RFP: Harvard Website Redesign

About www.Harvard.edu

Harvard University's flagship website, www.Harvard.edu, is the digital gateway to Harvard University and its primary brand statement. The site is a vital component of the University’s communications strategy; for many, the site will be the first experience and interaction with Harvard. The Harvard website functions as a flagship brand website, a portal to Schools and Centers, and a resource destination for many audiences. The site also hosts content for University-wide initiatives, including climate research and public service initiatives. Harvard Public Affairs & Communications (HPAC), the University’s central communications office, maintains www.Harvard.edu.

About Harvard

Harvard is a large, diverse, and highly decentralized university consisting of 12 degree-granting schools, a central administration division, and numerous research institutes, research centers, museums, and affiliated hospitals. Each School and unit are largely independent of one another. The University has more than 20,000 full-time degree candidates and more than 18,800 staff, including 2,480 faculty members. The international population has grown to more than 10,000 students and scholars. To learn about the many ways that Harvard is connected to the regional economy and engaged in community partnerships, please review our 2018-2018 impact reports.

Project Scope

This proposal only applies to pages in the "www." subdomain of www.harvard.edu. Websites and web pages without "www." in the URL are not in scope.  

Project Background and Goals

The current website was designed and developed in 2015, and the new site will launch in January 2021. A user research study conducted in late 2019 showed that our users expect to find information, resources, and pathways to their desired destinations. Users come to www.Harvard.edu looking for anything from academic programs to financial aid information to museums, research, or history of the University.

We are seeking an agency partner to design and build a first-class, modern www.Harvard.edu website. The new www.Harvard.edu website will be WCAG 2.1 Level AA accessible and beautifully designed. The current site was built on Drupal 7; we expect the new site to be built on either the latest version of Drupal or Wordpress.

Through intuitive navigation, the site will help diverse audiences understand the University’s structure and easily find their way to other Harvard sites while showcasing fresh and engaging content that aligns with key institutional priorities.

In January of 2020 we concluded an internal discovery and user research project with the help of an outside digital strategy firm. We expect this next phase to build on that research and discovery. We will provide our design and build partner with the findings from that research, including a competitive analysis, content audit, survey data report, interview quotes and findings, and content strategy recommendations.

Project Goals

The new www.Harvard.edu will:

  • Guide visitors to their desired destinations
  • Communicate key messaging from the University more effectively
  • Be a model of accessible and user-centric design
  • Surface in-house content that inspires, educates, and engages users
  • Provide friendly interface and tools for site admin users

Guiding Principles

Accessibility. Harvard’s new website must meet Harvard’s accessibility requirements (WCAG 2.1 Level AA). We expect this site to serve as a model of web accessibility.

User-centered design. The website serves as a resource, guide, and portal. Whether users are searching for a school website, looking for specific information about Harvard, or simply exploring, their experience should be intuitive and seamless.

Search engine optimization. Regardless of frontend or backend, the website should continue to feature well in search engine results and remain search-friendly.

Inviting and engaging content. Website content, from web copy to multimedia, should be compelling and narrative-driven. While we’re not asking for written content in this RFP, the design and CMS must work to showcase and elevate our content, creating a sense of unity across content of varying types, styles, and production sources.

Inclusion and diversity. These core values are sources of strength. Our website must serve a broad global audience and its design, messaging, and content should reflect the diversity of the Harvard community.

Flexible and adaptable. The website and its content will continue to evolve. As such, the CMS needs to be flexible and user-friendly to content administrators so we can most effectively enact institutional priorities and respond to user needs.

Project Timeline

RFP available February 10, 2020
Questions Due Rolling (answers posted to website)
Proposal Deadline March 5, 2020
Vendor finalist presentations Mid-March 2020
Final vendor selected March 31, 2020
Engagement begins Mid-April 2020
Site launch Early January 2021
Engagement ends January 31, 2021



Services and Features


Project and relationship management
Good project management includes expectation setting, planning, attention to detail, and user-friendly project management software. Good relationship management means responsive and open communication, accountability, transparency, a willingness to adapt, and an understanding of client and stakeholder constraints and needs. We prefer in-person meetings for kickoffs, workshops, and milestones; regular check-in calls suffice in between milestones. We expect all core team members to join us for weekly project status calls throughout the project lifecycle, and at least one full-time employee as our primary point of contact.

