Pixo + IPHEC
Pixo (On The Job Consulting d/b/a Pixo) is now a preferred vendor for Illinois’ public universities and community colleges through a partnership with the Illinois Public Higher Education Cooperative (IPHEC). We’re a woman-owned company headquartered in Urbana, Illinois, that’s been partnering with clients to untangle tough problems in content, design, and code for more than 20 years.
Our approach is to put people first, digging deep to find the “why” behind the “what” — who are you serving, what do they need, and how can we build technology to make that connection? Work with Pixo to create custom websites and applications that address your unique challenges, context, and needs.
Categories of services
- Technical & technical support
- Programming/application development
- Web developers
- IT security *
- Network engineers *
- Network administration *
- Quality assurance
- User experience design
- Database administration*
- Cloud services
- Enterprise architect
- System administration *
- Project management
* Pixo has competency in all of the above, but our preference is to work mainly in our specialties and avoid projects with a primary focus on these categories.
- Chicago State University
- Governors State University
- Northern Illinois University
- Southern Illinois University Carbondale
- Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
- University of Illinois Chicago
- Western Illinois University
- Eastern Illinois University
- Illinois State University
- Northeastern Illinois University
- Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
- University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
- University of Illinois Springfield
Pixo is also eligible to work with Illinois’ community colleges under IPHEC.
We are creative problem-solvers who care a lot about people and digital spaces. Our strengths extend beyond a bulleted list so we’d be happy to explore your unique ideas and challenges.
Since our founding in 1998, we have been a mecca for creative people who are ingenious and exacting in their craft, and who challenge themselves and others to grow every day. Only in this context are we able to dig deep enough to understand the true needs of our projects, design solutions that perfectly fit the organizations our technologies serve, and execute precisely on work that makes a lasting impact on our community and our world.
In 2014, for example, we launched a new website for the Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC), which connects vulnerable parents across Illinois with vital services that their struggling children need. They approached Pixo for help with several key issues and a vision of how they hoped to address those issues with a new website. Through carefully crafted interviews with key stakeholders and parents, we were able to rethink the role the website would play in their organization. Whereas the former site was an overstuffed file cabinet of documents, the new site professes, “We’re here to help,” and does just that. Visitors are calmly and quickly directed to follow one of two paths to get them started and to ensure their children are taken care of.
We are also driven to learn and improve. In 2018, we launched the first version of a portal for researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Spearheaded by the University’s Technology Services division, the site’s goal is to connect researchers with research technology tools spread throughout the campus. Though the initial site was a success, Technology Services and Pixo engaged in a second phase to understand how the portal was being used in the months after launch, and together we iterated on version 2 and launched the improved portal. Through extensive user research, we uncovered nuisances of researchers’ search behavior and needs. We translated our findings into an improved information architecture and were able to position the second version to better fit researchers’ mental models.
Our clients quickly learn that at Pixo, we never assume anything. We’re curious by nature, but the real reason we want to know about our clients’ organizations is that their mission has now become our mission. To execute these high-profile projects well, with the thousands of design and engineering decisions that need to be made, we need to absorb and feel our clients’ needs, expectations, and hopes. The projects we work on are typically significant learning and growing experiences for our clients. It’s not uncommon for clients to tell us that they have come to know more about themselves and are able to tell their stories in a powerful new way.
To perform at this level, we need to invest in our people. We have found that it is one thing to attract the best; it’s another to push the best to be better, and quite another to maintain a company culture that sustains and nourishes that environment for more than 23 years. We get better, more impassioned, and smarter every day.
Technical & technical support
Pixo provides both proactive support (i.e., preventive maintenance, such as uptime monitoring and software updates) and reactive support (i.e., as-needed support, such as fixing bugs and answering how-to questions) for our university clients. The size and scope of these engagements vary depending upon the technology stack of the software solution (e.g., a CMS website, web application, or mobile application) and whether the client has an in-house technical team.
Below, we outline the types of services we provide to keep software healthy, up-to-date, secure, and performant. Pixo can provide services for all of these tasks or share the responsibility with the client’s technical team and/or other vendors — with the expectation that all parties involved will keep each other informed to enable an effective partnership and ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
As our support clients encounter issues, the Pixo team provides technical support, bug fixes, and enhancements at our clients’ request. Each of our support projects is assigned a project manager and a primary support engineer, who are in charge of triaging inbound requests, pulling in designers if needed, and tracking all active issues until they are complete.
