Usability Case Study: Princeton University

Background

My goals for this case study is to analyze the Princeton University website.

Chartered in 1746, Princeton is the fourth-oldest college in the United States. The University has been led by 20 presidents, spanning colonial times to the 21st century.

User persona

Name: Pablo. 
Demographic: 37 year old male, lives in major metropolitan areas, no kids.
Behavior: Works as a VFX artist, plays paddel, enjoys having drinks with friends and loves music.
Needs & Goals: He is complementing his studies with a master’s degree, would love to work for a big firm.

Pain points

Overall, Pablo described the website as complex, with no personality, cold and with too much information. He mentioned that pictures were too stereotyped (too many smiling and happy faces). On the other hand, he thought the colors were nice and coherent, and he was convinced that it will help him to remember the site in the future.

He held the navigation was complex and he didn’t like the structure. The website is massive and the information is heavy (as I guess, most of the universities). Apart from that, he thought the homepage was ok. He would have liked the rest of the website to be structured like the homepage.

He quickly pointed out that the two menu bars were confusing and he couldn’t understand them. He didn’t know if they were independent of each other. He also believed some sections should be switched.

In general, he thinks the website is no intuitive and the menus are not helping with searches. He became lazy to dig into its large menu.

After trying to cheat with the searching tool, he needed 4 clicks to find the university mascot. He obviously checked the history section first but the information wasn’t on their timeline. After that, he found it at the university sports site.

After 10 minutes and having clicked everywhere, he gave up on finding if the school offers foreign language instruction in Arabic. He, again, complained about the menus and felt overwhelmed.

It took him 4 clicks to find the nearest airport to the school. The first thing he did was to click the contact us section and then he realized it was on the visit us section.

Solution

As I see it, the main problem is the menu structure and hierarchy. The website has a lot of information and the menu is not clear enough. In this case, a card sorting exercise would be really useful to organize concepts.

Prototype

I have tried to rearrange the menu and play with color to make a clear hierarchy.

I have decided to keep the two menus separated but I have improved their visuals to show they are independent of each other. I have kept the top menu with all the content that is not academically related and I have highlighted it with the corporate color. I have also grouped concepts for topics.

The second menu has been shortened and I have highlighted the admission button.


I especially enjoyed the research part, I had so much fun observing how someone is interacting with a site and makes you think how we all behave differently.

Designing a website university is really challenging because of its massive information. I believe it requires lots of user research and a great work of sorting categories. I have realized pointing out problems are easier than finding the right solution.