Design standard and style guide
Harvard is a global brand. We want to develop a comprehensive digital design standard for www.Harvard.edu that leverages the Harvard brand using existing brand guidelines and graphic identity. The design must be easy to maintain and update and be flexible enough to adapt to changing needs. Design elements must be optimized and responsive on all modern browsers, desktop and mobile. All design elements and colors must also comply with ADA accessibility guidelines. We will provide the Harvard logo suite, Harvard’s visual identity and style guide, and will discuss budget for licensed fonts and photography as needed.

You will build:

  • An overall digital brand guide specific to www.Harvard.edu that adheres to the existing brand guidelines and graphic identity (including existing logos and signatures).
  • A web style guide for content authors outlining principles around website design. This may include use of graphics, photography, web fonts, iconography, and page stylization.

Build and deploy a new CMS platform and advise HPAC web team on best practices, site structure and organization, domain architecture, content tagging, and roles-based permissions. Advise on and implement improvements for Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager. Define and deliver features so each can be evaluated and fine-tuned based on user testing, and create a roll-out strategy that includes a plan to redirect content during the beta launch and throughout migration. Ensure with Harvard IT the CMS instance is accessible and secured to Harvard users.

For many users, the Harvard homepage is a first impression, a point of entry, and an initial wayfinding tool. The new homepage will be dynamic, visually pleasing, and seamlessly intuitive. From UX to design to copy, the homepage should flawlessly communicate Harvard’s identity and brand. It will reflect Harvard’s updated content strategy and effectively integrate a flow of in-house content.

Flexible page templates
Design, build, and implement a family of responsive interface design options (themes or content types), based on your provided design standard, that include options for a wide web browsers, narrow web browsers, tablet, smartphone, and printer-friendly format. Accessibility will be a pillar of the new site. Templates should be responsive and adhere to web standards, including web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.1 Level AA).

Flexible page templates include:

  • Layout options for one-column, left sidebar or right sidebar
  • A variety of content blocks with flexible display options (video, audio, image, slideshow, structured content item, and more)
  • Custom menus
  • Functionality to schedule a content publishing date
  • Option to preview page updates with reasonable accuracy

Widget or component options, including:

  • Navigation and sub-navigation menus
  • Content tags and site search
  • Galleries, lightboxes, and slideshows
  • Headers and footers
  • Responsive tables
  • Content bars including text callouts and photo overlays
  • Banners, billboards, and cards
  • CTAs, promos, and buttons
  • Interactive and dynamic elements (movement) 

Microsites and sub-sites
The current site has three sections that qualify as their own sites visually, but are independently maintained: Office of the President, Media Relations, and the Visit Harvard section. Proposals will need a way to tackle these and possibly other “microsites” in either a multisite environment (WordPress) or other similar functionality built into the CMS.

Each microsite will have:

  • A pre-designed template
  • Custom navigation and menus
  • Specific permissions and content authors

In addition to the above subsections, we would like the proposal to include 3 additional pre-designed (generic) templates at site launch for future microsite needs and a per-template or per-theme quote for additional microsites as needed.

Events calendar integration
Currently, Trumba calendar is used for event management. Trumba provides an iCal feed of upcoming events with different tags. The proposal must include integration of Trumba into the CMS, as well as a smooth and easy to manage "workflow" to display events on the site.

The calendar feature should allow users to:

  • View featured events
  • Browse events by category

Academic program browser
One frustration for current users of www.harvard.edu is the lack of comprehensive academic program information. Proposal must include the design and development of a robust academic program browser is needed to display the more than 200 academic programs offered by the University.

Features should include:

  • Custom look and feel
  • Flexible fields including title, description, featured image, classification, and school affiliation
  • A "browser" page where users can filter the programs
  • Search function

Content management:

  • Ability to assign editor access to academic program at program level
  • Establish an editorial workflow so edits are approved by a site administrator prior to publication

Alerts and Emergency page
In the event of an emergency or campus closure, the website must display banner messages on either the homepage, the Emergency page or both simultaneously. These notices must allow for multiple posts, if updates are needed, and publish without delay.

