Enterprise UX: Complete Site Overhaul

Proposed design directions. Such a breath of fresh air from VSA.

Proposed design directions. Such a breath of fresh air from VSA.


The American Medical Association hired me to help them establish a user experience practice inside the organization. I made progress, the largest symbol of which is the complete overhaul of their current website, set for its first release in the fall.

You guys. When you hear people talk about healthcare being "behind" in terms of digital products and services, what you should do is change the word "behind" to the phrase "Great Scott Let's Start Over." I'm really not trying to be disparaging, just describing the magnitude of the problem.  And I wasn't even working in real healthcare.

Business Problem

The previous enterprise site had three distinct main navigation menus, a taxonomy that became functionally extinct almost as soon as it was put in place, a wholly inaccurate search experience, and over 10,000 pages, 85% of which had gone unviewed for at least a year.

Tack on 20 disparate sub-sites, built by multiple vendor firms to compensate for all of these problems, which have shifted the digital brand to downright unrecognizable.

The content strategy had one bullet point: we should publish whatever it is people felt the AMA should be doing that day. No one wanted to set goals so that we could help measure the efficacy or impact of their content.

From a technology perspective, we had a full, heavy belt of single-use tools, including an over-customized CMS. Our 'apps,' which comprised everything from Become A Member to Contact Us required the involvement of three teams to make changes. The Contact Us app, a web form I described as "Please Don't Ever Contact Us," held a stunning four pages to send an email to one of five people in the AMA, all of whom worked for the same team.

The Big Picture

The place itself has been having an identity crisis for a while. The truth is, the American Medical Association is fighting for its relevance in either healthcare or medicine. They had a specific role for many years, but that role -- generally keeping the practice of medicine standardized -- has all but passed into regulatory and industry hands now. As a partial result, only 3-6% of practicing physicians are members.

There is much tug-of-war over this undefined future, with the website in the middle. It wasn't something we could iterate on to get to a better place, use current vendors for, black-box in its own corner of the world because it was just too big and impactful. We had to build a new foundation everyone knew about so that wherever the organization went, we would be able to have a consistent, clear way to put who the AMA decided to be out there. I really hope they take care of my very pretty, functional baby now that I've moved on. :)

But oh, the possibilities.


The C-suite dropped a deadline: We want a new site in a year.

I advocated for a long-term contractor and internal team combination and going agile, all the way, getting started right away. I could run that with the right budget and had the connections to make it happen.

But... 12 weeks later I was told that if we didn't have vendors people in the organization would not buy in or sign off on the direction, because employees weren't trusted with this kind of work. (Yes, that was a flag.) So we ended up with four vendors to do the work and a price tag to match. This is what I was told I must work with, so I trusted that they were right, and buckled in for the ride.

By now I had colleagues in content strategy, measurement and analytics and (finally!) development, so we set to work defining the new site with VSA, one of the best design agencies in Chicago. We spent the following six months doing all of the user experience and visual design work, firing two of the vendors who weren't delivering along the way.

(That part of the project alone could fill several blog posts on process.)


The site's been out there for about a year now. The new design is such a vast improvement and a blank slate for the future that the word "results" isn't really relevant.

A whole team of people

  • continually presented and iterated on design in rooms of more than 30 stakeholders for six months

  • overhauled the taxonomy and IA

  • whittled content down to roughly 600 pages

  • selected, refined and did the interaction design for a content-first design

  • reflowed existing external applications so that metrics could be gathered

  • helped the creative team with its image library organization

  • put together a new measurement strategy

  • planned out an A/B testing practice in place of usability testing


I directed, drove and influenced the enterprise site's entire user experience and visual design. I drove the creation of a true digital design and experience language that can be rolled out in all corners of the AMA, including its other sub-brands such as the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association).  And I collaborated closely with other enterprise technologists in development, analytics and content strategy to get it all done.

What did I learn?

About half of indi young's book on practical empathy is about how to apply her ways of interacting to your job for more collaboration and success. I admit, when it first came out, I didn't read that part of the book super thoroughly -- even though somewhere in there is an anecdote I told her, because she visited Gogo while writing it.  I also worked that way with my team intuitively because it made sense that a bunch of empathic designers would want to work in much the same way I liked to work. That is, by being met where they are -- being heard, acknowledged, seen, gently guided when necessary (because being heard doesn't always mean "we'll do it exactly the way you suggest"). 

But... when I got this job, I was told all about how ignorant people were about "digital" so I would have to "take a strong hand and really direct the work" which turned out to be utter nonsense and also not matter one bit. I had to learn that myself, though. So I started out on this project thinking that I needed to come in and tell people how things were going to be because that was the expertise I was being paid to provide and that was what I thought a "Director" did -- DIRECT. Even though doing that made me a little queasy - I think it's because I don't like it when people do that with me. Also, it can fall apart on you real fast in a group of people with a slightly different point of view, because it's only yours.

Guess what? NO ONE LIKES THAT. 

It's (a little bit) amusing to look back on the version of me that believed a job was about providing my expertise. It is, but not by telling people what's good for them - even though it is the case that sometimes, people just want the damn answer, to be told what to do. But mostly it makes people feel crappy when we don't take the time to even listen. I watched another director completely shoot herself in the foot by announcing to every content contributor that she would decide what gets published to the site. The blowback was swift and harsh. So, I decided that the harder but ultimately better thing was to persuade the largest possible number of people about how the new user experience would benefit them. If I hadn't done that, and coached the design agency to do the same, the new site would not have launched.


The site I put together had an unfortunately short lifespan mostly due to a change in organizational leadership. If you go look at the site today, you’ll see no hint of the level of thought I put into the design and architecture. Now, websites are about as ephemeral as it gets, so I don’t expect anything I made in that realm to live on in perpetuity - but that thing is such an unbelievable hot mess, I can’t even tell what they were thinking.