University of Virginia: Usability Case Study and Redesign

Paolat De la Cruz
May 29, 2019 · 5 min read

The University of Virginia is also known as U.Va., UVA or Mr. Jefferson’s University is a public university located in Charlottesville, Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson. It is the only American university designated as a World Heritage Site.

Here we are going to make a Usability Test if their Website and see how the Information Architecture is working for the users.

Who is the target of the website?

Well, the target its quite huge because should include undergraduate and postgraduate students or candidates (18–35 y), plus teachers (25–65y), parents or grandparents (40–85y), investors, fans, and any other person that may be just going to the website for curiosity.

Usability Test

To be clear in which way users are struggling with the website lets ask them to make some tasks, and see how it go and how they feel. First Giving a few minutes to familiarize. Second, asking:

What do you think about the University of Virginia Website?

“ Looks nice, and words are big and clear”, “The Menus are clear, and the colors have contrast”, “Nice pictures”.

Finding Specific Information on the website: Process, feelings, and pains

Then, the users were asked to find these subjects on the website, without using the Search Engine:

a) The school mascot

To find the school Mascot was hard because there's not a specific link talking about this, so there were many articles that talked about the UVA mascot “Cavman”. So most clicks were given in this order:

  1. Home Page
  2. Athletics (Opens a New Website) Virginia Sports
  3. Fans
  4. Virginia Cheerleading
  5. And there's a title that says Cavman Appearance Request

But after the users got to this place, they felt they didn't find the right information. Why? because there no words that specify that the Cavman is the official mascot, the University assumes that the people who are using the website already know this. So the users kept looking on the website, after finding 3 articles or mentions of the Cavman with no official declaration about who was he, they gave up.

Time on this: around 5–25 clicks.

b) If the school offers foreign language instruction for Arabic

To find the Arabic classes they have to follow these clicks:

  1. Home Page
  2. Academics
  3. Undergraduate Studies
  4. Undergraduate Majors
  5. Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures (Opens New Website)
  6. Middle East: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian
  7. Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures: And there you see the list of courses for Arabic.

Most of the users got lost trying to find this subject. They thought that the link of International Studies (in Academics Link, at Point 2) will take them to this area when the meaning of this link is about Studying abroad and information for International Students to come to the UVA to study. The average time to took the users to find the Arabic classes were of 6–8 minutes and between 10–21 clicks.

The users felt: stupid, annoyed and wanting to use the Search Engine because they felt lost. The wording of the website and way the titles of these 2 subjects are written made them make questions on how this could be similar or confusing. A person who is not related cannot understand the difference that the class could be part of a Major Study topic and related more the Arabic instruction to international activity.

c) The nearest airport to the school

To find the information about the nearest airports the users have to follow these clicks:

  1. Home Page
  2. About us
  3. Charlottesville and Beyond
  4. Scroll until the end and find the link of Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport

This tasks all users did it quickly and founded very fast, scanning the website links and bold letters.

The users felt very happy to complete this task without any problems. The task was completed on average in one minute.

Problem to Solve

So, analyzing the prior answers, reactions, and behavior of users finding those specific topics, we could say:

  • When organizing website information, is crucial to have common sense (in the most basic way) for the titles and take in mind with what people would relate things (makings tests of course). This is the main problem for finding “Foreign language instruction for Arabic”. The title of International Studies on the principle menu (about international students and studying abroad) confused the users about what to find there and made them forget that if the subject to find is a class, should be in an Undergraduate or Graduate program. This kind of details can really make users take different paths of search.

How can we solve it?

The “Foreign language instruction for Arabic” pain of finding, is not to put like Languages Courses on the principal menu (because all the university programs are organized with a certain hierarchy), is to change the title of International Studies because this is the title that is confusing the users (they related Arabic as an international topic, because is not the official language of the country were the university is). The main content of International Studies link is International Students and Education Abroad. I propose to better add this 2 links to Academics, so the users can focus on searching Language Learning topics search on specific programs like Undergraduate and Graduate.



Is very important to pay attention to what the user is clicking, and most importantly why?. Some contexts of word organizations make people take wrong desitions of clicking paths, just because of the context of titles.

Even if in the main process of Information Architecture building everything was clear, after the UI implementation of the information, is always good to back and read and see. And of course, make usability test like this one.


Paolat De la Cruz

Written by

Caribbean UX / UI designer with branding and editorial design background working in Europe — In my free time I tell bad jokes while I cook something I drew.

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