Connecting Audiences Through a Global University Website Design
Columbia University is one of the largest global institutions, with countless schools, scholars, and initiatives around the world. Despite this, they lacked a location that organized and presented the university’s rich diversity of global institutes, programs, research, and people. We were asked to help Columbia develop a strategy to catalyze its global brand with an online home that raises awareness and encourages multi-disciplinary, cross-border collaboration.
To make sense of such a large volume of information as the totality of Columbia University’s global activity, we started with research, workshops, and an audit of thousands of pieces of content to evaluate quality, consistency, and completeness. After making sense of it all, we created a strategic brief that outlines goals and recommendations for Columbia Global. At the core of our digital strategy was a plan to effectively organize the experience by global issue areas and then connect the dots between Columbia’s many people, programs, and institutions working on them around the world.
How can we design for structure, depth, and flexibility?
Success with large, content-heavy websites demands that you design for density. Columbia Global’s blueprint is organized with a strong hierarchy that establishes clear relationships from the highest-level academic units down to each individual scholar. A robust system of page templates then provides the necessary structure and flexibility at the page-level to support Columbia’s wide diversity of content types. The result makes information accessible through a variety of lenses—elevating featured content and encouraging exploration through a range of relevant content relationships.
What design demands will Columbia’s global brand make?
Columbia Global would have both the honor and the awesome responsibility of being the singular presence for the university’s presence around the world. It also needed to live comfortably within Columbia’s existing brand while it advanced this more expansive mission. And it would need to have the depth and diversity needed to meet the needs of an incredibly complex, content-heavy user experience. We designed a robust system of typefaces, colors, and iconography that balances Columbia’s historic brand with delivering a structured, stimulating user experience that makes scanning and reading content easy and enjoyable.
Columbia Global’s design system is built on a robust set of templates that provide the structure and depth needed to meet the demands of an online experience with an incredibly wide range of content.
How do we organize a global university's knowledge center?
Designed as the center of Columbia Global is a global directory that provides access to every single piece of content. To build such an expansive resource, we architected a robust Drupal CMS, integrating it with systems across Columbia’s technology universe and providing tools for easy site management. Columbia Global’s system includes powerful SOLR search to speed processing, RSS feeds that automatically re-categorize external content, WIND integration with Columbia’s Sundial calendaring system, and UNI authentication to communicate with Columbia’s university-wide user management system.
Is it even possible to fit all this content on a phone?!
Large, content-heavy websites place significant demands on mobile design, especially when it comes to navigating them. When space is at a premium, it’s essential to maintain well-structured layouts with strong typographic fundamentals and to make deeper navigation easy to access. To make sure Columbia Global would be highly accessible to audiences visiting from their phones, our design team spent extensive time re-formatting page grids and adjusting typographic hierarchies to create an intuitive experience that encourages audiences to explore its vast volumes of content—and deliver a great reading experience as they find content of interest.
Our Client's Experience
“When Columbia engaged Constructive, we knew that the site our previous partner had started was not meeting our expectations. We just didn’t fully understand why. They did a fantastic job getting up to speed, asking questions, educating our people, and offering new ideas. Their team helped develop an ambitious strategy that made sense and then created a website that stands out among all of Columbia’s online properties. They earned our trust, are a pleasure to work with, and, as a result, continue to be our dedicated partner.”
Kevin Schiesz, Executive Director Initiatives & Special Projects