sharper, cleaner look and feel which brings it right up to date. It’s Content Managed, so our client can update and edit it themselves, and it’s responsive too, automatically resizing to accommodate the screen size of any mobile device it’s being viewed on. But the real difference is in the intuitive experience that it delivers which is informed by the results of our client workshop. While it still retains a huge – and ever-growing – amount of information, the way that content is now organised enables users to navigate quickly and easily to find exactly what they are looking for.
The new site also delivers a far higher level of interactivity than the original. All current and archived projects can be searched for in the Projects area by one or more of the Institute’s main structural groups – Water, Health, Food, Energy, Disaster Management and Social Wellbeing – as well as by sub-categories such as geographical locations or particular fields of research. Projects can also be displayed by selected criteria onto a map of the world and however they are accessed, users are able to drill down into a specific project to get in-depth information or request further resources. For ease of use, we created a bespoke piece of software which converts all information relating to a selected project into a single, downloadable PDF file. Users can also participate in moderated discussion forums, and share project data with colleagues.
Have you got a website you’ve been adding information to for so long that it’s become difficult for users to navigate?
Designing an effective website starts with planning Information Architecture, so that it intuitively guides visitors towards the information they’re seeking. Studio 18 can guide you through this process, helping you to prioritise how information is to be presented, mapping out the structure clearly ahead of working on the creative approach.
Don’t put up with a website that’s creaking at the seams. Take the first step to getting your website organised and giving your visitors a better online experience – call us now for a chat!