Indiana University Online

Innovation in Education: How Our Fresh Brand Identity Drove Record Numbers of Student Applications

Simplifying the Indiana University online website for prospective students with up-front communication

Since 1820, Indiana University has helped students create brighter futures, while also seeking ways to drive innovation, from breakthroughs in DNA technology and cancer research to trailblazing cultural programs and resources.

Industry

Challenge

Indiana University Online faced a significant challenge in enhancing its digital presence to meet the evolving demands of online education. The primary objective was to redesign and consolidate multiple student-facing websites into a cohesive, user-friendly platform to improve accessibility, engagement, and conversion rates.

Objectives

  • To improve the brand consistency and visual appeal of the online platforms.

  • To increase user engagement and conversion rates for program inquiries and applications.

  • To create a seamless user experience across Indiana University Online's digital platforms.

Solution

The project team adopted a comprehensive approach involving user research, competitive analysis, and stakeholder interviews to inform the redesign strategy. Key initiatives included:

  • User Journey Education: Improving user expectations by adding information to key points in their application flow.

  • Brand Integration: Developing a unified visual identity that aligns with Indiana University's brand values and appeals to a diverse online learner demographic.

  • Mobile-first Design: Implementing a mobile-first design philosophy to enhance website navigation and content presentation.

Outcome

The redesign project was a resounding success, evidenced by:

  • Applications on the IU Online site increased by over 30%

  • Pages views increased by 39%

  • Engagement increased by 80%


Discovery and Research

The project commenced with an extensive discovery phase, engaging stakeholders, conducting user interviews, and analyzing competitor sites. This foundational work aimed to deeply understand the needs of online learners and the operational requirements of the university's digital platforms.

To wrap audience testing into our discovery phase, we conducted a competitor comparison pitting IU Online’s homepage against the homepage of other online universities like Purdue and SNHU.

We took a screenshot of each competitor’s homepage and sent it to 100 participants in our audience of college students, asking them to react to the pages in a variety of ways.


The All Degrees grid on IU Online’s current homepage is the most engaging area for the majority of participants (36%) to click on with their first action.

Participants were to click where they would go first on each competitors homepage, and the resulting data report that is produced by Helio appears as dots on the page:

Through this discovery process, we learned that the All Degrees grid on IU Online’s current homepage is a high-engagement area for them to improve on, with 36% of first clicks in that area. Any actions with 10% or more first clicks are considered high engagement areas.

Content on the homepage focused on specific personas alienated the greater audience.

Perception questions were asked to gauge participants’ understanding of the page’s offerings and value provided by different content:



IU’s module aimed at working parents was ranked one of the least helpful pieces of content on the page due to its irrelevance for most visitors.

“The working adult with kids part is actually quite helpful as well, just didn't really apply to me.”
– Helio Participants, Graduate College Student (US)

Despite the fact that participants find that information helpful, the amount of participants who ranked it the bottom of their list indicates that it isn’t a high engagement point on the homepage.

Time & cost information is valued highly on competitor homepages.

Finally, based on reactions to competitor homepages, we learned that time & cost information is valued highly by visitors:


Time and cost were elements ranked in the top 2 most valuable pieces of content on Purdue and SNHU’s homepage, which is content that IU Online did not currently have on their site. This opens up new opportunities for content that the IU team had not yet explored as early touchpoints on their site.

With clear pain-points and key engagement opportunities on the table, the IU team was able to move forward with a strong understanding of how their current site experiences holds up in the market.

Design and Prototyping

Designers focused on creating intuitive, accessible, and visually appealing interfaces. Early prototypes were developed and iteratively refined based on feedback from user testing sessions, ensuring the final design met the diverse needs of students, faculty, and prospective learners.

A big part of IU Online’s strategy was preparing for a mobile-first design, since the majority of their site traffic comes through mobile devices. To that end, the team focused on testing all of their designs in a mobile context, such as the crucial Apply page that introduces visitors to the application flow.

We found that incorporating a testimonial from a student, imagery, and a bulleted list of application steps improves expectations of the upcoming application.

We whipped up 7 variations of the apply page to evaluate different approaches to presenting the necessary information. The baseline design was very sparse, so our new variations focused on bringing more educational and visual elements to the page, such as a imagery at the top of the page and a bulleted list of the steps within the application process:



We tested these 7 variations of the apply page against the current baseline by asking participants how they feel about the page and then gauging whether that influences their expectations of the upcoming application flow.

The data from our audience of college students was then pulled into a comparison framework for easy analysis across the different versions.



As can be seen in the data above, the latest versions of the page, V5 and V7, tested significantly better than the baseline. The increase of satisfaction from as low as 13% to upwards of 67% is very dramatic, and even produced more participants who believe that the application process will take less than 15 minutes.

The team moved forward with design variation number 7, which incorporates a testimonial from a student about the ease of completing the application, as well as updated imagery and a bulleted list of application steps.

Content Strategy and Development

A new content strategy was crafted to serve the audience's needs better, focusing on clarity, engagement, and relevance. The content was restructured and optimized for SEO, making it easier for users to find the needed information.

The IU Online team aimed to more closely align their site imagery to the lifestyles and preferences of their remote student base. The goal was to establish a baseline for brand impressions towards the current imagery, and then determine a variation that outperformed the baseline in terms of positive emotional reactions and relevance.

Starting with 3 variations of brand imagery options, each was put to the test for satisfaction and emotional impressions with a different group of 100 participants:


Each variation of brand imagery was spread throughout content sections on the current IU Online homepage in order to gather reactions from participants in a live-site scenario. As the majority of their incoming traffic is on mobile devices, we tested the brand imagery in a mobile setting to provide the most accurate context to participants.

With responses from 100 participants on each variation of brand imagery, the data was compared and insights surfaced about what theme their audience reacts best to.

First, satisfaction gauges were presented to understand the initial appeal of the imagery for participants. This testing revealed that…

A Higher Education theme was able to impress upon visitors the sense of success and responsibility that the IU Online team holds most important.



The Helio team found that V2 produced by far the most positive impressions and levels of satisfaction, while avoiding the boringness and skepticism of the other themes.

Despite its relevance, imagery of at-home education produces less feelings of success from current college students.

One of the most interest observations was that the Online Education theme of V1, which the team thought might align well with an audience of remote class takers, did score highest in terms of relevance to participants:


However, the Online Education theme produced by far the lowest amount of positive impressions from participants, suffering from a lack of showing success and respectability.

"No one is in classes or doing anything exciting, they are just sitting at home doing homework"
– Undergraduate Student (US)

On the other hand, the Higher Education theme was able to impress upon visitors the sense of accomplishment that the team determined to be more valuable than relevance:

"All images are pertaining to university life and graduation and feeling like one has successfully achieved their goal"
– Graduate Student (US)

The IU Online team moved forward with validation that their Higher Education theme would produce the most positive impressions from visitors to their site.

Launch and Continuous Improvement

Following a successful launch, the team shifted focus to monitoring performance metrics and gathering user feedback for ongoing improvements. This phase emphasized the importance of adaptability and responsiveness to user needs post-launch.

The strategic redesign of Indiana University Online's digital platforms represents a significant advancement in the university's commitment to providing top-tier online education. By focusing on user-centric design, brand alignment, and user education, the project successfully enhanced the online learning experience, showcasing a model for future digital initiatives in higher education.


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