Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I'm starting to learn the art of iteration. Just because something is done today doesn't mean that it's finished.

When we launched five brand new marketing sites in the College of Education & Human Development in September 2013 (my first big project at this job), we completed a lot of very crucial tasks, including getting the websites on responsive templates, creating a consistent organization and design for all the top-level sites, and moving all the sites to the content management system Drupal away from some ancient system I'd never heard of before & haven't heard of since. The sites sat "as launched" for six months, before we began three months of evaluations, which included focus groups, analyzing data from Google Analytics and talking with our site users. Based on our evaluation findings, we then began three months of implementing changes.

One of the beauties of this process is that it brought to light good & bad ideas. Initially, we decided to publish news from all five top-level sites. The news was then combined in different feeds based on tags. The result was a tangled mess of duplicate posts, low interaction from users, good news being overlooked and bad news sticking around too long. While trying to find a solution for this problem, our communications team met to discuss a plan for launching a new campaign for the college. The timing was perfect & we decided to build a new site to corespond with the campaign launch & start of a new semester. We decided to create one site fully dedicated to the stories of our college.  This site - Transform - is our solution.

Here's a run down of the project...

The Challenge:

Create a news & events focused site to increase user engagement for timely articles & magazines published by the college & its departments.

The Goals:

Make the site more visual.
Solution: Include more images. Include video functionality on the site. We also removed all slideshows & instead opted for a more user (and accessible) friendly static image hierarchy.

Make it easier to navigate through stories.
Solution: Use masonry library layout for landing/taxonomy pages (ex: Features). Adding next/previous and "related stories" to the end of articles.

Highlight the new "Impacts" from the new campaign.
Solution: Organize & color code the site by the impacts & include them next to each article title throughout the site.

Allow Department news to stand on its own.
Solution: Create four department landing pages (ex: HLKN) that mimic the home page, but display only news & events related to that department.

Replicate our printed magazine on the web.
Solution: Create an online, interactive magazine, organized by Issue & article (ex: Fall 2014 - STEM Education). Additional styling for easy reading, image captions & call outs were also included.

Increase user interaction on the site.
Solution: Add previous/next navigation & related story links on articles. Add in-line "Tweet This" options for block quotes and call outs.

Include news from the whole college, but as a centralized voice and brand.
Solution: Create levels of site users to allow for moderation of content before it's published. We also included a "Submit a Story" feature for anyone who wishes to contribute.

The Results

The site launched on September 18, 2014, at our annual Student Welcome Back Bash. On that day the article "A New Way to Tell Our Story" was published - along with a promotional video - to introduce the new campaign & website to our college. Immediate feedback was extremely positive.

After only three weeks, we've already seen a positive change for site interactions, including increased page views and decreased bounce rates. For example: when "News" was just a page on the main site, the landing page bounce rate over the course of a month was 60%. The Transform home page bounce rate is now only 26%. That changed suprised even me!

So go check out Transform. Our college is doing some great things & I'm really proud to be a part of it.

Client: College of Education & Human Development (my full time employer)
URL: http://transform.tamu.edu/
CMS: Drupal
Theme: Custom template using Zen base theme
Time to Complete: Four weeks total, while completing other projects & daily duties of work

Looking at sprucing up your own website? Check out my web development info here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

During each of Texas A&M's conference games, I'll be posting a brunch recipe and complementary cocktail for us all to enjoy. The recipes won't be your typical tailgate fare. I'm classing these up to bring a little extra fancy to our everyday lives. And really what's not to love? Brunch and cocktails is pretty much the best combination around. Get a group of friends together & celebrate your weekend! See all SEC Brunch posts.



What's better to eat while watching a sporting event than beer & pizza? Answer: nothing. It's classic. Default. Almost boring... if you let it be.

This week, Texas A&M is playing Arkansas. BTHO Pig, as we say here in Aggieland. Last year, I made pulled pork sandwiches and coleslaw. This year, I wanted to keep eating pig. And I really, really wanted an excuse to eat pizza. Bacon pizza has been done, so I went with crispy pork belly. And then I added Brussels sprouts & a Balsamic glaze. Serve with a nice beer & orange juice cocktail, and you have the perfect brunch.

Brussels Sprouts & Crispy Pork Belly Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 serving pizza dough (I used this cornmeal pizza dough recipe)
  • 2 cups shaved Brussels sprouts
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 lb. pork belly slab
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 2 cups mozarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup Gruyère cheese, shredded

Heat your oven to 450 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven now, to heat it up.

Mix Brussels sprouts with olive oil & seasonings. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & spread the Brussels sprouts evenly on the pan. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.

While the Brussels sprouts are cooking, heat a pan on medium high heat. Cook the pork belly, fat side up, until mostly cooked through. Flip to fat side down & cook more until crispy. Remove the pork from the pan, to rest. Add the chopped onions & butter to the pan. Cook until carmelized.

Once the pork is cool enough to handle, slice it into slices as thin as possible.

Now all your toppings are ready to go. Assemble the pizza!

Take your stone out of the oven, or get out your pizza pan. Roll the dough out on the pizza pan, then cover with the Brussels Sprouts, cheese, and onions. Drizzle with the balsamic glaze. Then place the pork slices on top.

Cook at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, or until crispy brown. Serve with the Lunchbox cocktail (below).

The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox cocktail may be the best breakfast cocktail around. I love mimosas, but those can get a little old after a while. And while Bloody Mary's or Micheladas are great, I'm still partial to orange juice. So, enter the Lunchbox.

