About CIIS

Since its founding in 1968, California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) has been at the  forefront of cutting-edge thought, integrating disciplines, redefining boundaries, and  pushing the academy to look at education differently. Our approach to education is  holistic and student-centered. Our curriculum unites the highest values of East/West  traditions and global experience. Our learning environment integrates all aspects of the  person: cognitive, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual. We encourage students to  look inward while reaching out. At our core, we celebrate the multifarious aspects of  people, place, and planet, and are committed to forging a more just and resilient world by giving our students the freedom and flexibility to explore.

CIIS is a private, non-profit university based in San Francisco, California with 25 academic degree programs, eight certificate programs, eight award-winning counseling and wellness community clinics, research centers—such as the Center for Psychedelic Therapy and Research, and a contemporary arts exhibition program. The University has more than 1,500 students, 341 staff, including 201 faculty members; and over 8500 alums from 48 countries and donors throughout the United States and on most continents.

Project Overview


Since 2015, CIIS has undergone two rebranding efforts, both undertaken in-house with  marketing staff. The first iteration was not positively received by the community, in large  part because CIIS stakeholders were not involved in the process. The second iteration, completed in 2019, included more stakeholders, but was based primarily on an internal discovery process and user research project. Out of this effort new brand standards and a temporary homepage for the website www.ciis.edu were developed, with plans to further develop the brand and website.

In September of 2021, CIIS welcomed a new President, S. Brock Blomberg. Under his leadership, CIIS has renewed its roots in the Seven Commitments and expanded its vision and strategic focus.

We are seeking an agency partner/consultant to build a best-in-class, modern website. and beautifully designed. The current site was built with Ingenuix and is underperforming; we expect the new site to be built on Wordpress, Drupal, or as otherwise recommended by our partner/consultant. We need the next evolution of our website to speak both internally and externally. Our key stakeholders are:

  • President Brock Blomberg and his senior leadership team
  • Our Board of Trustees
  • Our four schools and their respective leadership, administration, staff, and faculty
  • Enrollment/Admissions management and program-based admissions, recruiting, and retention staff
  • Our graduate and undergraduate current students across the four schools
  • Prospective graduate and undergraduate students across the four schools
  • Our alumni
  • Our critical Bay Area community supporters (including industry partners, civic associations, major donors, etc.)


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

Current Challenges

The new website will be WCAG 2.1 Level AA accessible

  • The current CMS/Web platform (Ingenuix) is not delivering: it’s unresponsive, can’t scale or handle multiple user processes and inquiries, and has limited ability to function with necessary 3rd-party tools.
  • Poor content management experience: steep learning curve for admins.
  • Suboptimal website UX due to system limitations: not enough flexibility to improve UX and create and test new web elements or update page layouts.
  • Inadequate search functionality that returns false or incoherent results.

Guiding Principles

CIIS Seven Commitments. CIIS is committed to a set of core values:

  1. Practice integral approaches to learning and research
  2. Affirm spirituality
  3. Commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion
  4. Foster multiple ways of learning and teaching
  5. Advocate sustainability and social justice
  6. Support community
  7. Strive for an integral and innovative governance

We expect these commitments to ground the process, inspire the conversation, and shape the integrated strategy and design.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We have recently restructured our DEI division, as these values are sources of strength. Our integrated strategy and website must serve a broad global audience and its design, messaging, and content should reflect the diversity of the CIIS community.

Transparency and Honesty. CIIS has been challenged in the past to get out of its echo chamber. We recognize this has held us back from being competitive in the marketplace. We expect and desire to hear hard truths in the service of making the CIIS brand more coherent and its community and offerings more sustainable.

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

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

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

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.

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 November 15, 2021
Questions Due Rolling (answers posted to website) 
Proposal Deadline December 17, 2021
Vendor Finalist Presentations Mid-January 2022
 Final Vendor Selected January 31, 2022
Engagement Begins Mid-June 2022
Site Launch Early February 2023

Services and Scope

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 or Zoom 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 standards and style guide. We want to develop a comprehensive digital design standard for www.ciis.edu that leverages the CIIS 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 CIIS logo suite, CIIS’ visual identity and style guide, and will discuss budget for licensed fonts and photography as needed.

Our web development partner/consultant will build:

  • An overall digital brand guide specific to ciis.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.

CMS. Build and deploy a new CMS platform and advise the 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 CIIS IT the CMS instance is accessible and secured to CIIS users.

Homepage. For many users, the CIIS 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 CIIS’ identity and brand. It will reflect CIIS’ 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 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.

Microsites and sub-sites. We would like the proposal to include 2-3 pre-designed (generic) templates at site launch for future microsite needs and a per-template or per- theme quote for additional microsites as needed. Each microsite will have:

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

Events calendar integration. The proposal must include integration of an events calendar 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
  • Sign up for notifications of upcoming events

Academic program browser. One frustration for current users of www.ciis.edu is the lack of comprehensive academic program information. Proposal must include the design and development of a robust academic program browser to display the academic programs and certificates 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.
  • Ability to compare two or three programs side-by-side.

Content management:

  • Ability to assign editor access to academic programs 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 CIIS- owned websites.

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

User testing. Please include anticipated compensation or incentives for participants in this budget proposal.

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

Evaluation Criteria

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

  • The team is diverse in skills and experience and includes members with extensive and strong backgrounds in global brands, including Higher Education, and redesigning complex websites. The project team is energized, consistently staffed, creative, and available.
  • The team is broadly representative in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, socio-economic status, and ability.
  • The examples of past work provided are relevant to this project and highlight the skills of a team that will be assigned to it.
  • 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.ciis.edu by February 2023.
  • The three references on similar projects consistently rate services and results as “excellent.”
  • Your methods inspire constructive thinking and demonstrate a striking ability to gain insights around target markets, user experience, and drive consensus among stakeholders. Strong cultural fit with CIIS is also important.

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 project (and how would you ensure that we wouldn’t face any major roadblocks)?

Inspiration for this project. We want www.ciis.edu to be beautifully designed, intuitive to use, and innovative while remaining true to CIIS’ brand. Please share a few URLs that illustrate brand strategy and design and 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 “CIIS” in the context of this project: What could (or should) CIIS’ 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 CIIS 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.

References. 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.

Presentation. CIIS is looking for a close partner on this project. To gauge alignment with our goals, you will be invited in for a 45-minute-long presentation. You will have a chance to present your technical proposal and answer questions for the CIIS 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 scope constraints. We would like to know what some of those were. This section is optional.


Michele DeMarco
Acting Director, Office of Strategic Communications and Relations

Seven Commitments

  1. Practice integral approaches to learning and research
  2. Affirm spirituality
  3. Commit to diversity and inclusion
  4. Foster multiple ways of learning and teaching
  5. Advocate sustainability and social justice
  6. Support community
  7. Strive for an integral and innovative governance

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