Berklee College of Music, a global brand for music and music education, needed an application portal reflective of their identity: the state-of-the-art in music education and the music business. They had already engaged a firm from NYC to build the technology that would power a custom application portal when they approached Story+Structure to ensure the technology would appeal to their applicants and align with their well-regarded brand.

While we were brought in later than was ideal, we worked with Berklee Admissions to map the applicant journey, and then to prototype and test designs that would support a complex admissions workflow that included the submission of educational material, along with the scheduling of auditions throughout the world. Coordinating with vendor partners, we delivered an intuitive, on-brand experience built on a new technical platform on-time.

This began a long-term relationship with Berklee, who wanted to migrate all of their applications — Undergraduate, Graduate, Valencia (Spain), Summer, and Online — to a shared platform. struggled with how best to build applications.

Our initial engagement began half-way through the project, with a very tight timeline. Working with Berklee Admissions, we focused first on ensuring the application experience would be student-centered and on-brand. It was essential that the technology built to that point be used in order to deliver in time for the next admissions cycle. This required close coordination with other vendors.Upon the successful launch of the first application (Undergraduate), Berklee enjoyed an increase in enrollments and wanted to move to bring all their remaining applications onto the same platform. These all had different user experiences, backend workflows, and internal reporting lines.

There were two differing Salesforce implementations that had been approached in fundamentally different ways. In order for all groups to share a common platform, Salesforce expertise would be needed to rethink and align models before these could be connected to a common application platform.

It was not clear that the technology that had been built was suitable to scale to accommodate the remaining applications. While students found the experience to be superior to the old application, staff struggled on the backend. There was a push-pull between moving forward to realize economies of scale, and the suitability of the technology itself.

Berklee had a great deal of internal talent, but it was concentrated in the Online group, and effort was not coordinated. The move to a shared enterprise platform required a new governance model to coordinate talent and resources.

The Design Process
Our first priority was to map the application experience, ensuring that it would be intuitive from the applicant’s perspective, and that it also met the requirements of the Admissions team. There were several critical “triggers,” such as the need to receive deposits before auditions could be scheduled. This was important as auditions were held worldwide, in person, so the expense of travel had to be aligned with applicant

We developed several prototypes, and tested them with admissions staff and students, to quickly identify the most important steps, and develop visual and written design cues to move to the student forward through the process. At this point, we also mapped a supporting communications plan that could be built (in a future phase) in Salesforce. 

Working under a very tight timeline, we were able to coordinate with the technical vendor to implement the new applicant experience and launch the first undergraduate application.

As we considered migrating the remaining applications to this new enterprise platform, our process involved working simultaneously in three areas: design, technology, and governance.

Design involved establishing an iterative release schedule to learn from the prior release and fold improvements into the next release. Berklee’s initial aggressive schedule required flexibility, so as to ensure initial gains would be secured as changes and additions were made.

Technology proved to be challenging, as the tool proved to be less empowering than anticipated. We worked with Berklee to identify technology partners, and sought to bring in-house talent into a common team. We aimed to ensure Berklee had the skills and expertise necessary to migrate to an enterprise-ready platform that could scale across all admissions groups.

Lastly, governance was a key area of focus. Berklee had a lot of internal talent, but they had brought in a variety of vendors, and there was not a shared framework to focus efforts and ensure all admissions groups needs would be fully met. Effort (and expense) were not always fully aligned for long-term benefit. We advocated that Berklee should move to a position of self-sufficiency and this required a level coordination across units that had never happened before.

Berklee shifted its perspective from technology-first to student-first. Working closely with Berklee Admissions and leadership, we rapidly designed solutions together and then quickly tested them. This led to a complete change in how Berklee thought about the application experience.

We coordinated with a variety of other vendors — developers, Salesforce experts, designers — to bring to bear the right mix of talent to solve the complex array of challenges presented by Berklee applications. Ultimately, this was less about the application itself (though that was clearly very important) and more about how to manage the migration to a shared enterprise platform that would be used by multiple units reporting to different College leaders.

New application experiences were designed for Undergraduate, Graduate, Valencia (Spain), and Summer. Enrollments increased 12% after the launch of the undergraduate application.

We advised the Online group — which was the most unique in both workflow and technology use — to pause their planned migration until the governance model could satisfactorily ensure their business needs would be fully met by the platform. Our interest was in balancing the business aims of the unit against the long-term benefits of migrating to a shared platform and workflow.

Berklee committed to a “One Berklee” vision. Because of their unique market position, Berklee is often the only choice for many applicants starting when they’re very young. This means applicants may have engaged with Berklee as summer students, or that an undergraduate student may go on to an online or graduate degree. Over the course of these projects, Berklee shifted from seeing this as a problem to be solved by technology, to one that required that the student experience be placed at the center. This illuminated the need to commit to shared governance and shared in-house talent in order to design, build, and sustain an enterprise platform that could accommodate a complex student engagement and relationship strategy over many years