After a year of vendor engagement (Razorfish) and 9 months of internal development, the unified design to replace all micro-sites, finally arrives. It takes a few laptops and whole bunch of people on the phone. A better view, I’m the rapid moving head at the table:-)
Among other things, the content grew from 5 channels to 13 through partnerships with Frommers, ADAM, Cookstr.com, Arkadium, Illumen, and Destination RX, Happy Neuron, Kiplingers Personal Finance, Newscom (AARP en Espanol), and Healthline.
We brought in digital agency Razorfish to research the digital wants and needs of the 50+ population. The collaboration led a digital strategy roadmap, IA deliverables and final design, which was taken over by the internal team over the course of the engagement. By end of 2010, AARP.org’s 3 million unique monthly visitors increased to 5.8 million.
Unifying AARP’s publications and various websites was a major focus. In the previous 2008 release(link), AARP.org was redesigned into a news portal with daily updates. This was a major shift from the stereotypical association website with very little focus on content. In addition one of it’s publications AARP Bulletin, was launched online. In the 2010 redesign the remaining periodicals: AARP The Magazine, Viva the Spanish language publication, broadcast productions and AARP Radio, were all also migrated into the single website. Many predictable challenges and a good deal of politics took place to create some kind of personality and separation for all the content units.
While there were probably too many compromises made on visual design, all the major legacy CMS were sunset. A more modular approach was adopted. Unfortunately, many details were left unfinished at the end of the engagement with the vendor. This was due to budget and typical delays that occur in projects. In this case, the much needed focus on educating the client (us) overshadowed the complexities of such a massive technical effort. But vendor management and role of internal team is the subject of another post entirely!
Transition from Strategy to Implementation
Internalizing the effort from the design team’s point of view happened at the delivery of final design comps. This was literally a dozen pages mocked up to represent various content scenarios. At this point , my role changed from being on the core client team (the buyer) to leading the internal design team (the implementers). In the following 3 months we produced over 90 mockups, mostly to satisfy the unconvinced internal constituants. Needless to say but I’ll say it anyway, this was a tremendous learning experience. We could have been much more efficient in this process and the focus should have been on proper top-level buy in, rather then the half hearted support of middle management with little understanding of user experience. But regardless of the dragged out process, we systematically addressed the requirements.
The first step in the transition of design tasks was to establish a grid. This is often overlooked in during redesign and viewed a s technical step. I find it to be critical and very much strategic, as it’s more then simple understanding of where the ad units go. We carefully categorized user features and authoring abilities, along with existing modules in the CMS. After much simplification, the result was a system that all of UX team (designers, IAs, product managers and myself) could refer. The grid creates a framework for pixel perfect layouts, authoring rules and an internal lexicon. This was critical both for doing mock-up as well as writing user stories.
Aside from the sheer volume of effort, there was a great deal of technical challenges as well. Each release was full of bugs. And with the deadlines looming, it became very difficult to balance the need for content producers to get into the system, with the developer’s need to actually finish the existing features. On the content producers’ front, our team played a big role in training folks. Updating the style guide and helping out with the training sessions were key contributions. On the development side of things, we took on the challenge of slowing down the management by raising their awareness of quality issues. All while working in the sprint cycles to resolve remaining issues.
Before and After Thoughts
The previous redesign was a tremendous step for AARP and it significantly improved it’s online presence, not to mention their traffic. The new design succeeded in maintaining those gains while adding more clarity to all of the brand’s digital presence. The before and after shot may or may not seem significant depending on your view of content portals. But the structural improvements and inclusion of the previously scattered content represent a leap forward.
A few comparisons:
- 2010 goal – 139MM
- 2010 actual performance – 142MM
- Exceeded dashboard goal by 2%
- 16% above 2009
- 2010 goal – 750MM
- 2010 actual performance – 817MM
- Global pageviews ended the year 9% higher than projected
- 19% above 2009
New Registered Users
- 2010 goal – 589K
- 2010 actual performance – 824K new registered users (40% above goal)
- 40% above goal due to better than expected response to sweepstakes and new member benefits offers including Restaurant Center and Coupons.com
- 41% above 2009
The goals after the launch remain the same albeit more refined…
AARP.org is the site that brings together best-in-class content that entertains, empowers and serves Boomers in a community of their own making.
The greater connection with it’s members provides the vehicle to actually achieve these goals.
My personal experience was one of growth and a tone of learning. Could do with out the elongated development period and all the drama. But I guess that’s the stuff that make up the growth and what not!
And What Remains Undone… Ideas on Walls
Even after a such long development period, we still left out many ideas and work to be done. While not surprising, the amount of ‘parking lot’ ideas from brainstorming sessions and additional feature requests is more than substantial. With several dozen content providers and countless vendors the next phase of work is focused on more integration and adding even more depth to the site.
Few more posts will cover some of these efforts. I may end up listing them here if they become relevant.