Medicine Iowa


University of Iowa

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Project description

Medicine Iowa is a twice-yearly publication by the University of Iowa. The magazine is sent to alumni of the Carver College of Medicine, as well as every practicing doctor in the state of Iowa.

While the print publication is well regarded and read, the online version of the magazine was sorely lacking. Electric Citizen was engaged to partner with marketing and communications at the Carver College of Medicine to plan, design and build a new online home for the magazine.

Why EC Was Chosen

Electric Citizen ("EC") has a long history of working with clients in higher education. In 2019, we were accepted as a preferred vendor to the University of Iowa, adding to a list that already included the University of Minnesota and University of Wisconsin.

Carver College had recently moved their primary website to Drupal, and was seeking a vendor to migrate the Medicine Iowa website to Drupal as well. Based on our expertise in Drupal and site migrations, as well as planning and design work completed for other clients, EC was selected to lead the redesign for this new site.

Strategic Planning

Every project begins with strategy and analysis. For Medicine Iowa, we began the process by reviewing and discussing the client's initial discovery work. We met to define project goals, stakeholders, desired outcomes, and measures of success. 

The site's key audience includes alumni of the medical school, as well as all Iowa-based doctors. Other visitors include donors, current med students and the university community as a whole. 

We then moved to competitive analysis, reviewing a number of comparable websites and other sources of inspiration.

Project Goals

sample of strategic brief prepared for client

We worked with the client to define both organization and project goals. Our primary initiative was to better tell the story of the College of Medicine, promoting both school and alumni research and achievements to a wider audience. 

The new site also needed to better reflect University branding, and present content in a more engaging and effective manner. The site content itself was often short summaries of text which simply linked to other websites, but the new goal was to make this site more of a content hub for visitors, and closer to the same content found in the printed magazine.

Finally, we needed to provide site editors with a better set of tools for managing articles and issues of the magazine, and generating the type of engaging layout that would keep visitors coming back for more.

We provided the client with a strategic brief, capturing these ideas as we moved to the next stages of design and site development.

Branding and User Experience
layout from printed magazine table of content
layout from the print magazine

The print magazine for Medicine Iowa has a certain aesthetic that wasn't being translated to the website. Of course the printed page is different from a webpage, but there were many elements that could be duplicated or reimagined for the web. We wanted to bring these two properties closer together.

This meant duplicating some printed features, like large engaging photographs, use of pull quotes and statistics, and callouts which break lengthy articles into sections for easier and more engaging reading. 

The University of Iowa brand was missing as well. We looked for ways to implement common fonts and colors, while not overwhelming the articles with black and gold. The University is undergoing a branding refresh, and the new site needed to fit with the new direction, and feel part of the overall family of websites. 

Improved User Experience

Reading a magazine online is a different experience than reading one in print. There are different considerations when displaying articles online, and tools that simply don't exist for the printed magazine. But that doesn't mean we wanted it to feel unfamiliar to the user.

sample featured article banner on Medicine Iowa website

The new homepage leads with a large featured article, much like the cover of a magazine. Just a teaser of a title and summary, along with an engaging image, to draw readers in. Clear call to action buttons are visible. We opted to also include some additional article summaries here, showcasing some of the most compelling content currently available. Though these are typically from the current issue, we built in flexibility for site editors to select a variety of content, should they wish to highlight something else for a time.

sample table of contents from Medicine Iowa website

The site navigation was greatly simplified, down to just a few essential links – Issues and Subscribe. Previous issues are easily accessible through the "Issues" link. As the collection of issues grows, we included filters to allow users to locate content by keywords or issue "themes." 

recent issues from Medicine Iowa homepage

Each issue has a dedicated landing page, where users can review a list of featured content, as well as a detailed table of contents to capture all issue content. Once an article is read, users have multiple options–they can opt to use an onscreen pager to simply click to the next article, use a Table of Contents for the current issue to select another article, or click on related content, assuming editors tag an article to show additional content. 

A new design

Following our work on strategy and user experience, we moved to the visual redesign. We began by presenting a new family of design components and refining results based on feedback before moving into a series of mobile and desktop page mockups.

design direction board produced by Electric Citizen

We were inspired by designs that emphasized long-form article content. This meant clear, legible typography that was easy for users to scan and read. Large featured images (or video) helps to draw users into an article, while a series of stylized content can be dropped onto the page by non-technical editors, to break content apart and make it more visually compelling.

The overall aesthetic is minimal, with a white background, black type, and occasional accents of color. While the primary branding colors are black and gold, the secondary color palette was in flux. We explored some different options, including a vibrant teal, before settling on shades of blue and light beige.

sample article content from Medicine Iowa website
sample article layout for Medicine Iowa website
sample footer from Medicine Iowa website
Planning a Migration

Our team has helped clients migrate numerous websites over the years, often to new content management systems (CMS). As sites increase in features and complexity (and volume of content), migrating requires careful consideration and planning to ensure existing data is not lost. Features available on one CMS may be implemented differently on another, or have different scripting languages underpinning the systems.

For this project, the client's website was built in WordPress, and needed to move to Drupal 8. The primary reason for the migration is that the University of Iowa as a whole was standardizing on the Drupal platform. Technically we could have rebuilt the site in WordPress, as both systems offered comparable features to support a website like Medicine Iowa, but as a team of CMS experts, we were well qualified to do the work on either platform.

New editor tools

To help make managing site content and articles easier, our developers created a series of custom tools in Drupal. Relying on the Paragraphs module, we introduced a series of "widgets" which let editors easily drop in a variety of content into articles. These include accordions to show/hide content with a simple click, pull quotes for large callouts, stats widgets for displaying large numbers or statistics, embedded videos or full image galleries. 

Editors can also manage these components in sections, adjusting the layout from single column to multiple columns.

screenshots demonstrating editor tools next to the final output
Editors tools generate nicely formatted content

These are all styled on the front-end to match the overall family of design on the site, and don't require any particular technical expertise of editors. Editors simply fill out content fields and click to upload media, and it is all automatically styled and formatted for the page (from mobile to desktop, and accessible too!). 

These tools let editors create and manage engaging articles and landing pages, and get closer to duplicating a great magazine experience online.

The finished website also features Electric Citizen's custom theme on the admin side of things. We're always looking for ways to improve user experience for both end users and site editors.


The University was in the process of hiring and training new web developers for their internal team. As part of our work, our developers met regularly with the Iowa developers, demonstrating how we made decisions around the site build, and transferring knowledge where and when we could.

Post-launch the clients team was able to take over maintenance of the site, and adding site improvements or edits as needed. We're always happy to offer ongoing support where needed, but helping a client move towards managing their own site is a great outcome!

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