We are reachable via phone, email, or through our ticketing system — Pixo Help Desk. We respond to urgent, outage-level requests immediately. For non-urgent requests, we respond within 24 hours, ask clarifying questions, and set expectations on when we can fulfill each request. Pixo’s business hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Standard Time, and we do not guarantee after-hours, weekend, or holiday support. We’re also offline during our annual closures except for urgent issues.
- Monitoring: We use monitoring tools to alert the appropriate parties when a problem or outage arises. They can be configured to check for uptime, SSL, page performance, server performance, and hacks.
- Security patches and updates: Websites and web applications often rely on open-source software, plugins, and modules, and these third-party maintainers periodically release updates and security patches. It’s important to review the packages being used and keep them up to date with the latest possible version, and to plan for end-of-life (EOL). Keeping packages up to date will help remove security concerns, give performance boosts, and sometimes unlock new features.
- Backups and recovery planning: The ability to recover a website in case of a disaster is a must. We recommend having daily, weekly, and monthly rotated database backups stored off of the primary server. These backups should be automated, but we will also manually check them on a regular basis to make sure they are working as expected.
- SSL Certificates: Every website should have an SSL certificate and deliver all pages over a secure HTTPS connection. We regularly test to make sure this is working properly and to know when the SSL certificate will expire to avoid any lapse in security.
- Performance audits: Large images or video files, for example, can impact how quickly a webpage loads. Slow load times can frustrate website visitors and also impact Google indexing. Certain industry tools and metrics can help grade pages and identify problems, and we use these tools to make recommendations for improvements.
- Accessibility audits: Checking core pages or the entire website for accessibility problems or violations will ensure that all users can access the content and that the site is compliant with the most recent state and federal standards. We recommend auditing for accessibility problems and violations twice a year.
- Search visibility audits: Google and other search engines have tools that provide insight into how they see the website or application and into possible problems. We use these tools to review visibility health information and recommend appropriate actions.
- Content and traffic audits: Periodic content reviews and looking at the patterns of traffic analytics can show potential problems and opportunities. These reviews are performed by our content strategy team and range in depth, depending upon the strategic goals of the website or application.
Pixo has been developing custom software applications since our founding in 1998. Our team of full-time software programmers focuses on the entire application development lifecycle — from an initial concept to R&D and programming to long-term maintenance and enhancements.
Pixo has launched hundreds of websites and applications for corporate, non-profit, and higher education clients. Pixo developers are experts in many languages and embrace true full-stack web development, including containerized servers, semantic accessible HTML/CSS, and resilient backends and databases. We aim to build solutions that make sense for our clients’ involvement and current infrastructure to run applications in C# (.NET Core, Unity), PHP (Symfony, WordPress), jQuery, VueJS, ReactJS, and NodeJS. In addition, our team strives to stay current with best practices in continuous integration (CI), test-driven development (TDD), progressive web applications (PWA), Webpack and Lighthouse for page speed improvements, and Babel for improved browser compatibility.
Pixo pushes the envelope to use automated testing, automated build and deployment systems, and cross-browser testing practices to make sure web applications are rock-solid and can evolve at the pace of innovation.
We focus on collaborative engagements where technical and non-technical staff work closely right from the start. This close relationship with our clients ensures that our programmers fully understand the business requirements driving the project. And it also allows them to advise the project design and architecture to maximize development performance and longevity.
When it comes to building websites, our specialty is hand-crafted user experiences. The care we put into our process and code results in delight — both for the people creating content and managing sites and for visitors browsing sites we have built.
Our team has architected, built, and maintained countless content-managed websites over the years using Drupal, WordPress, and Symfony content management systems — many for higher education departments, colleges, and even whole campuses. We pride ourselves on understanding and catering to our clients’ unique needs to inform existing students, faculty, staff, and alumni and to attract and recruit new students and donors.
