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“The Michigan Daily” Housing Website

How to create a landlord-friendly interface for an off-campus housing website?

The Charge

The Michigan Daily, the

Role(s):

Drupal Developer, Documentarian

Client:

The Michigan Daily

Team Members:

Melissa Cox, Tiantian Xu

Methods:

  • contextual inquiry
  • prototyping
  • wireframing
  • database management (PHP)
  • graphic design

Tools:

  • Drupal
  • Illustrator

independent student-run newspaper that serves the University of Michigan community, wanted to create a website for students to easily search for and find off-campus housing. I was tasked with using Drupal to create a “bare-bones” site that allowed students to search for housing according to a myriad of preferences and also had a management system for landlords and property owners to create listings and manage responses to their ads.

Client Requirements, Personas, and Information Architecture/Workflow

Representatives for The Michigan Daily pointed to other universities and colleges where the student newspaper had dedicated sites for off-campus housing. These sites were dynamic, colorful and engaging. The Michigan Daily wanted their brand to be associated with off-campus housing to engender a deeper connection to the Michigan community at large. The current off-campus searches were buried in the university’s Campus Housing department or in reviews from students in various academic departments – not accessible to landlords and other property owners. The Michigan Daily’s current relations with property owners in the Ann Arbor area, they believed, would be best served with an off-campus housing site of their own.

The Michigan Daily wanted the site to be most useful for landlords and property owners, so we focused our research and design on creating a system that was both simple for account executives at TMD and the landlords (who are not as Internet-savvy) to use, with design for the student-facing section to be left to TMD’s own web developers. We spoke with landlords and property owners in the Ann Arbor area who frequently rent to the University’s student population to understand what they might need in order to use a housing website through The Michigan Daily. Two personas (business executives at TMD and landlord/property owner) were created. Based on their needs, I created the Information Architecture and early information Architecture and workflow for the Drupal site.

Appropriate Drupal modules were selected, and the views for each role on the site (TMD account executives, landlords, students) were constructed.

Completion and Function

The unthemed website was completed within 3 months, and utilized 20+ Drupal modules, including one that was custom-built to handle searching with numerous parameters. Views for specific listings, particularly the display of photos (an important component of the housing search) were also built specifically for the site as well. My specialized task included installing the complex Google Maps API to locate, pin, and store the GPS locations of listings. The fIn addition to learning to use the complex Google Maps API for Drupal correctly to map housing listings. I also scribed the majority of the documentation on how to use the website, including the setup and management of administrators and editing powers and features.

The website is currently non-functional, but under the control of The Michigan Daily Staff. we created allows for landlord and TMD employee login information that keeps track of billing and ad information. Landlords can create and modify their own ads on the site, after they are approved by The Michigan Daily business executives.

Documentation about using Drupal, managing modules, and using the various views was provided to the staff, as well as a copy of the website.

Takeaway

This was my first experience with Drupal as a CMS and web development using PHP. As far as CMS goes, Drupal is a very powerful, scalable system, though the variety of views and other module customizations often made it difficult to find and create the system exactly as we would like. My greatest task in implementing the Google Maps API doesn’t seem like a large task, but working with Google’s data-heavy API gave me a greater understanding of APIs, their data size, and how having to constantly run an API like Google Maps weights the speed of the site down greatly.

The ability to create the information architecture for the site and see it come to live almost as planned was a fulfilling personal accomplishment working on this site, within the confines of Drupal.