Howard University “The Dig”

The Challenge

Howard University’s Office of University Communications (OUC) manages an extensive portfolio of print and web properties, including the University’s main site, Newsroom, and Howard Magazine.

With its Newsroom, Calendar, and Howard Magazine websites in Drupal 7, scheduled for an end-of-life in November 2022, the OUC had an opportunity to create a new platform to meet its long-term communications needs. 

Number of Howard web properties that receive distributed content from The Dig.

"Helping Howard showcase their excellence, community, and vision through this redesign was intensely rewarding. We were committed to re-imagining multiple aspects of their news hub: how stories are discovered, the themes guiding those stories, and the visual language."

Pat Balasavage

The Strategy

A project with an overarching goal this ambitious—to create a communications centerpiece that would speak to the internal and external audiences of one of the country’s leading historically Black Colleges and Universities—needed to start with extensive research. Our work began with a thorough Discovery process, including remote workshops with members of the Howard communications team that helped uncover internal editorial governance gaps and define the overall spirit of the project. From that collaboration, three themes emerged as central to the Howard story: Research, Community, Philanthropy.

The site also needed to highlight the achievements of Howard’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni, as well as celebrate the “change makers”—those in the Howard community who actively commit to positive social change. With themes and imperatives agreed upon, the idfive team developed an information architecture and wireframes with taxonomy terms to represent the best of Howard University. The taxonomies enabled the Howard team to implement a more effective Create Once Publish Everywhere (COPE) strategy across the institution’s major communications platforms.

UX Design

During user research, we discovered the need to balance the traditional brand look, but address the Howard team’s appetite for boldness and pushing the brand. While the site keeps the recognizable Howard blue, we made sure to use well-placed accents and white space to create areas of color and contrast. Angled elements and a variety of layouts were incorporated throughout the site to “break out of the box,” countering the grid-heavy structure of many news publications. We also emphasized high-quality photography, especially when featuring faces of the Howard community.

The final design leaves site visitors feeling:

  • Educated, as a reliable source of information with a unique perspective.
  • Uplifted, with a sense of success and progress. 
  • Trust, that Howard is a worthwhile investment.
  • Pride, in the tapestry of the Black community.

And how users feel is central to our “neurodesign ux” practice.


idfive developers took extra care to make sure the user experience came to life through hover effects and subtle animations, which help increase the feel of interactivity sitewide. The team also developed a wide variety of hero treatments to keep the different pages fresh, enhance engagement, and drive action.

The Result

The Dig has become the “single source of truth” for Howard University, with relevant content that can be easily shared across platforms.

Connecting alumni, one moment at a time.

Goucher alumna Mildred Dunnock wears a black feather boa in a striking image used for the Undaunted campaign

Goucher College

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There’s amazing potential for good in the world. Let’s give it a chance and a voice.

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