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AEP launches redesigned, responsive operating company websites

by on February 23, 2015

AEP Feb. 19 — using entirely in-house resources — launched the redesign of its seven operating company websites using responsive design, a relatively new technique.

Responsive design allows web pages to sense the size of the device an individual is using to view each page, and adapt itself to display properly on that device. This allows AEP’s operating companies to do a better job of serving the increasing number of users who come to their sites with a tablet or smartphone.

In November 2012, AEP became the first in the utility industry — and just the  third Fortune 500 company — to update its corporate website –aep.com — to a responsive design.

“We’ve redesigned the sites because of the increasing amount of traffic from phones and tablets,” explained Allen Glass, Internet strategy manager in AEP Corporate Communications. “Phones made up 32.5 percent of our traffic last year. Tablets added another 6.9 percent. During major outages, those percentages go even higher – well over 50 percent — because those are the devices that still work when the power is out.”

When AEP launched its mobile sites in 2010, mobile traffic represented a very small fraction of the usage, presumably because customers were still getting used to phones that would enable them to go online to conduct business, and most visitors were only seeking outage-related materials and information.

“But people got used to using their phones for other things pretty quickly, and the things they wanted to do on our sites began to change shortly after we launched the mobile versions,” Glass said. “Now when we survey our users, we find that they want to do the same things on their phones that they do on desktop computers.

“There’s still a little more focus on outage-related activities, of course – especially during major outages – but other than that, the percentages are pretty much the same as they are for desktop visitors,” he added. “Our current mobile sites now have billing and payment information, but it’s too expensive to try to keep adding new functions in both mobile and desktop versions. That’s why responsive design is such a great option for us.”

Responsive design allows a single site to serve desktop and mobile traffic. That means AEP doesn’t have to maintain two different versions of each site, which can be very time-consuming. Responsively designed web sites have a piece of code on every page of the site that asks your computer – desktop, tablet, phone, whatever – “Okay, how big is the screen?” Then the page reconfigures itself to fit on that size screen.

Responsive design allows web pages to sense the size of the device an individual is using to view each page, and adapt itself to display properly on that device.

“We’ve done a ton of research into user behaviors – what works and what doesn’t – as we’ve designed and built these sites,” Glass noted. For example, Eric Davis, user experience consultant principal in Corporate Communications, ran more than 20 separate user experience studies with more than 250 customers, looking at hundreds of site elements.

“Sometimes it’s as straightforward as trying to figure out what words we should use for a button so our customers will be able to find what they’re looking for,” said Glass. “One button went through six different iterations before we found the label that works best. We’re really picky about finding out what works for our customers so they can be successful when they try to do something or get some information on our sites. After all, we don’t succeed with our goals unless they succeed with theirs.”

Glass noted that a number of employees contributed to the success of the website redesign project, including primary developers Jared Utley, Dane Sapp, Derek Reynolds, David Azusenis, Ryan Roe, Stephen Payne, Chris Rowsell and Lisa Lawrence; designers Sarah Hunyadi, Nick Carron, Ruth Thurgood Mundy and Joshua McClurg-Genevese; Davis, who handled user research and a lot of the user experience design; Brian Phipps, Amanda Thatcher, Leann Bailey and Angela Brown, who reviewed the customer service functions; and Keenan Sanders and Josh Polk, who did a lot of the quality assurance work on the sites.

“We also need to thank other people in Information Technology who helped set up and configure the new web servers we needed for the sites and handled security and access issues for us,” said Glass, “including Steve Tulk, Zach Van Tassel, John Welday, Bruce Goetz, Bryan Young, Randy Urban, Chris Chapman, Ramanathan Chandrasekaran, Scott Grizzle, Nathanial Roberts, Bill Pratt, Kevin Knox, MaryJean Speno, Roy Peltomaa, Jeff Tennant, Adam Velegol and Frank Rao.”

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