The MIT homepage is the digital front door to the Institute. The design had last been refreshed in 2009, and it was overdue for an update. Initial research led us to three primary goals: help users better navigate MIT, deliver a more robust impression of MIT’s purpose and culture, and create an extensible platform for future growth. We also knew through analytics that the primary audience visiting the homepage was prospective students.
Our extensive discovery process included speaking with students, faculty, staff, and alumni to learn about the features and functionality they thought should be on the new homepage. Through our Google Analytics data and a homepage intercept survey, we learned that users clicked on very few of the 66+ links on the former site in proportion to the total traffic each of those pages and sites received, and that the ones they followed most often fell into the main categories now represented in the new top-level navigation. Before launch, we conducted user testing and ensured that the site met usability and accessibility standards.
A close partnership with local firms Blue State Digital and Upstatement helped us achieve our goals. The result is a modern design with several unique features that surface the culture and spirit of MIT. Elasticsearch is a customizable search engine that centralizes the discovery of key MIT content, including web, directory, and location results. Approximately 110 key search terms trigger background images—called cultural wallpaper—that represent some of the most popular search terms our audiences use; these images represent MIT culture, major milestones, hacks and inventions, research, and artwork. The attract loop is an animated list of terms in the search box that shows MIT’s character and exposes the quirky side of MIT’s culture. We are measuring the success of the site and making improvements based on site data and direct feedback from our users.