What is Compass?

Compass is a collaborative initiative from Technology Services and Enterprise Marketing and Communications that is designed to bring consistency in branding and structure to VCU’s web presence. Simply put, it is VCU’s website builder. Not to be confused with T4, the university-supported content management system, Compass integrates with T4 to provide web managers components to build compliant and on-brand websites.

A core part of Compass is the documentation, which:

  • Clarifies the framework’s limitations 
  • Explains how to best use the available components
  • Roadmaps in-progress and planned developments 

Compass is about working better. Simplifications for developers and easy-access resources for web managers help us get there.

Who can use Compass?

Compass components are available in T4, so staff who have passed the required T4 training are able to access and use the assets.

What are the benefits of Compass?

Image source: https://uxdesign.cc/design-systems-in-the-wild-cbc863f41c2

There are many benefits to using a centrally supported framework for website development, including:

Establish consistency in the visual design

Featuring foundational components designed with best practices in mind, Compass helps web managers create sites that are consistent in branding and design across the university’s digital portfolio.

Increase audience trust through unified brand experiences

A unified design across our websites establishes a concrete identity with VCU audiences, increasing trust in our brand.

Ensure compliance with accessibility guidelines

Compass web assets comply with relevant federal and state requirements, including ADA/accessibility standards.

Speed up delivery from idea to production

Instead of starting from scratch for each new web project, developers can use components from a shared repository to speed up the process.

Reduce redundancy and increase internal sharing

Redeveloping the basic components needed to build a website for each project is a time waster. Compass’ components are ready to use right in T4.

What’s included in Compass?

Compass is an ongoing initiative. The first version, released in July 2020, provided the building blocks to create a website. Since the initial launch, the Compass theam has continued to release new features and enhancments, building on the intial version of the framework.

Supported by Technology Services and Enterprise Marketing and Communications, it is available to T4-trained university staff at no cost.

Compass includes:

Learn how Compass may be used for digital products built outside of T4.

What’s not included in Compass?

The Compass team is committed to creating a scalable resource for the university. As such, the web framework does not provide custom solutions or extensive one-on-one support to VCU departments and units as part of the Compass initiative.

Currently, Compass does not include:

  • Content strategy/creation
  • Custom photography
  • Custom design
  • Unlimited technical support
  • UX strategy
  • Pre-designed layouts

Am I able to use Compass for non-T4 web applications?

The Compass framework is CMS-agnostic, allowing adopters to download the assets for their non-T4 projects. You may be use the Compass assets for application development, however, additional UI patterns and considerations that are specific to applications are not available in the current release of Compass.

We plan to conduct feedback sessions centered around gathering specific requirements for application development once the requirements for our organizational websites are mature.

What does Compass mean for VCU website visitors?

VCU has more than 600 websites. If you visit a handful of these side by side, you will notice inconsistencies. These differences can confuse web visitors as they click from one VCU website to another, resulting in a less-than-ideal user experience. A poor user experience makes people less likely to take the actions we want them to, including filling out an application, scheduling a campus tour or making a donation.

As VCU websites migrate to Compass, users will experience more consistency. Unified websites under the VCU brand will build user trust, promoting increased user engagement. Compass provides the components for web managers to efficiently build aligned VCU websites, while still allowing for customization and individuality.

When did Compass launch?

Technology Services and Enterprise Marketing and Communications piloted select site migrations to Compass during spring 2020. Compass version 1.0 became available to the university community in July 2020, after the exploratory migrations were complete.

How do I request a new feature or report a bug?

To request a new feature or report a bug, please complete the Compass feedback form.

We are also collecting feedback and requests for consideration at our team email: compass@vcu.edu.

Additionally, Compass has been built so it can be improved upon by a unit web manager (or University Relations) to meet requirements that may be specific to a department.

How often will Compass be updated?

Compass will be regularly improved with seasonal releases that include new components, documentation, bug fixes and other useful assets. The Compass team also is roadmapping features we know you’ll need for forthcoming releases, and welcomes your suggestions for essential and wish-list items.

How do I stay informed about Compass’ progress?

The Compass team will schedule regular feedback checkpoints with the larger web group to help prioritize features for future releases. We’ll also keep you informed about what to expect in upcoming versions of Compass. Updates will be sent to the Web Users Group listserv, and our team will post regularly here on the Compass blog.

Does my website have to transition to Compass? Will using Compass be mandatory?

Current VCU websites are not mandated to transition to Compass. It is strongly encouraged for new website builds and redesigns to use Compass, as it adheres to modern design principles, accessibility standards, VCU brand guidelines and security safeguards.

Do I have to pay to use Compass?

No, the base product is free. If your unit needs specific features not included in the base product, Enterprise Marketing and Communications can recommend another vendor to build those on top of Compass at a billable rate.

How can I ask a question about Compass? Or make a suggestion?

We want to hear from you! Check this blog for progress updates, and send your questions and comments to compass@vcu.edu. We will compile your frequently asked questions and provide answers in follow-up communications.

Does Compass work with the Internet Explorer browser?

Compass is not IE compatible, as the browser is insecure and deprecated by Microsoft. Our recommendation is to use a newer browser, such as Edge, Chrome, or Firefox.

Learn more about why Compass doesn't support Internet Explorer and our recommendations on our browser support statement.