By Lauren Moriarty
It has been the struggle of many higher education organizations since we created our first websites. How do we enable content owners to be content producers while still protecting our brand (and our inboxes)? We often focus on making beautiful and useful websites for our external audiences and do not consider our users who will create and maintain the content.
The boon of CMSs put power in the hands of the people, but in deploying these solutions, have we really made the lives of our content owners better? The principles of design thinking and UI/X can help us improve outcomes for our institutions.
Rather than throwing a new tool at our internal users, we should first ask questions, define problems, ideate on solutions, and provide prototypes. From this process, we can deliver a product that works better for our everyday users. But we need sustenance for each step.
Understanding & Empathy: Chocolate
To get to know your actors, find the most adept content editor in the school/department/unit. Give her chocolate. Sit with her. Watch her. Is she frustrated by her limitations? Has she come up with brilliant workarounds for roadblocks?
Next, seek out one who struggles or is totally new to working in the CMS and watch. Try hard not to instruct as you observe. For basic functions, where does he falter? Double chocolate here.
Definition: Strong Black Tea
Spend some time reflecting and writing about what you learned. Breathe in the steam and consider the user, their needs, and any insights you reached in this process. Ask yourself questions such as:
- how many clicks does it take to make an “easy” change?
- are there undue constraints on content production?
- are the users unaware of features that would help them?
Explain the problem.
Grab some joe and get to a whiteboard. Get as many ideas on the board as possible, even if they seem crazy, too difficult (I hear a groan from the engineers), or too simplistic. They could be as far-fetched as choosing a new CMS, to ditching the CMS for straight HTML to hiring puppies to cheer up your editors to exposing features or creating features. What might help solve the defined problem(s)?
Now is the time to put what you learned with what you imagined (see what I did there, mocha?). How many of you have wireframed the content owner/editor experience? Do it. Create a comp and build a prototype. Share a mocha with those users and test it.
Production: Pick Your Poison
When the shiny new site launches, you can grab your favorite beverage, relax, and know that it will not go stale because your content editors will be making changes efficiently and effectively!
To be fair, we hope content owners will think, but only about their content and not how to share it with the world. Grab some coffee and save some time in your next project for this important audience.
About the Author
Lauren Moriarty has managed web development projects in education, higher education, and companies for 20 years. She currently serves as Direct of Content Management Systems in the ITS Custom Applications & Consulting Services (CACS) at the University of Virginia.