The Nueva Storyteling Project

Nueva is a private school based in Hillsborough, California. In 2014, the school opened a second, upper school campus, thereby almost doubling in size.

The influx of new community members strained Nueva’s digital platforms: the sheer volume of communication was a new frontier and institutional values had never been so vital to document and share.

Working with the Communications Department, a storytelling platform was created to unburden communications logistics and celebrate Nueva’s evolving identity.


The Nueva School


12 weeks


Conner Hunihan
Product Manager, UX Designer
Dianne Willoughby
Staff Writer, Managing Editor
Matt Berman
Robbie Klein
Director of Communications

Personal Skills

Concept Development
Mixed Methods Research
Information Architecture

How do Parents Experience School Communications?

The project kickedoff with a deep dive into parents’ experience with school communications. What do they read? What don’t they read? What is their context when they receive messages?

QUALTIATIVE USER RESEARCH for attitudes and opinions

Over 20 interviews and six focus groups were conducted to develop intuition around how parent’s felt about school communications.

Research revealed that community members identify strongly with stories that celebrate Nueva uniqueness. Community members also felt anxious about missing critical information and frustrated by the over abundance of content.


Regularly occuring NPA and staff meetings afforded the opportunity for numerous focus-group workshops.


Digging into the analytics of the at open rates, as well as the ratio of opens open/click ratio afforded the Communications Team perspective on actual behavior: over half the community weekly opened the weekly newsletter, with over 70% of high school students clicking on content.


To contextualize the design challenges that existing platforms faced, usability tests were conducted to evaluate the user experience on mobile and desktop of a typical user flow: receiving a school newsletter and clicking on a link.

Existing Mobile Experience

The original website was not designed for mobile, leading to a convoluted user experience.

Usability Review

A usability test was conducted using Nielsen’s 10 Heuristics for User Interface Design

Project Scope

Research Synthesis

Research was summarized and presentated to senior leadership a month into the project. In conclusion, it was discovered that:

About half of users are reading the newsletter on their phone

Users enjoy storytelling content, but inconsisent user experience leads to more “bookmarking” than “reading”

Finding critical information feels like an easter egg hunt: content is overwhelming & unorganized

Design Objective

An overall objective was defined in the form of a How Might We in order to frame the overall objective of the project:

How might messaging highlight both critical information and longer-form storytelling?

Focusing on the User

Personas to Describe Our Users

With such a diverse community, personas were created to represent the issues and obstacles in a tangeable, personal format,

User Personas

Three personas were developed; the parent on-the-go and hungry for bullet-point details, the parent who reads everyone at once on Sunday night, and the student who wants to read stories about their friends.

Crafting a content strategy

When Nueva opened the high school, it invested heavily in storytellers, hiring three Staff Writers, a Digital Storyteller, a Digital Communications Manager, as well as a Managing Editor.

Three months of published contewnt was audited and a workshop was conducted to affinity map the volume into coherent categories.

Content to categories

The workshop yielded not only an information hierarchy, but a content strategy, as well: the Communications Team realized how much time was spent on content that was neither critical information, nor cherished stories.


Categories identified in the affinity mapping workshop were fit into larger category types, revealing that a large portion of school communications was the fun, storytelling content that the community loved.


Senior leadership approved a recommendation to separate storytelling efforts from functional school communications. This would allow for more creative freedom, while also unburdening the weekly newsletter.

Design Iterations

From paper to pixels: the Microsite

Sketches of the microsite were developed around the categories identified in the content audit. A low fidelity prototype was developed to test usability and feature prioritization before applying final high-fidelity styling.


Multiple iterations of the microsite were developed and workshopped with the Communications Department as the design evolved.

Unexpected Reactions

Pivot: from microsite to full web redesign

The prototype provoked an unexpected reaction from senior leadership: the microsite looked and felt so much like Nueva, they wanted the project expanded to includde a full website redesign.

Previously, security concerns had precluded the main website as an alternative to house storytelling content, but the project had engenedered momentum to put pressure on Legal, Communications, and Executive Administration teams to resolve outstanding security concerns.

Expanding the Microsite content strategy to the full website

Previous exercises had already devised a content strategy which was expanded to include the entirety of the website’s content. An information architecture was refined, and a content migration plan was set up to determine the scope of the new project.


The storytelling around unique cultural values was expanded into a dedicated “Notably Nueva” section, The schema also allowed the Communications Team to populate sections of the public-facing site with appropriate short-stories. In particular, Athletics, Student Experience, and Program of Study.

Front page as microsite & publishign platform

The front page of the website was redesigned to house the regularly updated storytelling content. A high fidelity prototype of the final design was also developed and used as a communication vehicle between Communications and Engineering.

A system was created to automatically pull content off the home page and into an email Digest, saving both Communications and Engineering staff countless hours of production.


The front page also served as a publishing platform: content was formatted and tagged in such a way so as to allow for automatic population of the weekly email Digest.


Immediate Response

The key metrics that the Communications monitored after the storytelling platform launched in the fall of 2016 was whether open rates and/or click through rates would change. Given a new format and change in schedule, we expected a sudden, sharp decline in readership. Three months into the school year, however, the numbers were clear:

Open rates for the entire community held steady at 62%

Click-through rates for high school students jumped to 70%

Many of these students were new to the school, and so the team was thrilled to see the cultural values and norms that we were documenting being read by exactly the audience we intended.


UPDATE: Three years later

Though I am no longer at Nueva, I check the site from time to time. In the fall of 2018, I noticed a complete redesign: new skin, new logo, new content.

However, while the site may have had an overhaul, the basic structure of the site had not changed. The front page is still used as a publishing platform, and the categorization of content is nearly identical.

More than just a slick looking interface, the Nueva Storytelling Project is a system that gave a community the tools to tell its story and make visible its values during a pivotal time of institutional growth.