On the technical side, Pixo has multiple full-stack teams with different capabilities. Currently, we focus on custom WordPress sites using MVC architecture, theming using Twig, and building custom components with Advanced Custom Fields. We also have years of experience building and supporting Drupal. We build custom web apps in Symfony / PHP. All of our developers have experience creating websites with different levels of configuration (from static site generators (SSGs) to content management systems (CMS) to headless CMS systems). Each member of the team is an expert front-end developer and has written a variety of custom web components and widgets, supported and maintained design systems, managed the component systems of large website ecosystems, and optimized sites for page-speed performance. They are knowledgeable and passionate about the web and web accessibility; we adhere to Atomic Design and Clean Code principles.
Content author experience
The administrative experience we create for content authors includes just the right amount of control — balancing ease of use and creative expression. Our approach lets our clients avoid two very common extremes in CMS development:
- Pages that are unstructured and plain, OR
- Pages that are complex, fragile, and are generally difficult to work with for authors.
To accomplish this, Pixo has pioneered the concept of content components, a unique author experience for creating pages. Our component-based approach gives authors the ability to creatively build website pages using a suite of custom-designed content pieces (e.g., text, media, calls to action, contact cards, etc.) while enforcing essential standards such as style, accessibility, responsiveness, and clean code to ensure content on each page displays as intended every time.
Each page we build has the end-user in mind. We focus heavily on all aspects of user experience — the things a user can see and the things they can’t. We create aesthetically pleasing designs and delightful user interactions. Underneath the hood, we ensure quick load times and thoughtfully structured page data that make website content look good when shared across the web and accessible for search engines to find and index (which enhances SEO). We make use of modern techniques such as asset compression, pre-fetching, and lazy loading to make pages feel light and nimble.
Building our expertise
The web industry is constantly moving and evolving. To remain a top-tier team of developers, we invest time each week sharing knowledge and expertise within our teams, and multiple times throughout the year, we participate in industry-leading conferences and workshops.
Pixo’s team includes experts in data modeling and analysis who work with all relevant stakeholders to identify data and metadata needs. We design appropriate data models to store and manage critical enterprise information. We’re familiar with working with datasets containing millions of records, including confidential information that may be subject to FERPA and HIPPA requirements. It’s our job to guide the process to establish an enduring data model using industry standards and best practices.
Pixo has a long history of delving deeply into organizations to understand the driving business goals and software users’ true needs and concerns. Our research process includes interviews with organizational stakeholders and members of key user groups and collaborative work sessions. Past examples include group whiteboard sketching sessions, affinity diagramming, and object-oriented UX workshops. In all of these activities, our goal is to uncover and document functional requirements and business needs.
Our documentation often takes the form of written user stories and functional specification documents. It serves as the foundation for the engineering team’s work and remains a crucial deliverable that we reference throughout the lifecycle of a project.
We often supplement written requirements with diagrams that help ensure the whole team is on the same page. Business Process Model Notation (BPMN) diagrams are one type of these diagrams that use a specific visual language to formalize business processes. We find that review, discussion, and revision with stakeholders lead to more accurate and well-rounded requirements with these tools.
Pixo believes that the best software projects are grounded in software requirements that can be understood and evaluated by all key stakeholders. By providing clear documentation incorporating information from many types of participants, we can surface conflicting opinions early in a project and move forward with solutions and concrete goals.
Our quality assurance experts and robust testing regimen ensure world-class software solutions for our clients’ users. Of course, the occasional bug or unanticipated issue is inevitable in any complex project, but our quality assurance (QA) processes help to illuminate issues and solve them early in the development process. We take the lead in accessibility, testing websites and applications across devices, operating systems, and browsers with an eye toward responsiveness. From day one, we are establishing a plan for ensuring quality.
In terms of accessibility, we follow W3C WCAG 2.1 Level AA and federal Section 508. Accessibility has been a core value and competency at Pixo since 1999, when we became early pioneers, in collaboration with world-renowned accessibility experts at the University of Illinois, to bring accessibility to the web for hearing and sight-impaired users. Pixo is a thought leader in pushing the envelope of web accessibility:
- We have presented at national conferences focusing on accessibility.
- We have contributed code to Drupal core and coordinated a worldwide group of contributors, making Drupal highly accessible (you can see our name listed as “accessibility co-maintainer” in every copy of Drupal 7).
- We blog and speak on modern web accessibility and ARIA.
- We are co-authors of the Accessibility Bookmarklets, an open-source toolset for helping web developers test modern websites and web apps.
