Norfolk State University

Case Study

Norfolk State University

Norfolk State is an HBCU with deep roots in the local community and a proudly supportive alumni base. It has strengths in technology, sciences, nursing, business, and liberal arts but an academic reputation that lags behind actual performance. As one stakeholder characterized the institution, “We often fail to tell about the good work we are doing”

Its web site at the time was a conglomeration of over 200 web properties with siloed content and a decentralized editing/authoring system that lacked a cohesive governance system. My charge was to bring the site under a single content management system, align it with recent branding efforts by agency Fuseideas, and tell the NSU story.

The multi-faceted audience extended well beyond the complexity typical of high-ed sites and included active duty military from nearby Naval Station Norfolk, first generation college students, and – as it turns out – the cabbie who picked me up at the airport (and whose remarks found their way into my findings presentation).

My final recommendations formed the foundation for a new, responsive web site:

  • Create site that primarily targets prospective students and their parents with content that answers their questions
  • Provide appropriate content for other audience groups and channel them thoughtfully
  • Reflect the new branding initiative developed by Fuseideas
  • Tell the NSU story authentically and in the context of its rich history and place in the community
  • Break the silos and make content easy to find
  • Build on modern CMS for ease of content development and maintenance
  • Create and implement a governance plan

Tasks & Deliverables

  • Week of on-campus discovery workshops with stakeholders and student groups
  • Heuristic review of NSU and related sites (Landscape Analysis)
  • Personas & user journeys
  • Discovery findings with stakeholder presentation
  • Site Map
  • Wireframes
  • Functional Annotations / Development Specs

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UX Timeline & Work Samples

Discovery Workshops and Interviews

Planned and lead week-long discovery workshops, interviews and focus groups with: site adminstrators and IT; university leadership; deans; Enrollment Management; University Advancement; Office of the Registrar; student experience and campus life staff; current students; and, prospective students and parents.

Landscape Analysis

Conducted heuristic review of NSU site and web sites of several competing/aspirational sites in the higher-education space. This helped to create an understanding of the digital ecosystem within which the NSU site existed and to tease out emerging best practices. Emphasis was placed on regional HBCUs and other colleges and universities which draw from NSU’s student base.

View Landscape Report

Personas and User Journeys

Drafted 6 personas to illustrate how key audience segments would engage with the new NSU web site. Personas covered: prospective and current students at the undergraduate and graduate level; parents of prospective students; active military seeking continuing education; and, alumni. User journeys rounded-out this deliverable set and cross-referenced user goals established in persona development.

View Personas and Journeys

Discovery Findings Presentation

Presented findings from discovery phase to web team then to university leadership (cabinet and dean level). As is often the case in large, agency-driven, web projects, the Discovery Findings became the basis for the agency to estimate full design and development scope while I segueued into the Information Architecture phase and began drafting the high-level site map.

Site Map

University web sites tend to have large, sprawling structures maintained by different academic and administrative divisions. Page count is typically measured in the tens-of-thousands with the site map development process broken into a high-level stage, used to obtain initial client buy-in, followed by a more detailed site map that goes down to the tertiary and quaternary site levels. NSU’s previous site was unusually siloed, so a complete restructuring was needed.

View Site Map


Developed user-centric wireframes founded on discovery research and recommendations.

View Wireframes

Design Review

Briefed-in agency designer and participated in internal design review meetings to ensure feature continuity from UX through design.

Functionality Annotations

Annotated design files with functionality specifications for hand-off to agency developers.

View Annotated Design