SEO/Social share
Functionality includes:

  • Different display title
  • Ability to customize meta information including image for social share and search
  • Preview of social share and search results

Google Tag Manager / Google Analytics integration
Google Tag Manager will be used to facilitate Google Analytics integrations. GTM will shuttle information from the CMS using a data layer, or javascript variable, to pass information such as content published and last modified dates, author, and tag information to Google Analytics.

Ease of use for admin interface
Regardless of the CMS, we expect a simple admin interface for our content authors, especially when incorporating links from other Harvard-owned websites.

SSO (Harvard Key Integration)
Integrate with Harvard Key so site admins/editor can log in via Harvard Key.

CMS manual
A style and template guide and editors with documentation, in an easy-to-access format.

User testing
We will provide access to the User Research Center at Harvard Library for user testing. Please include anticipated compensation or incentives for participants (typically $30/person) in this budget proposal.

Performance tuning and load testing
The selected vendor will work in partnership with Pantheon hosting to conduct load testing and ensure the new site has comparable or better performance than the current site.

Post-launch support
Post-launch, we anticipate a 30-day window to log and address issues not uncovered in the usability and accessibility testing.


Your Proposal


Your firm and team bios

Please provide us with some background on your firm and its structure, as well as bios of the team members with whom we’d be working throughout the project, and that team’s structure as it relates to this project. Please disclose any third party partners you plan to work with.

Relevant examples of your work

Walk us through a few recent projects that are structurally similar to this one. What was successful about these projects? How did you approach collaboration with the client and other vendor partners? How would your team go about tackling challenges that could arise in the www.Harvard.edu project (and how would you ensure that we wouldn’t face any major roadblocks)?

Inspiration for this project

We want www.Harvard.edu to be beautifully designed, intuitive to use, and innovative while remaining true to Harvard’s brand. Please share a few URLs that illustrate websites that you think deliver on these concepts. These don’t have to be links to your own work, and we encourage you to think outside the realm of higher ed websites. We’d also like you to share your aspirational interpretation(s) of “Harvard” in the context of this project: What could (or should) Harvard’s site communicate about who we are? How would you creatively approach brand challenges?

Your approach for this project

  1. Describe how you would approach the deliverables and related activities in the previous section.
  2. Please specify any support you would need from HPAC to accomplish this work.
  3. Provide us with an expected timeline, project hours, and cost for your team to substantially complete each phase, deliverable, and sub-deliverable.


Provide three current customer references, including the following information for each client: company name; contact name, title, email and phone; and brief description of history with this client.


HPAC is looking for a close partner on this project. To gauge alignment with our goals, you may be invited in for a 45-minute long presentation. You will have a chance to present your technical proposal and answer questions for the Harvard community, including project and executive leadership. The team that you bring should be the same team members you expect to lead the redesign project, if selected.

Cutting room floor (optional)

Inevitably there will be efforts you would have liked to have included in this proposal but did not think were feasible given time and budget constraints. We would like to know what some of those were. This section is optional.


How to submit your proposal


How to submit

The deadline to submit is March 5, 2020. Submit your proposal as one PDF file using the submission form provided.

Q&A process

Questions and requests for clarification will be accepted on a rolling basis up until the proposal deadline. FAQs and answers to selected questions will be posted online. Due to the volume of questions asked, we regret that we might not be able to answer each one. We strongly recommend clear and succinct questions, and we suggest submitting as early as possible.

Selection process

The proposal evaluation criteria committee will comparatively evaluate proposals based on the following criteria:

  1. The team is diverse in skills and experience and includes members with extensive and strong backgrounds in redesigning complex websites. The project team is energized, consistently staffed, creative, and available.
  2. The examples of past work provided are relevant to this project and highlight the skills of a team that will be assigned to the www.Harvard.edu project. The links shared as inspiration for this project resonate strongly with our vision and goals for the new website.
  3. The proposed approach and timeline is thoughtful, realistic, and creative. It is based on the strengths of your organization and ours, and it lays out a clear path to a successful launch www.Harvard.edu by January 1, 2021.
  4. The three references on similar projects consistently rate services and results as “excellent.”
  5. Your methods inspire constructive thinking and demonstrate a striking ability to gain insights around user experience and drive consensus among stakeholders. Strong cultural fit with the Harvard.edu web team is also important.
  6. The design and development adhere to web standards, including web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.



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