- We are the technology vendor of choice for clients such as the Iowa Department for the Blind and the University of Illinois Disability Resources office, two leaders in the field of web accessibility.
User experience design
Our user experience (UX) team includes experts with the following specialties: user research, usability testing, information architecture, content strategy, user interface design, and visual design.
Many of our team members engage in user research. Our most valuable information comes from talking to users directly — over the phone, on video chat, or in person. We also facilitate in-person and online research via questionnaires, facilitated group discussions, card sorting, and collaborative “games.” We engage in rigorous analysis and synthesis of our research efforts and deliver findings via presentations and/or written reports. It is not unusual for our clients to tell us that they have gained insight about their institution and their clients that they could not have seen from within.
Pixo’s content strategists are experts at untangling complex, information-dense websites and applications and reshaping them into a more strategic version that meets the institution’s and the users’ goals. Content strategists rely on a thorough examination of the current content (a content inventory and audit), an in-depth understanding of the various user types of a website, and details about what an institution needs and wants to communicate to its audience. Often working closely with a communications team on the client-side, content is deleted, edited, and created to meet the needs of the reimagined site. Our content strategists and UX designers create the information architecture, which details the navigation and organization of the new site, to communicate the new vision to the client and other project team members such as designers and developers.
Information architecture starts with researching to understand the users, context, and content of a particular problem space. Once that research is analyzed and synthesized with our clients, our architects identify goals and create user stories that serve as the conceptual models for iterating through solutions. Once the rough ideas have been thoroughly explored, our concepts take shape in the form of clickable wireframes that demonstrate the breadth and depth of the application, how it will be organized, and how the user will navigate through it. The wireframes allow us to communicate our ideas with project stakeholders, and those conversations serve as a jumping-off point for further iteration.
Many of Pixo’s team members engage in usability testing. Usability tests can be conducted at the beginning of an engagement before any changes are made to establish a baseline, during the iterative design process, or at the end of the project where there is working software (pre- or post-launch). We test a site or application by asking actual users of the software to try to complete scripted tasks. We observe what users do and ask them to think aloud so that we may understand problem areas that need to be addressed. Usability tests are both a good preventive measure as well as a regular maintenance task.
User experience design is an iterative process where we create low-fidelity versions of screens to test ideas and strategize about potential solutions to the problems at hand. Pixo’s UX design efforts are based on earlier user research and usability tests. We engage in quick iterations with feedback loops with our client stakeholders so we can explore many possible interface arrangements and interactions. UX designers work closely with UI designers to realize our best ideas in higher fidelity.
Pixo’s UI designers bring a website or application to life. Their work is also research-based, and before designing, they take the time to understand a client’s current branding, their competitors and peers, and appropriate tone and style for the project. Pixo’s designers thrive on a collaborative process, sharing partial designs with clients early and often, so we can refine and improve the design together. Our designers also work closely with our front-end developers to create delightful and meaningful interactions.
Under the user experience umbrella, the Pixo team specializes in research-based, collaborative, human-centered design processes. Our work as user researchers, usability testers, information architects, content strategists, user experience designers, and user interface designers ensures our software works for real people.
Pixo has expertise working in modern cloud-based environments, including Amazon AWS, Heroku, and Rackspace Cloud. We also regularly work with University of Illinois on-campus hosting, including VMs and servers available from AITS, Technology Services in Urbana, and SDD in Chicago.
Integrations with numerous systems have become a key part of most software projects in today’s modern IT landscape. Pixo’s team of analysts and software engineers routinely serve as integration specialists by delivering analysis, design, and implementation of integrations. We thoroughly plan and document complex interdependencies and data flows to successfully deploy integrated software solutions.
Pixo has specific experience integrating with many tools and platforms used by University of Illinois units, including Banner/EDW data, Shibboleth, Bluestem, Sharepoint, and existing custom applications in platforms such as Microsoft .NET. We have also worked with Illinois iPay and the UI Foundation giving system, as well as data feeds into financial systems such as Sage and Quickbooks.
