Westfield State University needed a website that substantiated their value by showcasing their extraordinary student opportunities.
Westfield State University is a small liberal arts university located in central Massachusetts. With student loan debt at an all-time high, Westfield wanted to show students that they can receive a top-notch education without the hefty price tag. With cost-consciousness and public school enrollment on the rise, this was a big opportunity for a small school in a highly competitive system.
In November 2013, we began building a website that communicated to their audience:
“Westfield is dedicated to equipping students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences they need to build a better future for themselves and their communities at a price that minimizes student loan debt.”
Find the Problem
Westfield’s messaging was falling on proverbial deaf ears. Its tagline, “private quality, public value,” wasn’t faring well — our Google Consumer Surveys and user testing modules showed the public/private juxtaposition didn’t identify with their audience’s mindset. Even more concerning, 63% of online survey responders in Massachusetts and 85% in the Northeast weren’t familiar with the college in any facet.
But the site’s usability problems stemmed not from what they were saying, but how it was said. Users were forced to wade through a clunky, audience-based navigation. A content audit revealed more than 14,000 HTML pages on the site. In short, initial testers were pulling their hair out trying to find what they needed because it was scattered all over the place.
Find Our Research
We admit we’re huge research nerds at NewCity, and when we have the opportunity to do full website redesigns, we get excited to roll up our sleeves.
We started by installing CrazyEgg, a software that displays web-user actions with heat maps, and tracking their web analytics closely before we hit the road for our on-site research trip. When we arrived, we conducted stakeholder interviews to uncover Westfield’s core identity and differentiators. Then our team led group sessions with faculty, staff and students to learn more about what Westfield State University can offer.
We were blown away with the level of participation the students had with our sessions, but that was just indicative of Westfield’s culture. Words like “extroverted” and “opportunity” arose multiple times. Most students found the chance to do the things they loved at Westfield, and try plenty of new things along the way.
Students at Westfield were polite and earnest — and they were proud their university reflected that personality. Many came from hard-working neighborhoods in central Massachusetts and suburban Boston. Perhaps most importantly, their education wasn’t just a time of self-discovery; it was imperative their time at Westfield would be crucial to developing career skills