My roles: Information Architect, User Researcher, Content Strategist, System Designer, Project Manager
The site wasn’t working. The program staff weren’t happy with it. Supporters couldn’t find things. Communications staff, particularly the photo and video staff, didn’t like the way images were used, and donations just weren’t coming in.
My first step: survey users inside the organization to discover internal needs and disconnects between staff members perceptions of the organization, the image they wanted to present to the public, and the site as it was. I also worked with Greenpeace USA’s archivist to look back at how the organization had portrayed itself throughout its history.
Several pain points surfaced immediately:
- Information was hard to find.
- The existing Information Architecture didn’t make it clear to site visitors what Greenpeace was doing.
- There was no sense of priorities on the site. Everything seemed to have equal weight.
- The existing site didn’t reflect either the historical portrayal or the current perception of and desire to present the organization as “young” and “dynamic.”
Surveying site visitors to help ensure we didn’t have tunnel vision and weren’t just organizing the information for the benefit of insiders revealed that supporters wanted to browse by topic as well as having a single place where they could see updates and stories chronologically.
After a content evaluation and thorough testing with internal and external stakeholders, I constructed the information architecture for the site ensuring supporters had multiple paths to information and future proofing so coming in through the homepage wasn’t required.
A specific problem surfaced during the staff survey was the use, or lack of use, of the incredible photo library Greenpeace had at its disposal.
The technological approach of the time had moved toward embracing fluid layouts. This change from the existing site’s fixed with 800px layout would maximize the use of the site visitor’s visual space allowing us to incorporate more and bigger photos.
We also knew needed to have a way to feature certain stories giving them more weight and importance while still providing a content-rich homepage to site visitors but without boring repeat visitors, which our survey and our site metrics agreed there were many.
In 2002 Drupal was barely two years old and WordPress hadn’t yet been released. In an environment where content management systems were costly to implement and license, I created the functional specifications for Greenpeace’s first CMS tailored to the needs surfaced in user and stakeholder research.
Besides the Information Architecture documents, I created a functional specifications document designing a custom CMS. This document included:
- defined the types of content we needed to post, including fields associated with each content type.
- how we wanted to be able to classify each type of content and the taxonomies we wanted to use, which included not only layout related taxonomies (e.g. Homepage – Medium Feature) but program related taxonomies (e.g. Nuclear Campaign).
- functionality allowing the management of unique image banners for each campaign.
- the ability for web editors to make a feature sticky on the homepage.
- work flows for content editing, notification, approval, and posting
I also specified functionality that would, based on a cookie sent to the visitor’s browser, rotate features on the homepage so that content was as fresh as possible for returning visitors; if the cookie was not accepted by the site visitor, the features rotated through based on the order in which they were entered into the content management system.
The goal of increasing the use of photos on the site was incorporated into the actual design through the use of thematic banners in each section. Changeable via a tool built into the content management system, these banners provided a visual way to support the fresher content on the pages.
Each top-level section included a landing page featuring a strong use of images and was designed to visitors could easily find the newest or most important content on the page. The Campaigns overview page, for example, visually branded each of Greenpeace’s six campaigns with an iconic image as well as provided a short, easily digestible description to entice new site visitors.
Once we had specifications, I managed the project through the design process soliciting feedback from internal stake holders, including a team of Senior Managers, at every step. I managed relationships with two vendors, Free Range Graphics for the look and feel, and Two Radical Technologies (now closed) for the custom programming for the content management and for the activism system I also designed.