The Content of the University’s Home Page

Information Architecture Working Group

The Refresh Information Architecture (IA) working group was delegated responsibility for determining the information architecture for the university’s Web site at The working group charges were to:

  • Define standards in information presentation for the university
  • Define the core content
  • Determine the core site structure

Consisting of Web developers, publishers and information experts across campus, the IA working group met weekly (and more) from September 2009 through February 2010. The members conducted research, gathered data about the existing Web site, analyzed the results of both and created the final Refresh Project information architecture products. These products were shared with the core Refresh Project Team, the Refresh Committee, and the design, mobile, content creation and content management system implementation groups.

The research:

  • Focus groups with staff and students
  • Interviews of staff, students, faculty, alumni and visitors
  • University peer site review
  • Surveys

The gathered data:

  • Content inventories
  • Search terms
  • Web site metrics and analytics

The final products:

  • Existing site heat map
  • Site diagram
  • Personas
  • Page function diagrams
  • Task analysis
  • Wireframes

Each working group member participated while continuing to work at their primary jobs – no small sacrifice and one that is greatly appreciated. Without such a group of interested, bright and exceptional people, the Refresh Project would not be where it is today.

Refresh Information Architecture Working Group Members

  • Jennifer Coast, Information Architecture Lead – ITS Applications
  • Keri Ungemah, Research Lead – Office of Public Affairs
  • Nyleva Corley – Office of Public Affairs
  • Carey Christian – ITS Applications
  • Jeremy Cumbo – College of Fine Arts (now with the Office of Development)
  • Jackie Dana – Department of Sociology, College of Liberal Arts
  • Jennifer Jobst – ITS Communication and Strategy Management
  • Susan LaRonde – College of Communication
  • Jennifer Knott – Continuing and Innovative Education
  • Chris Latham – University Operations, TRECS Web Team
  • Ly Ann Peterson – Office of Development
  • Tom Reavley – Purchasing Office
  • Carol Roberts – ITS Applications
  • Megan Rucker – ITS Applications
  • Rachel Strain – ITS Applications
  • Andy Greer, Designer – College of Communication

Determining the Content of the Home Page

One of the more challenging aspects of any Web redesign project is how to structure and organize the content. For the IA working group members, this task was especially difficult due to the breadth and depth of the information that The University of Texas at Austin – comprised of numerous colleges, schools, departments, research units, centers, museums, institutes and administrative offices – needs to share.

What was the best way to organize and share information about the university? Through the months of data collection, research and analysis, one fundamental concept kept rising to the forefront: everything the university does is in support of its mission. Furthermore, all the information our Web site visitors want to access is related to what the university does. It seems obvious now, doesn’t it? So, the IA working group members had the answer: we would categorize and collate our information around the mission and core purpose of the university.

Mission-based Navigation

Once the IA working group members identified the core theme by which we would organize our information, we had to determine the top-level topics that would encompass all the university’s activities and services that support its mission:

The mission of The University of Texas at Austin is to achieve excellence in the interrelated areas of undergraduate education, graduate education, research and public service. The university provides superior and comprehensive educational opportunities at the baccalaureate through doctoral and special professional educational levels.

The university contributes to the advancement of society through research, creative activity, scholarly inquiry and the development of new knowledge. The university preserves and promotes the arts, benefits the state’s economy, serves the citizens through public programs and provides other public service.

The IA working group members selected five topics that would allow users to learn about the university and the services it offers. These topics, which became the “primary navigation” elements of the site, are:

  • About UT
    • To provide an overview of the university and to share why “What Starts Here Changes the World.”
  • Academics
    • To highlight teaching and learning at the university and to share how the university “provides superior and comprehensive educational opportunities at the baccalaureate through doctoral and special professional educational levels.”
  • Campus Life
    • To highlight the benefits of belonging to The University of Texas at Austin community and to illustrate how the university’s core values of learning, discovery, freedom, leadership, individual opportunity and responsibility can be realized through being a part of this community.
  • Community Engagement
    • To highlight the outreach, service and community engagement activities that the university conducts to “preserve and promote the arts, benefit the state’s economy, serve the citizens through public programs and provide other public service.”
  • Research
    • To highlight the extensive research that is ongoing at the university and to share how the university “contributes to advancement of society through research, creative activity, scholarly inquiry and the development of new knowledge.”

Each of these topics will comprise a collection of pages that offer compelling, engaging stories and information about the university, its community members and its services.

Community-based Navigation

While the primary navigation elements will provide access to information about the university, we determined that an additional avenue of access into the site was necessary, one based on the needs of the core members of our community, who are:

  • Students
  • Faculty
  • Staff
  • Alumni & Friends

The redesigned pages for these core audiences will serve as portals to the services and information offered by different colleges, schools and offices across campus. The pages will collect, categorize, feature and promote services that each core community member needs in order to learn, teach and conduct research, and to interact with others who are doing the same.

“Students” will replace “Current Students” because we will no longer have a “Prospective Students” page from which to differentiate. Data from research indicate that, while prospective students and their parents discover information about the university by visiting pages created especially for them, they believe they get a more honest overview of the university by reading pages not created for them. Based on this finding, we decided to provide admissions information on the home page via a method other than a prospective students portal and to share prospective students’ information on other pages. We will expand on this in a future Refresh blog post.

