Stunning changes are coming to university research—and why they’re important

In seeking to create a website to improve and facilitate the work of research admin for faculty and staff at Stanford, McCabe explained the need to leverage the endorsement of the Office of the Dean of Research—the primary stakeholder for the website and the senior office for research policy.

“A small change, [but] spelling out the word ‘Research’ accomplished all the objectives in a simple, easy, natural way,” she said. “The name of the site, DoResearch, established a visual identity that is as compelling as the site is functional—and that builds upon Stanford’s research legacy. The name and the site itself became a directive and a rallying-point to actively engage in research at Stanford.”


According to McCabe, the website has two high priority functions:

  • Provide accurate and up-to-date reference materials in one place.
  • Create a learning environment for faculty and staff to augment classroom training.

And lower priority functions:

  • Publicity and outreach (news & events).
  • Provide funding opportunities.

The DoResearch team also followed a set of 8 guidelines:

1. We are interested in web systems, not just websites.

2. Information architects should take into account the business logic of research administration, and the developer should expose opportunities to realize the full potential of the CMS.

4. Follow user-centered design.

5. Strive for concinnity: The skillful and harmonious arrangement or fitting together of the different parts of something.

6. Employ visually stunning graphic design, imagery, typography and whitespace in service to the overall goal of the project.

7. Since the website is an authoritative reference, we must have precise information design.

8. Overall design must follow instructional design since the website is a learning environment–always ask if design serves the purpose.

Stanford used Four Kitchens—a web design and development company—to help them in their research website revamp, as well as to add some effective features as part of the research portal.

One feature that McCabe described as a “magical functionality” is the ‘token.’

“Much like a rubber stamp that makes sure your address is the same each time it is used, the token can be inserted into any page and the same content will always show up the same,” said a rep for the company. “An improvement on the stamp is that if an administrator wants to update the address, it only has to be done once and it will update everywhere.

18 months out, McCabe says the site is going strong and is “incredibly easy to maintain thanks to the cool features Four Kitchens developed.”

“Completion of the long-awaited DoResearch website filled a huge need in the Stanford Research Administration community,” said Robin Maslin, manager of Environmental Earth System Science. “It is an excellent reference tool that is inviting to use, easy to browse and locate vital rates and compliance guidance, and can be counted on to have the most up-to-date information that is so critical in supporting our jobs as stewards of federal and private research funds.”

Of course, McCabe emphasized that team collaboration was a critical component to success of the project, adding that “I feel like a gardener in my own garden, constantly pruning, trimming and creating. Surrounded by a great team, the possibilities are endless.”

(Next page: A collaboration tool for university researchers)

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