View the recipe now, on Fueled by Cocktails.



Happy brunching! Cheers!

Monday, September 22, 2014

It's always fun writing for someone else instead of myself... particularly when it's on a specific, requested topic. I've guest posted in a few places recently, on three of my favorite subjects: Cocktails. Web development. And my career path.

Here's some links, for you to jump over to the articles...

Cocktails: All Things Planned

This feature happened a really long time ago, but I forgot to share it here. Better late than never! I wrote about cocktails I would serve at a New Orleans-themed wedding. Click over here for the recipes.

Web Development: TAMU GoMobile

I'm part of a group on Texas A&M's campus dedicated to working towards making sure all of the university's websites are accessible on all devices (focusing on responsive web design). The group provides resources to the university, and keeps ongoing stats of which colleges are responsive. I recently wrote a blog post talking about responsive design techniques. Even if you're not a web designer or developer, you may be interested in some of the tricks of the trade. Click over here for the post.

Career Path: Emily Carlton | Remedial

I love talking about how I was hired for the job that I have now - it's one of my proudest moments in my life, since it was such a jump upward. I give a few pointers for how I survived my first project on the job. Read my guest post here.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Who doesn't love a good bachelorette party? Especially if it's a theme bachelorette party. 

At the beginning of the summer, I made drinks for a 90's themed bachelorette party, held in a beautiful apartment rental in the heart of downtown Austin. Some of the girls wore their PJ's & we rocked out to pop music from my middle school days, while ongoing games of truth or dare & cootie catchers were thrown around. I created Fueled by Cocktails for events like this -- special affairs that deserve an extra special cocktail menu.

I was hired for this party by Meg of Everyday Meg. We've been blogging friends for a while, and met at last year's Texas Style Council, which was where the initial idea of Fueled by Cocktails came from. Meg & her friends welcomed me into their party, and it was such a great time!!





I served three drinks at the party... Each was based on something from the 90's, was super colorful & was made with the intended audience: girls doing girly things with other girls. (Sorry, Scotch.)

Gushers Shooter

First up was a shot with a Gushers thrown in the bottom. This shot features Loopy vodka, rum & Midori. I added some lime juice to cut the sweetness. The Gushers in the glass just adds a little extra challenge at the end (because it tends to get stuck in the bottom) but the challenge led to extra giggles, so it's worth it.

See the recipe to make your own Gushers shooter here.

Lisa Frank Fizz

I couldn't go to a bahelorette party without bringing some champagne with me. In my opinion a party isn't a party without something sparkling being passed around. The addition of pink edible glitter, strawberries, Ruby Red vodka & blood orange bitters is just what makes the champagne a cocktail. We went through an entire bottle of champagne in less than 30 mintues, but luckily I always travel with two bottles. Because when you run out of champagne, the party is over.

See the recipe to make your own Lisa Frank Fizz here. I suggest you also pick up some Lisa Frank stickers to play with while drinking this cocktail. It just somehow makes things even better.

Kel's Orange Soda

What would a 90's party be without some sort of Nickelodeon reference? We played with the idea of slime, but really... who wants to drink something gloopy and green? So we opted for something prettier but just as culturally significant: Ke's Orange Soda. Made with whipped cream vodka & a splash of vanilla creamer, it's soda with pizzazz.

See the recipe to make your own Kel's Orange Soda here.

A big thank you to Meg for the pictures & the opportunity to have some fun!

If you'd like to hire me for your next party, let me know. I offer a variety of services through Fueled by Cocktails, even if you don't live in Texas.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

It's always fun working on a project that you get an immediate vision for the second you're brought on to the job. When Jessica reached out to me to help move her website from a wordpress.com blog to a self-hosted Wordpress site, I immediately envisioned a slightly quirky layout with playful accents. I wanted to let Jessica's content do most of the talking, so besides a few pops of gold & pink, the overall look is incredibly streamlined & minimalist.

The site needed to highlight three things:

(1) The blog (obviously). We needed a user friendly blog feed, with easy links to comment, share posts on social media & quick navigation to allow readers the abilty to flip through her content.

We made sure to include prev/next links on each blog post page, and a quick drop-down "archives" list on the home page. Social share buttons were added at the end of each post. And a custom pin-it hover button was added on images, in line with the coloring of the rest of the blog.

(2) Her Work. Jessica creates incredible work - from writing to photography to graphic design. We needed to make sure there was enough room to showcase everything.

We had some fun with her photography page, and used a masonry layout with lightbox feature to display the photos. I thought it was a fun way to show an overview of her work without using a traditional slideshow. The lightbox feature, then, allows for users to look at each photo in detail if desired.

(3) Jessica's Personlity. Jessica is quirky & fun, and slightly edgy in real life. I wanted to make sure her website reflected that.

She put together the fun skull mark featured on the side & sent me a few patterns to use on the site. We used pink because she's slightly girly, but we picked a more muted pink so the site wouldn't come off as too young. The gold stripes added some playfulness to the site. I love the overall look! To finish it all off, Jess had an amazing photoshoot & her "About" page really shines. Especially with the added Jay-Z lyrics.

And the site is responsive, so it'll look lovely on your iPad & even on your phone.

Client: Jessica Willingham / Weird & Wonderful Willinghams
URL: http://jessicawillingham.com/
CMS: Wordpress 4.0
Theme: Custom template using Twitter bootstrap
Hours to Complete: 16

Looking at sprucing up your own website? Check out my web development info here.

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