User Experience Design Immersive Retrospective: Weeks Four & Five

I’m in General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive course in Singapore, run by luke ↬ miller. It runs for 10 weeks, and we’re tasked to write a retrospective for each completed project cycle. Here’s how weeks four and five went.

SMU School of Accountancy Site Redesign

I was tasked with conducting a redesign of the SMU School of Accountancy’s existing site. The new site would have its information architecture and content strategy meet the needs of the users represented by three personas provided.

Defining the Scope

The first thing I did was to take stock of what was already on the site itself using a site map, so I knew what existed on the site itself.

Some of my initial observations from creating this map were:

  • the About section placed a lot of information together, including profiles of the advisory board, student clubs, alumni information and the download for the school brochure
  • within the Programs section, of the three courses offered, two of those (the masters programmes) launched into their own sub-page, with their own separate navigation schemes
  • some important information was buried, such as the syllabus page for the Bachelor of Accountancy, which was particularly difficult to find.
  • Most of the information pertaining to undergraduate admissions were only available on the university’s main site, and there were no links or calls to action for undergraduates to apply.

I also performed some competitive task flow analysis among other universities offering accountancy degrees for various personas’ actions to how where SMU’s site compared. In this example, a simple task such as finding the undergraduate course’s syllabus (an important task for personas Mark and Jessica) proves to be a real challenge on the SMU website, requiring users to go through five interactions to find the relevant information. The competitors, NUS and NTU, did better with four and three interactions respectively.

Clearly some work had to be done to clean up the site and make it more usable.

Laying the Groundwork

I wanted to know how well users understood the current labelling and categorisation of the site, and how it could be made better, so I turned to card sorting to see what users thought.

Some observations made during the card sorts were:

  • If users didn’t know where a card went, they sorted it into “About”
  • Some users didn’t know where information about students went, and it consequently ended up in “About” (where, coincidentally, it actually resides in the actual site)
  • No one had a clue what “Teaching Innovations” was supposed to be. There are two pages that go inside that main level category, neither of which were sorted correctly

With that data in mind, I made some adjustments:

Separating “Faculty” and “Research” and grouping the faculty and student pages together ended up testing much better in subsequent sorts, since users now thought to group all the people together. I decided to group “Research with “Teaching Innovations” for better use of a top level navigation category, and also because both “Research” and “Innovation” both invoke a sense of progress. It also tested better, though I suspect it’s more because it became the new catch-all category for cards users didn’t really understand (although they got the categorisation correct).

Next I did an information architecture heuristic evaluation of the site, based on Abby Covert’s 10 IA heuristics and centred around the persona’s needs. This was an excellent way to objectively evaluate the strengths and flaws of the site. For example, regarding value:

How is success being measured? Does it contribute to the bottom line?
 
Persona 1
Success measured by website’s ability to provide information about undergraduate course (BAcc) and enrolment.
+ Site provides multiple pages worth of information on benefits of course to aid in picking accountancy as major
- Site has no links, call to action for undergraduate requirements, application.
 
Persona 2
Success measured by website’s ability to show syllabus, degree requirements, upcoming events, and supply career advice.
+ information about school’s extra-curricular activities and upcoming events readily available.
- information about syllabus, class content, degree requirements not easily accessible or not available / links not available.
Persona 3
Success measured by website’s ability to provide information about post-graduate courses, and their relevant, full details.
+ post-graduate sub-sites provide plenty of relevant valuable information about schedules, learning outcomes, learning goals, etc. which fulfil user’s goals fairly well.

With all this information at hand, I began the work of restructuring.


The Restructure

The main changes I made were:

  1. Group for the faculty, student and alumni pages under “People” as a unified category for where one might find information about people of this school.
  2. Group for research-related pages and the old “Teaching Innovation” group to go under “Research & Innovation”.
  3. Restructure the “Bachelor of Accounting” section to improve user flow to relevant information. Added a course overview page to give prospective students a broad look at the information, as well as an “Application & Admissions” link in the navigation that leads to SMU’s dedicated enrolment page. The old site was also full of multiple small pages which I grouped together, and I elevated the important curriculum page to a more prominent level.

User Testing

I user tested the restructured site and flows by creating a prototype and asking users to perform a sample task: finding the curriculum page for the bachelor’s course. I also took the opportunity to revamp navigation on their mobile site.

Although responsive, navigation was a mess: opening the menu would only bring up the main School of Accountancy navigation (and the menu didn’t actually function), the images would scale incorrectly, and local navigation was relegated to the bottom of every page to a scroll/native dropdown menu.

You can view the prototype here: https://invis.io/EC5LUOO86

I went through about four iterations, taking tester feedback into account at every step and focussing on ease of navigation and intuitiveness. At the end all users were able to complete the task with relative ease.

Reflection

As a first major dive into information architecture, redesigning a university website was, admittedly, not the most exciting of things to do, though I did learn a lot about non-linear UX design. Our past projects involved taking things one step at a time, whereas for this one, we had many pieces we had to shape together into a formal conclusion.

This project was made especially difficult since I fell sick twice during, which made things a lot more challenging for me, and I lost some space to do more work, but I’m not dissatisfied with the end result, though I wish I had just a little bit more time to polish things up, but that might always be the case, illness or not.

In any case, onward to the next challenge!

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