The Illini Union is home-base for the University of Illinois student body and houses over 1,100 Registered Student Organizations. Additionally, it is a place where students, faculty, and alumni can eat, shop, study, lounge on comfy sofas, and soak up a historical, vintage atmosphere. Even with so much to offer, the Illini Union desired renewed foot traffic and student investment. Pixo gladly accepted the challenge to re-envision the Union and bring forth its vintage “cool factor.” The engaging design is complimented by technology that seamlessly meets the needs of the various audiences and enables the breadth of offerings to captivate and serve the Illinois campus.

Crafting the User Experience

Taking the existing Illini Union site, uncovering critical content, and understanding user needs was the first step in making the new Union’s website successful. We designed a wireframe that focused on unifying all of the diverse services offered at the Union, allowing users to digest many pieces of valuable information by simply skimming the homepage or interior page sidebars. The prevalence of events, announcements, and other offerings makes users feel they are “in the know” when coming to the Union’s site.

Guiding the Way

Creating an interactive wireframe was key to exploring how a user might approach the Illini Union site. With the amount of information available, users needed a clear guide to help them find what they were looking for. Assembling the global navigation in an action-oriented manor (“See & Do”, “Eat”, “Shop”, etc.) was a fun and direct way for users to begin their journey. Users can now find out about all of the happenings throughout campus in the “Events” section, find places to study or hang out with friends, see the food court menus, and learn about valuable student resources.

Before
After

Illuminating the Union’s Cool Factor

The design and architecture of the new site differs greatly from the previous site. The design team wanted to display the new foundation laid by the wireframe, showing important content, navigational items, and resources, in a highly visual and appealing manner. Pixo ultimately wanted to illuminate the Union’s “Cool Factor” (which many students, faculty and staff were unaware of), and in doing so, increase foot traffic and student investment in the Illini Union.

Discovering the Gems

We were so inspired by the historic and unique “vintage” architectural elements of the Union, we felt it was essential to include this in the design. Highlighting these hidden gems that exist within the walls of The Union allow users to experience the feel of the Union while browsing the site. Through textured wallpaper, gold leaf picture frames, vintage chandeliers, and studded sofas, we brought to light the Union’s cozy, hip atmosphere while communicating a sense of Illini Pride. Playful and customizable messaging using verbs for various activities that can be enjoyed “at the Union” promotes the Union’s versatility and makes it “THE” place to be on campus.

Tech Chops

Pixo utilized Sitecore to build out the site. Sitecore is an enterprise-strength .NET based content management system utilized by other key organizations at the University of Illinois. This CMS allows the Union team to make frequent updates easily and seamlessly across the site.

It’s all in the Details

Each page representing a place within the Union has a sidebar with its own location, hours, and contact information. The Union has the capability to update this area as well as choose which widgets they want to display in the sidebar. The flexibility of the CMS makes maintaining a robust site like this a walk in the park.

Putting the User First with a Responsive Design

Designing and building a fully responsive website makes information easy to access and use from any device, from desktop to mobile. This caters well to the busy lives of the students and staff on campus who want to quickly check events and updates on-the-go.

Pixo created an elegant architecture, design, and development for this content-rich site that maintains the integrity of a positive user experience. The new Illini Union site launched in early 2014 and won that year’s People’s Choice eduStyle Award in the Best Visual Design category.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled with the impact of our site. We just received a comment that our site is ‘so 2015’!”

Director, Big Ten University

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