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The College of Communication (COM) told us two things: that they tell stories, and that they wanted a pathfinder tool to help incoming freshmen explore various programs.

Communication is a major that’s close to home for me—not because it’s my major, but because I worked at a newspaper in college, and I knew so many people in journalism. There’s a lot of stigma these days around both communications and art majors. How will you get a job? Are you putting yourself in debt for nothing? Is there even a career out there for you? It wasn’t that long since I was out of school. Even if it was, you don’t have to go far to find examples lampooning communications and arts degrees online, especially when stacked against STEM degrees. It’s a (demonstrably) hard field to break into.

With these challenges fresh in my mind, I set to creating a site that would address these concerns for parents and students, without losing the vibrant storytelling presence the school is so good at.

I used the storytelling metaphor extensively to tell the story of graduates’ success in the real world. COM is unique in that it truly has the numbers and alumni to prove its programs are successful. I chose to showcase these on the homepage and recommended pairing successful names and faces with programs to make those numbers more human. All of these drive to explore programs, where you can learn more about what the College of Communication is doing in each of its focus areas, or compare degrees within each focus area. The What We Do pages showcase COM’s continued growth and effort in each area, gathering news, events, media, and faculty research in one area for students and influencers to explore.

The pathfinder shows students how to translate their passions into careers, and drives to the best program COM offers as a first step in each career. I explored a number of ideas in this tool - everything from an alchemy clone where you would combine basic areas of interest to get more specific ones, and eventually build careers from each of the specific interests, to a quiz where illustrations change depending on what you hover over. At one time I was even exploring literal paint mixing as a metaphor, because… why not? I came to the conclusion after building a quick proof of concept that the alchemy game was too finicky and fun for actual use, and the quiz ran a risk of becoming too focused on personality traits. We eventually settled on a fancy (but functional) filter based around interests. Choose what you love on one side, see what you can do as a career with that on the other. Hence: do what you love & love what you do.

On the data side of things, I was very interested in exploring ways to find out some additional information about students from the pathfinder. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what other interests a student might have that you wouldn’t expect who enrolls in your program? And which example careers were most alluring? This is trackable with Google Analytics, but it takes some serious thought and planning to structure the data in a meaningful way to content editors. I worked with one of our developers to find a way to send a list of the interests associated with a successful program click back to analytics on the way out as well the career it was associated with. You can also see what top interests are, so content editors can track popular interests over time and tweak filters and careers for the changing job market as necessary.

This website was recognized with a Silver 2016 CASE National Circle of Excellence Award.