Information design for directories

Client:  Faculty of Engineering, University of Ottawa
Relation: Strategist, Web Content and Design
Work: Project initiator and designer, supervised assistants

Challenge

With over 350 professors and staff members, our directory entry was split in 5 websites. The profiles were not centralized in single page, users had to search for them in different pages and sites.

For maintenance, links to staff profile on the web pages required manual text updates. This meant that for every promotion, hire or contact updates, it required modifying the French and English pages, multiplied by the number of instances that they appeared on web pages. Updating a profile could add up to changing 8 pages manually with the hopes that we remembered where the instances appeared.

Further to updating these profiles, some staff members had two or more profiles, which multiplied updates effort and increased inaccurate information.

Evaluation

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My final wire-frame plan.

I started by exploring the pain-points for users and to find out what their needs were. I consulted with every internal clients, and proposed iterations.

Summary of needs

  • Internal academics and students: Find professors quickly
  • External academics and agencies: Find professors and peers quickly with the option to refine by research categories for discovery.
  • Everyone: Find staff and professors
  • Operations: Update staff in a timely fashion
  • Prospective graduate students: Find teaching supervisors
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I created a content inventory to map out where profiles were stored and with what kind of information, and in which languages(s). Thankfully I had some assistants to help us out.

After the inquiries and evaluation, there was clearly a need to rework the entire system and bring in some efficiencies.

Building the taxonomy

I also had to untangle the academic jargon, such as understanding the nuances between tenured professors and adjuncts, researcher tiers and program directors. This granularity helped define which taxonomy choices were most appropriate for our tools.

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Example of selecting taxonomies

The beauty of using Drupal as a content management system means that content nodes can be grouped quickly with views. Combining views with taxonomy creates a powerful way to display different combination of content in different ways.

For example, a professor can have many hats. They could be, and all at once a:

  • Vice-Dean
  • Governance committee member
  • Researcher
    • within an academic unit
    • within a research theme
  • Chair of research
  • Cross-appointed to another department
    • Same faculty
    • Different faculty
  • Programs of studies director
  • Thesis research supervisor

We now had over 65 taxonomy tags which encompasses all desired grouping! Perfect. We can now add a profile to taxonomy groups simply with check-marks.

Consolidating profiles

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One site to rule them all. No more redundancies.

I merged the five sites into a single one, this meant that we had to migrate the profiles manually. This was by far the most tedious task. Having the taxonomy already established on the receiving site meant that we could update the profiles while we migrating, skipping the step of having to re-tag them.

I ensured we had our redirects in place to ensure continuity of search and relevance.

If, or more like when, some fields were missing, we had to hunt down the information.

Building the views

Building the views with taxonomies was surprisingly easy. We just needed to know which kind of combination of tags we wanted to trigger to display the information.

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Before I started my work, professors were listed in drop-downs with odd formatting.
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An example of a simple view (no-multi-tagging) for professors within a research theme.

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A more complex application of taxonomies. People can now filter by last name, academic units and areas of research. Professors indicated they wanted all the names on one page to do quick in-page searches; in hindsight it totally makes sense. I tweaked the directory listing spacing with CSS.

The beauty of a synchronized taxonomy system: scaling

See it live: engineering.uOttawa.ca/graduate-programs/thesis-supervisors

Once we had completed the employee migration, I was approached to see if we could present the thesis supervisors to prospective students.

Prior to building our system, this request wouldn’t have been feasible. But we had one now! I simply created new taxonomy groups, we tagged every eligible professors in their categories, tested the results and we had a fully functioning tool for prospective graduate students. All done within a quick turn-around.

(I added a little loading animation script to inform users that the information is loading due to the size of the query; cache speed varies.)

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Conclusion

Creating profiles or new views is now incredibly simple to maintain. I solicit feedback when applicable and look forward to seeing how the analytics will reflect with the changes.