One Brand, Two Campuses: Setting up a New Digital Presence in Mainland China
One of the world’s most prominent schools for the arts set an ambitious goal of educating the next generation of performance students around the globe. The first step of this initiative meant opening a new campus in China and launching a digital presence to match its expanding brand and presence.
While an architectural firm put the finishing touches on the new, cutting-edge, Chinese campus, the University hired FFW to help craft an equally spectacular digital platform. With a short timeline, a firm budget, and a client team that was new to working together, the project wound up being one of the most unique, challenging, and delightful collaborations the FFW team has participated in.
Expanding a well-known university into a new global region
Though the University is well known around the world, the launch of the new campus needed to expand the brand beyond just being an establishment in the United States. As part of the expansion, the University’s new digital platform needed to function as a focal point for greeting potential students, sharing cultural activities, and most importantly to encourage conversions in the form of applications for admission.
A full discovery, design, and development process took place on a truncated timeline of 2 months. To make sure that every milestone was met, FFW helped the University build flexible, streamlined processes for providing feedback and approval through each stage of work.
Cultural differences between American and Chinese markets meant that the platform needed to be configured for integration with a variety of regional-specific tools, such as WeChat, a popular platform for social media, messaging, and payment. Though there wasn’t sufficient time or budget to fully integrate with WeChat and the other China-specific services that users expect on a cutting-edge digital platform, the FFW team built in all of the groundwork to allow the University’s site to integrate and evolve with the Chinese market. The new platform is primed for integration with tools like Weibo, Baidu for SEO, and QR Codes, which are popular in China.
Choosing Drupal and FFW
The University was already on a Drupal 8 platform, which made staying with Drupal for its digital, Chinese presence a simple choice for the University. Not only was the team already familiar with Drupal’s backend and workflows, but its configurability, multilingual functionality, and mobile-first tools made it an ideal platform for launching the new initiative.
The University had already been working with FFW for some time, and the FFW team had been providing continuous support and development of the University’s existing digital properties. This established relationship of trust and partnership, plus FFW’s knowledge of developing sites that meet the needs and laws of the Chinese market, made FFW a natural fit for the project.
Establishing process and strategy for a global team
Because both FFW and the University’s team were dispersed around the globe, FFW and the client developed a flexible, streamlined process for providing feedback and approval of each stage of work.
Because the cultures and working styles of the University’s US and Chinese teams were significantly different, and because they hadn’t yet defined a digital strategy for their new platform, FFW worked with the two teams to drive alignment and clarity. FFW created a responsibility matrix for the client so that FFW knew exactly which stakeholders to contact throughout the process. By establishing a core team that was responsible for key decisions, the responsibility matrix allowed the now-aligned teams to collaborate in an agile way.
Mobile-first, multilingual, and accessible
The overwhelming majority of Chinese visitors browse from their mobile devices, so the University’s platform needed to be responsive, lightweight, and ultra-fast while still adhering to the University’s existing branding guidelines.
To make the site mobile-friendly, the FFW team crafted the platform to have relatively few images and display only short blocks of text. Additionally, because of the specific English/Chinese language requirements on the site, FFW took extra care to ensure that the site’s visual design was fully optimized for each character set. An English/Chinese-friendly font was selected, and the FFW team thoroughly tested to ensure that all content would display properly, no matter where, how, or in which language it is viewed.
Lastly, because this site was built for a higher education platform, the team needed to follow WCAG 2.0 AA accessibility standards. An atomic design allowed FFW to individually test each visual component for accessibility compliance in advance, giving the University a platform that its team can update and modify without having to worry about compliance on a page-by-page basis.
Built for Chinese compliance
Though the site was launched on an American .edu domain, the team immediately began laying the groundwork for moving the site to a Chinese .edu domain and a Chinese hosting platform that would fully comply with Chinese laws and regulations. FFW and the University applied for an ICP license from the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and FFW configured the Pantheon hosting environment to work with a CDN in Hong Kong.
After the site successfully launched, FFW set up a mirrored server environment in China so that all content could be hosted simultaneously in the US and in China for greater peace of mind and legal compliance.
The platform was ready on time, and after launching it delivered stellar results. The new platform resulted in increased applications for the University, with an inaugural class of highly driven, highly talented students, aligning to the University’s goals.
Additionally, the new platform has allowed the University to enhance its brand globally. The work that was done around multilingual and multinational representations of the University will allow the team to continue to expand awareness to other markets and recruit more students for its East Asian campus.