Helping MIT's leadership get a little smarter

In brief

One of MIT’s leadership trifecta, the provost has a vast impact at the Institute. But the Provost's Office, lacking an online presence and hampered by some old-school processes, was in need of smart digital solutions—a challenge even MIT’s bright minds had yet to crack. As the design and project lead, I managed cross-functional stakeholders through a complete design/dev process, launching accessible solutions in support of MIT’s commitment to innovation.

management, UX design, research, strategy, creative direction

Hitting the books: planning & research

Breaking down complexity

My core team of 11 Centric Park and MIT partners faced some big questions: how might we design in service of the provost’s service to MIT, and what even is a provost, anyway? We did know that in design as in academia, getting organized is key to getting answers

I developed and managed a custom workspace and agile-inspired plan in Notion—making it easy for our big team to stay on the same page.
As chief budgetary & academic officer, the provost and her office shape education at MIT. We interviewed 20+ stakeholders to better understand the impact of her work, and ours.
“As the project lead, Elana was a detail-oriented problem-solver and effective communicator; she kept us on time and within scope. Her management was critical to the success of our launch.”
Catherine Williams
Director of Communications, MIT
I led collaborative workshops to dissect our competitive analysis and develop personas and journey maps.
We analyzed, affinity mapped, and structured a hefty reading list of content to define the essentials.
In the end, we could distill our insights into core user and business goals that would inform our UX.
To serve the MIT community, we’d need to build a resource repository, organizational guide, and platform to coordinate Office services. No pressure.

Defining smart design choices

Smart is built on strategy

We had our work cut out: make the provost’s platform functional for admins, informative for staff and faculty, and accessible to the broader community. To do it on time and on budget, we'd have to put our heads together.

With our key UX goals in mind, I set out to create a clear, streamlined sitemap. Our stellar team made quick work building it out in iterative wireframing, prototyping, and dev cycles.
Along the way, I’d pressure test my IA and UX strategy, wireframing variants to explore which content and components best served our diverse stakeholders.
Smart is fully accessible

Considering MIT's broad user base, we elevated two behavioral archetypes to serve—seekers (looking for specific information, fast), and browsers (interested in learning and exploring). Also top of mind: meeting MIT's high accessibility standards.

In a very on-brand approach, we took care to align our UI with MIT’s look and feel, but weren’t afraid to innovate. From contrast ratios to focus states to hover animations, we prioritized creating accessible design for the visually impaired.
In creating an organizational guide, our goal was to elevate relevant information relative to a user's JTBD. I created UX to both illustrate hierarchy at a glance and help users make a human connection within the Provost Office network.
To make the provost's wealth of content broadly accessible, I introduced on-page navigational features—a jump menu and audience filters to help browsers explore with ease, and search functionality to help seekers (admins, staff) pinpoint information.

Developing science behind the scenes

Public/private platforms

Provost office staff spent dozens of hours weekly using cumbersome manual processes. We transformed these into an efficient digital experience, setting up an internal platform to make managing key services a breeze.

I began with service design, translating the admin team's existing process into clear user flows.
Next, we created custom forms to make it quick and easy to capture essential information.
Developer Joey and I set up an internal platform for managing service requests at scale.
Build, test, iterate, repeat

Fortunately, MIT already knew a thing or two about the importance of testing. As we worked through build cycles, we ran qual/quant usability testing and dove deep with MIT's accessibility experts.

We applied insights from our task-based usability and accessibility testing to ensure important user flows like search were intuitive and appropriately educational.
Before handing off, we conducted extensive training sessions and left the team a cheat sheet to make it simple to build on our foundation.
Our approach to development was human-centered, customizing our WordPress back end with the MIT team's preferences in mind.
Key results

I led my team to create MIT's leadership a new digital presence that efficiently delivered information, resources and Office services. We made it simple for the Institute community to connect, learn, and save time better spent fostering the next generation of geniuses.

“Elana spearheaded the design strategy, UX design, and the overall creative direction. Her eye for design, UX knowledge, and natural creativity made the end product visually pleasing, approachable, and easy to use. Elana has a thoughtful and positive attitude, and it was a pleasure working with her.”
Catherine Williams
Director of Communications, MIT