Action-based Links

In addition to the mission- and community-based pages, there will be five topics of action-based “quick links” on the home page:

  • Apply Here
  • Visit Here
  • Learn Here
  • Live Here
  • Work Here

The labels for these relate directly to the university’s brand: “What Starts Here Changes the World.” With these themed-collections of links, we will provide an easy and fast way for our users to get to the most important or popular services at the university, based on what they want or need to do. We’ll share more about the action-based links in a future Refresh blog post.

Features, News and Events

Our home page narrative content – features, news and events – demonstrate the university’s brand. This narrative content will showcase how our students, faculty, staff and alumni are changing the world and will reflect and highlight the teaching, learning, discovery and public service conducted at the university.


Search is one of the more popular tools on the home page and will continue to be one of the more prominent elements. A search box will appear on the home page and on every mission- and community-based page in the core site. The search will encompass people (from the directory) and university Web pages. The IA working group also recommends that the search results include offices and places, if time and technology allow.

Utility Links

In addition to a search box, there are several links that the IA working group members identified as being useful or practical to everyone who visits our site.  These utility links will appear at the top of the home page and on every mission- and community-based page near the search box:

  • Colleges & Schools
  • Directory
  • Libraries
  • Offices
  • Maps
  • UT Direct

Popular Search Terms

The university uses Google Custom Search for its search engine, and we are able to track the most popular searches. If our Web visitors are searching for these services, then we need to provide the most direct route. There will be a space on the home page to display these terms. Regular analysis of the popular search terms will allow us to revise and update the links and information we provide on the home and core pages to meet the needs of our Web visitors.


There are projects and programs with university-wide appeal that need to be highlighted on the home page. These are topics of special interest to the entire university community and initiatives the university wants to promote. Such items include “Tower Talk,” the president’s blog, or “Ideas of Texas,” an initiative for community members to share and review ideas to improve the university. One example of an item that could be spotlighted because of seasonal interest is “Flu on Campus,” a Web site created by University Health Services that is used to share information about the H1N1 virus. The topics included in the Spotlight section will change as needed.

Academic Calendar Alerts

An academic calendar element will display academic calendar events, such as registration times, last day to drop, winter holiday, and finals week. Displaying this information on the home page will help our Web visitors feel engaged with the university’s schedule, as well as provide this information prominently to our core community members.

Giving to the University

To promote and support philanthropic efforts, there will be a Make a Gift link near the top of the university’s home page. We will also include a story about how giving to the university benefits our students while they pursue their education or about what the university is able to achieve with the help of its donors.

Also, the Campaign for Texas, an eight-year, $3 billion comprehensive fundraising effort to increase The University of Texas at Austin’s national competitiveness and global impact, will be spotlighted on the home page.

Universal Navigation

One of the discoveries during the research analysis phase is that our Web visitors want to go directly to the college or school with which they are affiliated. Also, many visitors are interested in what the university does and where they can visit if they come to campus. The data were compelling, and the IA working group members determined that including direct links on the home page to these areas was important.

As such, we have developed a universal navigation element that will be on the home page and on the mission- and community-based pages that will include links to each college and school and to places to visit, including libraries, museums and centers.


The area at the bottom of the university’s home page will serve as a place to include links that we need to share on every page:

  • Contact
  • Emergency Information
  • Sitemap
  • ITS Help Desk
  • UT Mobile
  • © 2010 The University of Texas at Austin
  • Web Privacy Policy
  • Web Accessibility
  • Resources for People with Disabilities
  • About this Site
  • UT System
  • State of Texas
  • Statewide Search
  • How to Report Fraud, Waste and Abuse
  • Online Institutional Résumés

These links may grow or change due to legislative mandates.

Beyond the Home Page Content

The redesign work continues. The products of the IA working group were shared with the core Refresh Project Team, the Refresh Committee, and the design, UT Direct, mobile, content creation and content management system implementation groups. We’ll share more on the status of these project phases in the coming weeks.

Posted in Information Architecture, Research
4 comments on “The Content of the University’s Home Page
  1. Blake says:

    In what navigation locations listed here will the University Health Services and The Counseling and Mental Health Center be located?

  2. Jenn Coast says:

    Hi Blake,

    I will be posting a new entry soon that talks about the action-based links but “Healthy Horns” and “Student Life” will be linked under the “Live Here” section.

    “Healthy Horns” and “Student Life,” among many other links, will also be available from the Students community page. Also, information about Student Life will be within “Campus Life,” one of the main mission-based navigational elements.

    We have to do usability testing on the links and content so if you have any comments about labels or placement, let us know (you can comment here or send e-mail to to start that conversation).


  3. In the June 16th posting Jenn indicates that “Healthy Horns” will be linked under “Live Here.” However, Blake’s question of June 7th asked about two separate entities: Healthy Horns (i.e. University Health Services) and the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center. The link to “Healthy Horns” does not include the Counseling and Mental Health Center. We would like to see a general term to link to that encompasses both entities or two separate links. Thanks. — Martha

  4. Jenn Coast says:


    Defining the links here continues to be an iterative process. This list was developed from the research the Information Architecture (IA) Working Group conducted. However, in the meeting I had with Web publishers and communicators from Division of Student Affairs on June 7, it was clear that we needed to revisit this section.

    We’ll be meeting with Student Affairs publishers again this month where we can review the data the IA Working Group collected and develop a list of links that will be more robust.