5 Questions: The story behind the new Stanford Medicine website

The effort to revamp the Stanford Medicine website began two years ago. In this Q&A, Web services director Mark Trenchard describes the process and what Web users can expect in coming months.

Mark Trenchard

Stanford Medicine has a revitalized digital front door, thanks to a new website that launched June 9. And the changes are more than skin-deep.

In addition to the new look of the website, the school has implemented a modern, flexible design system and publishing platform that make it easier for Web authors to create compelling Web experiences that display effectively on both desktop and mobile devices.

Revamping the website was no small feat. A group in the school’s Office of Information Resources & Technology began working on the project more than two years ago. Mark Trenchard, IRT’s director of Web services, talked with Susan Ipaktchian, director of print and Web communications in the school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs, about the reasons behind the redesign, and what Web users can expect to see in coming months.

Q: What were the key factors behind the decision to revamp the website at this time?

Trenchard: An effective online presence is a key element of any organization’s ability to engage with people around the world. Most people now form their first impressions of a brand through a digital lens. They assume that innovative, pre-eminent organizations have well-designed, relevant and easy-to-use websites.

Stanford Medicine needed to have a website that reflects the pre-eminent nature of our people, our work and our outcomes in health care, research and education. This ability to inspire can have as much of an impact on our external audiences as on our internal community of faculty, students and staff and our shared sense of purpose.

More than two years ago, we started refreshing our understanding of what role the Web plays, and could play, as a resource for the various types of organizations within Stanford Medicine, whether an institute, department, research center, training program or initiative. We formed a team from across the school to guide the initial concept for our new design and platform. Over the last several months, Pam Lowney, our senior Web strategist, led an effort to engage with faculty, staff, students and our hospital counterparts to help shape and evaluate the overall effectiveness of our new navigation and user experience.

Q: Visually, the new website is quite striking. How does the new look help convey the missions of Stanford Medicine?

Trenchard: We set out to develop a design that inherently supports the brand and missions of Stanford Medicine and was not simply beautiful. We also wanted to base our design on the world-class legacy of Stanford University. Accordingly, we took the primary attributes of Stanford Medicine and examined how other top global brands created designs to match similar attributes.

Our first innovation is the structure of the design itself. It is not a monolithic, single template, but a system of highly related themes that allow units more flexibility in designing their individual sites while keeping them connected to the Stanford Medicine brand experience. Our enhanced use of imagery and video strengthens a user’s connection with the amazing people and work that happens on campus and across our hospitals and clinics. Also, the use of a vibrant, rich color palette speaks to the diversity and boldness of our community. All of this is based on colors, typography and a logo that is clearly founded in the Stanford University brand, which has immeasurable value.

Q: The site is now much more functional for mobile devices, correct? Are there other capabilities that the site delivers?

Trenchard: The new site works well across the multitude of devices that we all carry. The site layout changes automatically to accommodate small screens, such as those for phones and tablets, and large screens. The platform dynamically adapts in delivering the correctly sized images, audio and video so that mobile experiences are faster.

Our new Web system also represents a complete transformation in how individual sites are built and maintained. The publishing engine functions largely as a drag-and-drop tool that can be accessed from a standard browser. The Web publishers in individual units will be able to quickly create custom layouts filled with rich-text and multimedia elements that will help them effectively showcase their content. The component library available to our Web publishers currently includes text editors, banners, image boxes, tables, feature panels, video players, an audio player, social network embeds, news and profile lists, timelines, buttons, forms and more. Everything you need to build a site is available without having to know any code or buy any software. We’ll continue to enhance all of these tools and offer more over the coming months.

Q: The school’s website is pretty vast, and this initial launch covers only the top-level pages. How long will it take for all of the school’s Web pages to be integrated into the new environment?

Trenchard: Yes, the Stanford Medicine website environment includes hundreds of sites. The initial phase established the foundation and the top landing pages, the news center and a handful of smaller sites. In our next phase, which has already kicked off, we will assist with the migration of about 200 formal academic and program sites. These sites have been identified, and we have scheduled these migrations with the site owners. In parallel, we are training all of the Web authors for these sites.

Later this summer we will also turn on the capability to do manual migrations for publishers who want to move to the new site as soon as possible. We plan to continue with the assisted migrations after this first migration phase is complete.

Q: What kind of feedback are you getting? If people spot problems, what should they do?

Trenchard: We have been hearing from all across Stanford Medicine that the design is compelling and is something that represents our mission well. Publishers love the ease of use of the new system and are very excited to start using this new site for their online communications.

As for problems, it is inevitable that you run across scenarios that you could not test. We’ve run into some broken links that we’ve quickly resolved as they are reported, but the site has been highly available and performing well in the first few days. If people spot any defects, the best way to get help is by using our online service request form.

For those who have general feedback about the design, user experience or content, we’ve set up a form. I read all of the comments and route them to the appropriate people.

We also get ideas for how we can make the Web environment even better. We like that feedback because one sobering truth about the Web is that we are never done. Expectations, standards and capabilities change daily, so we can’t wait to take this solid new foundation to an even higher lever of excellence.

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at http://mednews.stanford.edu.

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