Testing for usability — University site.

Today, we have subjected the website of an American University to an usability test.

Rice University

Located on a 300-acre tree-lined campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is approximately 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is highly ranked for best quality of life by the Princeton Review and for best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

For this, I have had the collaboration of Dani, a 35 years old user, familiar with technology and web environment.

Initial observations

First of all, I have given 7" to get a first impression of the website.

And I have asked him to give me a small phrase or a group of adjectives:

““It’s a clean and modern website. Strange to start with “ABOUT” word, maybe I need an introducing as to find the ”University” word in the home…””

Usability testing

To find how “easy to use” this website for this user, I propose him to find three specific information ask them to answer all questions (without leaving the university website that is being tested and without using the web site’s internal search feature):

  1. The school mascot
  2. If the school offers foreign language instruction for Arabic
  3. The nearest airport to the school

While, I took some notes on how the user interacted with the application and where there might be a need to redesign the flow…

Main problems detected

  1. The videos and images of the home are too important and take up too much space. They do not let you see that there are other fields of information below. (In 13-inch monitors especially…).
    They are also easily clickable inadvertently and they end up taking you to other parts that do not interest you.

2. The top menu goes virtually unnoticed because it has the same gray tone as the chrome bar. And there are like two secondary menus in one…separated…

3. The information in the sections of “Academics” and “Admissions & Aid” are confused … And the users are not clear where to look for the information on the STUDIES that the university offers.

4. There are some sections within the same domain, which do not maintain exactly the same style. For example:

5. There are other sections that seem main but that take you off from http://www.rice.edu/ and take you to another site (or microsite) with a similar design. This confuses the user because he does not know if he is inside or outside… and if he surf around and realises that here is not what he wanted, he can only return to the main page by clicking “Back” several times. Examples:

Wich pain points I’ve focused on

“UX is at the intersection of user and business goals, understanding these can help you prioritize which pain points to solve for.”

I think that problem 4 is obvious, has an easy solution and that the university will be solving it soon.
Pain 5 might be lighter just by opening those external links in an external tab (_blank).
So I’m going to make an improvement proposal for problems 1, 2 and 3.

Plan to solve it

First I consider the sections of the menus and the need for a sub-menu above … as well as the terms that define them.

I propose to group and rename some sections.

Finally:

THE UNIVERSITY
STUDIES
RESEARCH
CAMPUS LIFE
ALUMNI

About the top menu problem… we could simply change its color background to highlight its presence on the screen.
But really, analyzing its sections, I consider that some may be included in the main menu and others can go directly to the footer.

And finally about the first problem, we can redefine some proportions and make some design changes to ensure that the user perceives the lower content.

Conclusions and learned things

Unable to build a prototype and validate my proposals, I am very satisfied with the analysis made, the problems encountered and the ideas for improvement.

What do you think? Do you think the new design would improve or worsen the usability of the site?

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