The Downtown Lincoln Association’s mission is to champion initiatives that enhance the vibrant downtown neighborhood of Lincoln, Nebraska. I was approached to design the experience and interface of their latest website refresh. As the lead designer, I collaborated with a developer and association leaders to create a dynamic experience for current residents, potential residents, and visitors with a focus on college students and a younger demographic.
The primary challenges we faced:
- Content for the association was divided among two different sites. One site focused primarily on providing general information about downtown Lincoln and another site focused on mapping areas of interest. We also needed to eliminate duplicate information by revisiting and reorganizing the site architecture.
- Lincoln is a college town, and the old sites were not effective in engaging a younger demographic.
- Increased investor and development interest is crucial in maintaining an ever-growing downtown community.
- Gift card purchases are an important revenue source for the association, so the new design needed to promote this whenever possible without coming off as too sales-y.
From a visual standpoint, the association's brand involved a lot of nice angled shapes and lines. I emphasized that within the interface by creating large, angled edges to act as section dividers. Their library of icons needed to be expanded, so I created some additional icons that fell within a similar style. I would have loved to update their current icon library to create a more cohesive visual appeal, however, there was a large volume of existing printed pieces featuring their current iconography staying within budget was crucial.
The old site wasn't taking advantage of the immense real estate available on desktop views. It seemed constrained and claustrophobic. I opened the layout significantly and incorporated great expanses of white space for easy skimming and readability, while staying mindful of mobile experiences.
With a focus on a younger demographic, I quickly learned that their greatest areas of interest involved a variety of activities. The original website placed little focus on a quality lifestyle, so I incorporated three prominent call-to-action links to landing pages for living, dining, and shopping recommendations.
The old information architecture for each separate site was fairly redundant and cumbersome. We identified and eliminated the redundant links, and I used card sorting to absorb the remaining information into a new menu. Because the site contains a lot of cross-referenced content, it was imperative to include breadcrumb links to decrease instances of user frustration.
The sub-menus for each primary navigation link unnecessarily contained links to categories. I optimized the sub-menus to include more relevant information instead, keeping the category links on the landing pages. The old site also used dropdown menus to list categories, but usability testing proves that a button layout is easier to navigate than dropdown menus. I also updated the description "Filter by Group" to "Filter by Cuisine" for improved recognition and specificity.
To keep users up to date on the latest goings on, the homepage contains a latest news section, latest events section, and a large social media presence section featuring current Twitter and Instagram posts. The universal footer also contains a newsletter sign-up link. The steady stream of updated news and events also signals to investors that downtown Lincoln is a thriving community where they are certain to see a return on their investment.
Each destination (i.e. restaurants, shops, etc.) has a dedicated detail page that provides the user with information regarding its mapped location, date and time (if applicable), website, social media links, and destination category. To accommodate the mobility of a downtown visitor and promote a feeling of connectedness and community, we included a list of nearby attractions and their distance from the current location. Interactive maps with location tooltips also allow locating nearby attractions for the more visually-oriented users. This was also a great opportunity to remind our users of the locations that accept the Downtown Lincoln Gift Card.
There is no such thing as a completed website. It's a living, breathing tool that constantly requires maintenance. An ideal world would allow for constant design iteration. This is the real world, however, and I am quite sensitive to my clients' budgets. Therefore, I provided the association with a pattern library that allows them to create new cohesive templates and pages while maintaining the design integrity.
This web experience is currently in development and we’re excited to see how users respond to the new design. I will report back soon with success stories.