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Information Architecture + Content Strategy: Creating formal structures and mapping content for migration to a new technology infrastructure and a more unified, user-friendly Census.gov website.

Challenge

The United States Census Bureau is the leading producer of quality demographic, economic, and geographic data about the United States. Census.gov is the Bureau’s main vehicle for disseminating the data and information that the organization produces. In 2014, Census.gov was a sprawling collection of program-related and theme-oriented micro-websites with thousands of pages and several million content assets. There were no clear guidelines for the structure of the micro-websites or how their contents were cataloged, organized, and displayed. The array of varying structures and page layouts made Census.gov difficult to use and maintain.

To address the usability and findability issues plaguing Census.gov, the Census Bureau hired an external vendor to redesign the website and deploy new technology infrastructure to support and operate it. The vendor worked with the Census Bureau to develop a set of topic areas to organize related micro-websites and content into broader plain language groupings at the highest level of the website to improve navigation and findability. This new structure was accompanied by guidelines for how the individual micro-websites should be organized, a library of responsive page templates to bring consistency to screen layouts and content display, as well as the implementation of a content management system (CMS). This CMS was deployed to help the Bureau better manage Census.gov and enable content owners across the organization to publish content to the site on their own rather than relying on developers in the information technology group to do it.

The next step was to review, analyze, and prepare the content for efficient and traceable migration into the new content management system. To get there, the Census Bureau and their external vendor needed a consultancy with strong information architecture and content strategy pedigree to help plan, organize, and guide an efficient and successful migration effort. That’s where EBD came in.

Approach

EBD’s first steps were:

  • Meeting with the project team to review the designs, guidelines, work performed to date, and near-term and future plans for the project
  • Reviewing the site, its contents, usage analytics, and search logs to gain familiarity with the site and understand its usage
  • Interviewing the project sponsor and stakeholder team to understand KPIs and confirm expectations, priorities, pain points, and desired outcomes

Next, EBD put together and socialized a plan that proposed:

  • Fleshing out and finalizing the draft content model that had been started by the project team
  • Link pulls and overall usage analytics for every micro-website on Census.gov as an input to identify the content that would be migrated versus retired, the level of effort required to prepare a given micro-website for the migration, and the priority a given micro-website would have for preparation and placement into the migration queue
  • A new navigation model for micro-websites that could support sites four levels deep
  • A “Sprint+” work plan and process for the EBD team that would align with the Agile/SCRUM approach that the external vendor’s teams were planning to use for the CMS implementation and content migration efforts

Once the plan was green lighted, EBD kicked off its work, which included:

  • Conducting workshops with Census Bureau micro-website owners to review their sites and:
    • Decide what content would be retained versus retired
    • Clarify possible gaps, inconsistencies, future plans, and other topic related to their site or its contents
    • Discuss how content could be grouped, displayed, or cross-referenced at the page level to help provide context and meaning for users
  • Weekly status report and alignment meetings with the external vendor and the Census Bureau client and stakeholder team leads
  • Check-ins with the migration team lead and team members to answer questions, review work, and provide input as needed
  • Updating, validating, and finalizing the content model for Census.gov and the micro-website navigation model
  • Building site maps that describe the new site structures and content inventories to map contents to their locations within the new structures in the CMS and digital asset management system (DAM)
  • Tagging content to the facets of the new content model
  • Transitioning these work products to the migration team to use as guides for the build and migration efforts
  • QAing the organization and display of migrated content in the new screens, as well as participating in the content owner and stakeholder reviews of the migrated micro-websites

We performed our work in three-week cycles for over a year, collaborating with and guiding content owners of Census Bureau micro-websites through the migration implementation, and review process.

Result

The Census Bureau now has a website that is much easier to manage and more intuitive to use. It also has a formal content model and more orderly and robust processes and systems for managing content that make maintenance, publication, and dissemination much simpler, more efficient, and lest costly. Policy makers, researchers, the general public, and other stakeholders and users now have a website that makes it significantly easier to navigate and discover, view, and process information about the population and economy of the United States.  

List of Services

  • UX Management + Team Tasking
  • Collaborative Design + Workshops
  • Lean/Agile Process Design
  • Concept Modeling  
  • Information Architecture + Navigation Design
  • Site Maps
  • Content Strategy + Design
  • Content Inventory + Mapping

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