Throughout our history, when we dedicate ourselves, our nation has accomplished tremendous feats in a short time. It took only six years to defeat the Axis Powers during World War II, eight years to put a human on the moon, and 13 years to sequence the Human Genome.
Now, we face an urgent challenge to act quickly to solve the puzzle of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Called the "signature injury" of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, TBI has affected nearly a quarter million U.S. military personnel between 2000 and 2012, according to the Department of Defense.
TBI is a blow or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain. It can be mild, such as a concussion – which accounts for the majority of injuries – or much more serious. Severe TBI can lead to physical, cognitive, and emotional issues. Some people recover quickly, while others cope with TBI symptoms for years. (It’s worth noting that TBI is not always sustained in combat. In fact, 84 percent of TBIs are sustained “in garrison” or stateside. In deployed settings, blasts are the leading cause of TBI.)
Right now, we do not understand the injury or treatment as well as we want. We need to learn to better identify, treat, and care for those affected by TBI and related conditions. There is much to learn, and the urgency is fueled by the knowledge that early diagnosis and treatment assists recovery.
This urgency to help recovery was part of the impetus behind a redesign of the website for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC). Founded by Congress in 1992, the Center is part of the U.S. military health system, caring for service members at its 17 sites. It is the only medical group conducting TBI research with active-duty personnel.
When WETA, DVBIC's media partner, first approached Forum One with this project, we weren't certain we could deliver on their timeline. They needed a new site in 10 weeks, including design, information architecture, and Drupal development. The site’s wish list wasn’t long, but it was a quick timeline on a high-profile site with a diverse group of stakeholders. Nonetheless, we were excited to be part of expediting health care and research on this critical issue.
The old website (shown below) suffered from a number of challenges. For starters, we felt that the dark, muted colors were incongruent with DVBIC's positive mission of providing hope and support for patients suffering from TBI. In addition, the site's content and navigation were not organized into usable categories that worked well for the audience of service members, caregivers, and medical providers. Finally, the existing site offered dozens of free resources for mail order including symptom sheets, evaluation tools, and brochures, but there was no online ordering process. Visitors had to send an email to make their request. Although hundreds of thousands of products were delivered, the process was onerously manual for DVBIC and lacked back-end reporting.
Following some discovery activities, we approached the design by producing two moodboards to set the creative direction of the project. We wanted them to be welcoming, strong, and authoritative. We wanted the site to reflect DVBIC’s pride in America and dedication to our troops, but not overdo the patriotic imagery.
Throughout the project, we relied heavily on the Agile methodology’s core principles of iteration and cross-discipline skills to get it to launch on time. For example, the information architect and the developers worked closely to make information architecture decisions, and the front-end developers extrapolated a lot of specific design decisions from the high-quality, rapid-fire design work that could not represent every page or layout variation.
Similarly, for the information architecture, we took a tried-and-true approach to addressing their audiences' needs by listing them in the main navigation. The audience-centric options are subtly highlighted in a lighter blue color to distinguish them from other options. In addition, we reinforce the audience pathways on the homepage with a second set of audience-centric photos in the middle of the design.
Inside the audience site sections, WETA and DVBIC struggled to determine usable categories for the disparate content. But with a brief project timeline, we knew there wasn’t time for a deep content analysis. We devised a simpler approach. We created broad categories that described the type of content that would live there: Topics, FAQs, Videos, and Resources. This simple categorization brings order to the chaos, and we can always add additional taxonomies later.
Our technical solution centered on a standard installation of Drupal 7 with the Drupal Commerce AutoSKU modules to enable shopping cart fulfillment. Visitors can now browse all available products. Every product has its own page containing a description and product image. The visitor can either download it immediately or add it to their cart if they wish to receive physical or multiple copies.
Customers and fulfillment staff receive automated email notifications upon transaction completion and shipment of orders. Customers are not required to log into the site to place an order, and data is stored in the Drupal database. From there, it can be exported into a CSV file based on set criteria.
The site also required us to provide an interactive map of the United States illustrating DVBIC's regions of service and DVBIC locations. For visitors, this would serve as a primary doorway to locating a nearby DVBIC site. While we've implemented complex geographic mapping for other projects using Mapnik and Node.js, this project's budget and timeline required us to devise a straightforward solution that could be implemented quickly. We also wanted the solution to be easy to manage within the content management system. Rather than fix what wasn’t broken, we imported the map from the old site and performed a light cleanup of the creative design. But we largely left the existing code intact. We then enhanced its administrative functionality by creating a content type that used Drupal’s coordinate system to position the stars on the map image. This made for a highly usable approach.
The user experience also has been heightened for mobile and tablet devices using Responsive Design. You can just shrink your browser to different sizes to see how the content reorients, or use the Responsinator to take a look at how the DVBIC site looks on a variety of the most common devices.
Overall, we are extremely proud of this project and its role in accelerating better understanding and treatment of traumatic brain injury.