University News Site and Publishing Process

University News Site and Publishing Process

This university needed a redesign of their school-wide publishing platform. I worked with several of their team members and users to understand their publishing needs and then designed a way to make the process better within the limitations of the CMS.

The Basics

The client, a large Southern university, needed an overhaul to their aging news platform. The site is used to cover all university stories, large and small. It also acts as the publishing platform for over a dozen other university sites, which pull their news feeds from it.

I led the discovery process to figure out what the client needed from the new site. I used that information to design the CMS and front-end layouts. I also acted as the lead developer on the project.

My Contributions

Research & Discovery
  • Client and competitive site audits
  • Stakeholder interviews
CMS Architecture and Publishing Process
  • The design of multiple taxonomies to meet their unique needs
  • Extending WordPress to meet the site requirements
  • A modular, reusable design/code system created for ease-of-use and future growth
  • Publishing process plan for dozens of users
Wireframes and Layouts
  • Admin-side wireframes to establish back-end rules and functions
  • Clickable front-end prototype
  • Wires and requirements for each module in the system
  • Lead development of custom WordPress theme
  • Collaboration with two additional developers
The Process

Research and Discovery

When I joined the project, we had a few questionnaires that the client had filled out about their problems and goals. They also provided us with a handful of documents that they had been using to keep track of the problems they were experiencing prior to coming to us.

I combined these documents with audits I did of their site and several competitor sites to write of a draft set of requirements/ways to improve the site. Then I held a round of stakeholder interviews that included the core university relations team, some of their contributing authors, and a couple of end-users. We discovered that there was more to their problems and that they were hoping to really rethink the system from the ground up.

So, I threw out most of that first draft and created a new set, which I then used to draft out a proposed CMS architecture.

The Process

CMS Architecture

The new site would require a multi-tiered permissions system, much of which hinged on who could post to the homepage and who has access to specific front-end displays and sets of taxonomy terms.

The system also needs to provide a method for creating multiple feeds that supply all of the other sites in the university’s digital ecosystem. The existing site did provide these but did so on the back of other taxonomies. This created confusion to the point that no one was entirely sure of what aspects of the site were responsible for what functionality.

We took advantage of the WordPress Gutenberg system and planned out several custom blocks to provide the client with a straightforward way to continue building the site after we handed it off to them. These are shown further below in the section on wireframes.

The Process

Publishing Process

I planned out the publishing rules on a digital whiteboard because traveling to the client for a workshop was out of the question (pandemics!). This ultimately proved to be a great option because we were still able to nail down how everything needed to interact and what users would be given specific capabilities in real time.

Eventually, I used these to create the capabilities and permissions roles in the CMS. While these show the two basic flows, there were in reality around a dozen or so user types with unique sets of access rules.

The Process


Once we had an agreement on the general requirements and we were sure that the site could be built in WordPress like they wanted us to, I set to designing the front-end. This included both the overall page layouts and relationships as well as the micro-interactions of the various custom Gutenberg blocks. These interactions included the front-end user features and the back-end admin features.

The wireframes were built as a ‘fully’ working prototype using Adobe XD. This helped the client really understand (and get excited about) how much better the new site would be to use, for them and their users.

The Process

Development of the CMS and front-end

I was the lead developer and subject matter expert for the build of this site. This was beneficial in speeding things along because I already knew how the content relationships, taxonomies, and permissions of the site should work. I handled the setup of the new CMS framework and the PHP/HTML/SCSS of the template files. I did still brief two of our agency’s developers who were invaluable in getting the site finished while I stepped in and out of the process due to other client commitments.

The End?

Preparing for Launch

The site is going through final quality checks and will be launching sometime in late 2020. The client is extremely happy with their new site, which not only meets their day-to-day needs but is compliant with WCAG accessibility guidelines so that it also meets the needs of everyone in their university system.

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