Finally, Pixo has done hundreds of other types of integrations with third-party services. Our team is familiar with both JSON and XML APIs that utilize REST, Oauth, HMAC, PowerBI, ERP platforms, pagination, and versioning. We have seen the pitfalls of integrating into new APIs that will have breaking changes, and we take steps to mitigate them. On the hardware side, we have multiple projects integrating sensor data over Bluetooth, WiFi, Serial, and even QR codes for small configuration data.
Building software that lasts and can be built upon in the future requires a solid foundation by a team that understands the challenges that each client faces. Pixo provides the oversight and big picture thinking required to make useful and usable systems.
On larger system projects, we often take time in the early weeks to build working prototypes of proposed solutions to prove how goals can be functionally achieved with our interface and technology approaches. We undertook such an experiment on the system project for the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries of Illinois (CARLI). Among other goals, this project replaced a Microsoft Excel and email workflow for communicating with academic publication vendors with a web application that streamlines the workflow. An early stage prototype in this project helped identify technology and interface pitfalls, allowing Pixo to adjust project plans and timelines for further ideation on the thorniest issues.
Technical architects ask the hard questions and lead the team to solutions, including platform and tool selection; system architecture design; algorithms and APIs; testing approaches; go-live sequence; build systems and deployment tools; and high-traffic scalability. When it comes to high-traffic systems, Pixo routinely uses load testing tools to proactively evaluate whether a system will scale and address any problems before a system is subjected to real-world users.
Pixo believes that success in technical architecture is grounded in detailed analysis, planning, documentation, and verification. This starts at the beginning of any project, peaks when the technical requirements and design are developed, and continues through go-live.
Project management at Pixo is handled by a trained and dedicated staff whose primary focus is maintaining overall project health. Project managers are an integral part of our project teams and work closely with our university clients to ensure that our time is focused on delivering value and working towards established goals.
Accomplishing that is a multifaceted process:
- Our PMs work with the internal team and project stakeholders to create a project plan that documents the project timeline, milestones, deadlines, and dependencies. The project plan acts as a shared resource to guide our efforts and measure our progress, and we update the plan throughout the project as variables inevitably shift. More granular tasks are planned and tracked across disciplines in our task management tool, Jira.
- Our PMs facilitate collaborative and productive discussions. Because our process relies heavily on inclusive ideation and feedback, we prefer to meet on a weekly basis to workshop ideas and to demonstrate and discuss our active work. We use Zoom for web-conferencing and utilize online collaboration tools, such as Miro, to simulate in-person work sessions.
- Our PMs monitor and analyze the interplay between the project budget, timeline, and deliverables and openly communicate about project risks. We document and send this information to our university clients via weekly written status reports and openly discuss and troubleshoot any areas of concern with our university point of contact.
- Open and active communication is key to project success, so our PMs work closely with our university point-of-contact to develop a communication strategy that considers what project stakeholders to include when and what communication channels to leverage. We use Basecamp to centralize written communication, meeting notes, file storage, and documentation; Slack for more immediate information sharing and Q&A; and an old-fashioned phone call when a real-time conversation is best.
Eligible community colleges
- Black Hawk College
- Carl Sandburg College
- City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) Harold Washington College
- City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) Harry S Truman College
- City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) Kennedy-King College
- City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) Main
- City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) Malcolm X College
- City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) Olive-Harvey College
- City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) Richard J. Daley College
- City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) Wilbur Wright College
- College of DuPage
- College of Lake County
- Danville Area Community College
- Elgin Community College
- Harper College
- Heartland Community College
- Highland Community College
- Illinois Central College
- Illinois Eastern – Frontier
- Illinois Eastern – Lincoln Trail
- Illinois Eastern – Olney Central
- Illinois Eastern – Wabash Valley
- Illinois Valley Community College
- John A. Logan College
- John Wood Community College
- Joliet Junior College
- Kankakee Community College
- Kaskaskia College
- Kishwaukee College
- Lake Land College
- Lewis & Clark Community College
- Lincoln Land Community College
- McHenry County College
- Moraine Valley Community College
- Morton College
- Oakton Community College
- Parkland College
- Prairie State College
- Rend Lake College
- Richland Community College
- Rock Valley College
- Sauk Valley Community College
- Shawnee Community College
- South Suburban College of Cook County
- Southeastern Illinois College
- Southwestern Illinois College
- Spoon River College
- Triton College
- Waubonsee Community College