A lot can happen in 15 years. Since 2001, PLOS has evolved, grown, and achieved amazing things. And as we continue to experiment and innovate towards a better future for scholarly publishing, our website should effectively communicate who we are. In this post, I show a few highlights of the new plos.org, and then dig into the approach we took in creating the new site and its content management system.
Our goal was to create a site that would answer virtually any question about PLOS, for any type of visitor coming to the site. We wanted our site to act as a true “front door” for all things PLOS — an entryway leading to any article, information, or resource the visitor came for. And our user base is a varied group that could include
- a researcher wondering if PLOS is the right fit for their research
- someone who is looking for the PLOS article they heard about on NPR on their morning commute
- an author in need of a quick refresher on how to submit figures
- someone who has heard about open access and wants to learn more
- in essence, anyone who works with PLOS in some way, or is curious about PLOS and our mission
So the information architecture and the content on the site itself needed to provide those answers. But we also have 160,000+ articles on our 7 journal sites, and still more publications: PLOS Collections, PLOS Currents, and an entire network of blogs. So we made sure that when you search on plos.org, you will find the answers you seek, regardless of which PLOS web property holds the answer.
Google is Your Homepage
For this project, we used the core model approach, developed by information architect Are Halland. The core model is ideal for keeping you focused on creating a site that effectively does the jobs you want your website to do for you. Ida Aalen wrote a great summary of the core model here; here’s my extremely abbreviated nutshell:
- In general, people aren’t starting with your home page – they start with Google (or their preferred search engine). So you need to make sure that web search results will lead people to your core content.
- Core content consists of a page or workflow that meets a user need and fulfills at least one business objective.
Over time, a typical website fills up with pages people add for one reason or another, and our site was no exception. Over the years, pages that accumulate on a site are probably just getting in the way; hindering the user from finding what they need. The core model approach keeps you thinking holistically about your site and the intersection of user tasks and business objectives.
All Screens Matter
Once we identified our core content, we used a mobile-first approach to force us to focus. Looking at what fits on a small screen really aids in prioritization. Viewing copy on a tiny screen is also, hands down, the best way to keep your text concise and scannable. As soon as that sentence is long enough to require a swipe to finish reading, you know you probably have some more work to do.
And it made sense to build a responsive site, to ensure a good reading experience, regardless of screen size.
Test, Don’t Guess
We didn’t want to assume we knew the best way to make everything discoverable, so we conducted quite a bit of user testing for this project (17 individual tests, a handful of guerrilla tests). We started with mobile, testing our information architecture, then worked our way up to tablet, and then, based on those findings, refined the mobile and tablet information architecture and added the high-fidelity design, and retested. From there, tackling the desktop design was straightforward.
Speaking of design, the site’s visual design and information architecture was a collaboration between our User Experience Designer (Davina Pallone from Cloud City Development) and our Marketing team. In such a tight collaboration, the contributions overlap. But essentially, Davina designed the site and a content team created the first drafts of all the pages. Masami Overstreet added her design moxy, ensured that our brand shone through, and carried the content through the review process all the way to launch.
That Content Isn’t Going to Manage Itself
As part of this project, we added the ability to create landing pages to our growing content management system. As always, we strove to keep the editing experience lightweight, and with as much fidelity to the published page as possible.
But content management doesn’t end once you’ve provided the means to create and edit pages. It also means staying true to the core model approach and having a consistent content strategy team in place to ensure that new pages and edits to content are considered in the context of the core. Our content strategy team represents different functions at PLOS, and we will be meeting monthly to review new content requests and monitor how the existing pages and architecture are working for us via metrics analysis.
Through the Wayback Machine
That covers our new site, let’s take a look how it’s evolved over the years! Enjoy.