Overview

Boise State University first grabbed our attention when its football team used the Statue of Liberty play to beat Oklahoma in overtime in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. It was a gutsy, perfectly executed performance that reminded the entire country not to overlook the little guy. The game brought media attention and acclaim to Boise State, and the university realized that it needed a web presence worthy of its new standing.

Challenge

Boise State wanted a robust WordPress system that could serve as a master, controlled theme for the over 200 different WordPress sites under the university’s umbrella.

The site would need to organize a host of crucial elements: a global navigation system, dynamic content feeds, a system for sending emergency notifications, multiple templates that could fit each site, and A-Z indexing to navigate between them. The site also needed to be Section 508 compliant. What’s more, Boise State wanted an online style guide to train faculty and students how to maintain the brand when adding content to the live site.

Discovery

At project start, Boise State had already decided on its main level navigation items and established the site’s content hierarchy. With that in place, we did a competitive analysis, working with Boise State to develop an internal list of “regional top three universities to beat.” After the competition and critical features were defined, we sorted through our collected data to create content maps and wireframes.

Design

During discovery, BSU told us that they wanted a “clean and modern” website. So, we began design with an approach that balanced its bold colors with a simple, readable design. Further, we tried to give the myriad of primary user paths on the homepage equal weight while keeping the main navigation uncluttered. In the end, we designed five initial concepts ranging from conservative to sharply abstract and minimal; ultimately we landed somewhere in between.

Boise State admin screenshot 2
Development

From the beginning of the project, Boise State understood the need for a responsive website. Students, faculty, and the general public would be accessing the site from all types of devices, so it needed to be optimized for each. A responsive approach satisfied this criterion, eliminating the extra code and unique templates needed with a mobile-specific site.

We built a master WordPress theme that shares data and serves consistent branding with unlimited child themes. What’s more, the master theme allows Boise State to share global header and footer navigation and plugins, and features a variety of page types, layout options and design elements.

With hundreds of events each year, we realized Boise State would benefit from a more robust system for event planning and coordination. We installed an events calendar plugin and customized it with unique templates and a search form that supports querying across date ranges (functionality that wasn’t natively supported by the plugin). The calendar uses a centralized datastore that feeds into other sites on Boise’s network, allowing any of the separate installations to display event calendar listings.

To handle theme updates, we built a custom, single-click system that allows an administrator to install new releases through the WordPress back-end. To on-campus users, these updates look and work just like normal WordPress core and plugin updates, minimizing friction and disruption.

Solution

The new design now effectively serves Boise State University campus and community. Using a master theme, it gives administrators the ability to control the presentation of content on its 200 separate WordPress installations from one central login, ensuring consistent branding across the entire network of sites. Boise State can also decide how much of the data and design scheme gets transferred to the child sites from the master theme. Although each university department is still in control of its own site, each site is now aligned with the University’s brand guidelines and running on the same version of WordPress.

Acclimating Boise State staff to the new website was painless. Prior to launch, we sent our WordPress experts to Boise for a two-day training session on the content management system. We also created custom training videos for the internal staff that explained how to update complicated content. These training videos are available from the back-end of the CMS as a resource for new hires or as a refresher course for staff.

 

The new theme is responsive – from desktop to tablet to mobile devices – visitors have a positive experience no matter the size of their screen. One year following site launch, the average visit durations for desktop have increased by 13 percent, while more substantial gains were made on smaller devices, with a 36 percent increase in visit duration for tablet and nearly 50 percent for mobile. Bounce rates have dropped dramatically as well, with a decrease of 21 percent for desktop, 24 percent for tablet and 17 percent for mobile.

We still host weekly status meetings with Boise State, provide maintenance support with the site, add new functionality, update features and plugins, and fix issues as they arise. Since the project’s completion, we’ve even gone on to create websites for five other university-affiliated businesses.

Boise-Responsive-Full-2

“It’s a perfect example of how we like to do business: building trust, displaying our knowledge, delivering high quality results on time, and proving our consistency with on-going work, which builds more trust as the cycle begins again.”

Teri Williams, University Web Manager, Boise State University

Results

The new design now effectively serves Boise State University’s campus and community. Using a master theme, it gives administrators the ability to control the presentation of content on its 200 separate WordPress installations from one central login, ensuring consistent branding across the entire network of sites.

Boise State can also decide how much of the data and design scheme gets transferred to the child sites from the master theme. Although each university department is still in control of its own site, each site is now aligned with the University’s brand guidelines and running on the same version of WordPress.

  • IAC Best University Website
  • 43rd Annual Creativity International Award
  • 2012 Silver CASE Award
By the Numbers
Website Traffic
results-traffic
+70%
Facebook Fans
results-fans
+50%
Page Views
results-pageviews
+40%
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