Alexandra Greenspan

Design at Berkeley

At Cal, there are many pockets of design organizations. Some are in the College of Engineering, Some are in the College of Environmental Design, some are in the Haas School of Business. And some try to float between colleges. Nevertheless, it has been very difficult to figure out all the design-related activities on campus for new students/students newly interested in design.

With Berkeley Design Council, we aimed to change that. I worked with another student for the past semester since January to create a student-curated website to hold all the information about design at Berkeley.

On April 17th, Shana and I finally launched designatberkeley.com.

Design at Berkeley

The reason the project took so long? We wanted to do it right. And because we both have a background in HCD, we decided to follow the human-centered design process.

Research

First, we did competitive analyses, looking at websites with similar types of aims (e.g. Stanford's d.school). What differentiated us is that all of these were sanctioned by the university/organization. We were creating a completely student-run website. We needed to go beyond one program to the entire world of design on campus.

Then, we knew we needed to talk to students about their actual experiences with (or without) design on campus. To find people to interview, we divided our "personas" into three categories — those who are active in design, those who are interested in design and looking to become more active, and those who don't know about design.

From the research, we had some key insights and findings (here are just a few):

  • Students don't know what types of tools they should learn/become proficient in for different types of design.
  • Students aren't sure what skills they need to become professional designers.
  • There isn't any specific access point into the design community.
  • There isn't any specific place to go to find information.
  • Students are unsure what even encompasses design.
  • Students find it hard to step into design if they don't even know what classes are being offered.
  • Those with no background have trouble even figuring out where to start.
  • Classes take up a lot of time that could be spent on personal design projects.

The research was extremely eye-opening, and it proved to us just how necessary the website was for design at Berkeley. As our deadline approached, holding onto the knowledge of this impact helped push me forward.

Site Structure

We defined the information architecture of the website, figuring out the best way to lay out content on the homepage (complete with calls-to-action), and the best way to separate content within the rest of the site navigation. This did change over time, but it was very useful to start because it allowed us to figure out how to split the workload.

In the end, we split the two main focuses of the site — introductions to design and resources on campus — into the biggest sections. With future iterations, these will most likely be the sections we expand. For now, we made sure to list every club, competition team, and design space we could find so that other students could find them now as well.

Design and Development

While Shana and I both had a say in all parts of the website, she focused on the original design and I focused on figuring out what platform we would use. I wanted a CMS, because the site will be around long after we both graduate, and we wanted to encorporate a blog for Design Council members to write in as well.

I researched at least a dozen CMS platforms from Node.js to PHP to Python. Finally, after considering our hosting options, I decided on a flat-file system, and Shana and I went with Jekyll hosted on Github Pages. This made it extremely easy to split the development work as well.

Shana designed a color palette that was both fun and inviting, and we decided on a large hero image on each page to showcase actual images of the design community at Cal. Shana created graphics for the homepage and the intro to design page, and I coded up an early draft of the homepage she mocked up in Illustrator.

Throughout this process, we got feedback from friends and people in Design Council. We went through many iterations of where the navigation bar should be placed and how it would transition when the page scrolled. We also attempted to include events posted on Facebook by different design organizations, but ran into some hurdles regarding developer keys. Ultimately, we chose to meet our deadline by featuring the blog on the homepage, and relegating the events section to a future iteration.

The blog was one place where we especially sought out content created by designers on campus. Everyone has such different experiences regarding design, from classes to clubs to simply how they discovered design, and it was important to us that we showcased that breadth on the site. It was pretty cool launching a brand new site with so much content already available for visitors.

Summary

I learned a lot while making designatberkeley.com. I'd never used SCSS before in such a large capacity (I've only fiddled with it for this blog). I discovered how the Liquid templating system worked within Jekyll. I finally created a responsive navigation that really works (there are some bugs in the one for this blog — can you find 'em?). It was great working with Shana, because I feel like I gained so much working with her design aesthetic and knowledge of SCSS and mixins. We made a really great team.

Working on this project energized me. Every time we discussed design and IA and dev tools, adrenaline raced through me. We only started coding at the tail end of the process, instead choosing to focus our early efforts on the human-centered research. This did lead to some hectic nights coding, but spending hours upon hours understanding frontend issues felt so good. It really shows that passion for a project is so important.

We met our deadline to launch the website by Cal Day, the campus-wide open house, and spread awareness of design on campus to as many newly admitted students as possible. Though we made one deadline, there is still more work to be done. For now, we are proud with what we accomplished and what we've made available to Cal students.

Please check out designatberkeley.com and share with any current/aspiring designers in your life!

Author

Alexandra Greenspan

In third grade, Alexandra wrote a book titled "Bear Bear and the Mystery of the Magic Leaf." It won the Room 21 award for best book. She hopes to put her award-winning writing skills to good use.