“Weird. It seems so well structured, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for…”

An Usability Test of the USC website as the final pre-work exercise of Ironhack’s bootcamp

The University of Southern California (USC) is a private research university founded in 1880 located in Los Angeles, California. As California’s oldest private research university, USC has historically educated a large number of the region’s business leaders and professionals. In recent decades, the university has also leveraged its location in Los Angeles to establish relationships with research and cultural institutions throughout Asia and the Pacific Rim. An engine for economic activity, USC contributes $8 billion annually to the economy of the Los Angeles metropolitan area and California. — Wikipedia

In order to check how usable its webpage is I conducted a usability test with Julia, 20 years old, graduated high school this year and wants to start college soon. (I know one person is insufficient for detecting patterns of pain points, I would normally do this research with 5 users but it served me to get into the process of conducting an UX Case Study)

Her first impressions on the webpage were: “looks serious, informative, the structure seems clear, I feel comfortable on this website”.

I asked her to the find the schools mascot. After a lot of clicks she gave up, she couldn’t find it. It didn’t appear when she used the Search function and the upper navigation bar is tiny so she had overseen the ‘sports’ section.

After that, I asked her to find out which is the nearest airport from the USC campus. She actually had good start, headed to contact area, tried afterwards the maps feature, but the airport wasn’t tagged. She couldn’t complete the task, but I haven’t found it either without leaving the University’s webpage.

The last task that I let her do was to find out if the school offers foreign language instruction for Arabic. After about 15 minute she found the Arabic Minor. Actually, this wasn’t even exactly what I asked her to do, because what she found was the Minor in Arabic and not Arabic as a foreign language course.

She made an interesting statement at the end of the test, refuting the first impression: “The page seemed to be organized but it’s totally confusing if you’re looking to find something in concrete”.

The usability test helped me to detect the main problems / pain points:

  • search function not reliable
  • there’s no description how to get to the campus from farer destinations
  • navigation bar at the top too tiny
  • University’s programs and courses should be easy to find in order to understand the course offer

As we all know, UX has not only consider the user needs but also the business goals. I used a 2x2 matrix to structure the importance of the different pain points.

My conclusion was that I should focus on most important issue: find an easy way to let the user inform herself about the courses and programs USC offers, as it is important for both the user and the University as the programs and courses are their main business.

So I brainstormed sketching out some possible solutions…

… before I came up with a solution what would be an easy fix for the USC homepage…

  • before
  • after:

… which totally throws in gear with the actual result page of USC catalogue:

Some key findings from the process I want to share with you:

  • the 2x2 matrix was a very helpful tool for me in order to structure the pain points and focus on the most relevant problem
  • I would like to have done the usability test with more users and that said, also validate the paper prototype

I am so happy about starting the bootcamp next Monday, can’t wait to dig deeper into all these concepts, trying out different approaches, never stop learning, practicing teamwork and having a lot of fun with my new classmates :)