PROJECT TWO • Nebraska College of Business Redesign

The second project I undertook for UXDI has been a taxing experience — multiple late nights and days powered by only two hours sleep — but, I’ve learnt a lot.

Project two entailed taking an existing college website and redesigning the layout and functionality to meet the needs of a predetermined persona. I was given the task of redesigning the College of Business Administration at Nebraska University which was no easy feat.

I started by examining the website, taking a brief tour through to familiarise myself with the college — as an Australian, the concept of a college and the American university system is new to me. I then assessed the two personas provided and chose one to concentrate on throughout the project and help guide my redesign strategy.

I focused on improving the experience of the website for current undergraduate students, using the persona Jessica — a 21 year old undergraduate Finance student returning from break. She needs to view class information such as syllabus, scheduling, and degree requirements as well as get career advice and finds scheduling a big pain. Based on her needs and pain points, I picked two tasks to achieve on the website.

1. Jessica wants to find out information about her current undergraduate Finance degree and see what classes are available.
2. Jessica wants to contact a career counsellor for advice.

I then went to the website and tried to complete both tasks — something you think would be easy, but in reality was quite the opposite. The current website for CBA is very messy. The homepage alone contains enough content to cover 7000+ pixels in length, which is extremely overwhelming for a user and also takes a long time to scan for information — especially if you’re looking for something specific. Out of the two tasks, finding a career counsellor advice was not extremely difficult, but still took a lot of careful consideration in order to deduce that I’d found the correct path and selected the right options. However, finding Finance degree information was immensely difficult, and in the end I’m not even sure I found exactly what I was after. The phrases and words used in the navigation were not intuitive and I spent quite a bit of time randomly clicking, hoping for the best. I noted the paths I used to complete the tasks as user flow diagrams and after my initial personal research of the website, I made an assessment of what pain points users would universally face:

  • Too much content. The content currently on the website (the homepage and various other pages in my task flows) is utterly excessive and overwhelming to look at.
  • Terminology and categorisation of navigation is not intuitive. Some of the key words used on the website are not consistent, and other are entirely unrelatable.
  • Navigation bar changes on every page. This was an unexpected and odd phenomena. Having the main navigation change between each page, for the user, is exceptionally unhelpful — especially if the user would like to navigate backwards. Additionally, people would not instinctively know to look at the main navigation for further options, meaning they’d miss certain options entirely.
  • Redundant repetition. The website repeats options several times on most pages, which seems like a waste of space, and also creates confusion.

I then conducted a content inventory for the homepage to assess what was included — which resulted in a ten-page-long spreadsheet (essentially confirming my content overload assumption). And then began doing some competitor research.

Content inventory.

From here, I compared the CBA website with three similar university competitors— Colorado State University College of Business, Harvard School of Business and University of Washington Fosters School of Business. I went through each website (including Nebraska), trying to complete both tasks and noted the navigation flow for each website in the form of user flows.

User flow for Washington University.

This was useful to see how other universities sorted and categorised their content, and similarities between what key words and phrases they determined were best. Some sites were much easier to navigate than others, and it was interesting to note the pitfalls that other competitors also fell into — such as the abundance of news articles over content and useful degree information. With the pages in my task flows, I assessed visually what universities included (and excluded) by content blocking. This too helped to determine layout trends and further my knowledge of best practice for my future redesign.

Content blocking comparison.

I took away a few key findings after synthesising my data:

  • Competitor pages are shorter and not as content heavy.
  • Similar terminology — but potentially easier to locate due to page size and location. (This I wanted to further analyse.)
  • Static navigation on all other websites.

After this, I conducted some user testing of the current website by building a clickable prototype using InVision with some low fidelity wireframes I created in Sketch. The purpose of this was to assess the trouble or ease with which people were able to navigate themselves through the two tasks and note their thoughts and feelings whilst doing it.

Wireframes.

Subsequently, five user tests later, I had most of my initial assumptions affirmed, and synthesised my data through affinity mapping the key points for each user journey.

I found that people were daunted by the large blocks of text and huge scrolling content. Also, the large number of options within the main navigation were too much, and my users spent a long time reading them to assess which one would best fulfil their task goals. The page that caused the most issues was the general finance page — overloaded with intimidating, heavy blocks of text and confusing terminology for (potentially) very simple and common outcomes, such as using the word ‘bulletin’ instead of ‘class list’ or ‘curriculum’. Additionally, as I suspected, no one noticed the navigation bar changed.

Taking these findings, I did further analysis of the website terminology by carrying out a Card Sorting exercise with, again, five users. I gave them the content headings within the college’s main navigation and asked them to sort various different words and phrases, relevant to my tasks, under the category they felt resonated with them most or made the most sense.

I discovered some very interesting and contradictory outcomes between my usability testing and my card sorting after I’d synthesised my data.

During card sorting, users agreed that information about degrees should fall under the ‘Academic Programs’ category, yet in user testing, the majority of people instinctively looked under the ‘Current Students’ category first. However, I believe this was due to my instruction — I told users that they were “a current student looking for information about their degree”, and with this front of mind, I think the phrase ‘Current Student’ stuck out to them.

From here, using all my research data, I began sketching out some ideas for my redesign. I made sure to focus on trimming the fat of the pages (fairly easy given most of it seemed redundant to my user’s tasks), keeping the main navigation static, and only presenting the user with a maximum of five options at a time (for both sub navigation and main navigation). Cutting down the choices available, and streamlining them into simplified categories with distinctive differences will, theoretically, help guide the user through with ease, and lessen confusion and decision making time by not having to compare as many phrases/words. I also decided to create a two column grid and include the sub navigation elements on the side.

After I was happy with the layout sketches, I began creating them as wireframes in Sketch — which really brought them to life. This time round, I also sketched out ideas for mobile responsive designs and wireframed them ready for prototyping.

Desktop.
Mobile.

Despite having made wireframes for both, I did unfortunately only get to build a second prototype version for desktop — next time I would like to create a mobile version as well. With time constraints being so tight, I also unfortunately didn’t get to do any usability testing on my redesigned website and second prototype — something I’m sure would have revealed crucial flaws in language and design.

In hindsight, time was my worst enemy on this project. The designer in me still wants to create things perfectly, and I find myself getting caught up on details that potentially don’t really matter. However, I still did manage to finish everything on time — which I think is a giant feat, taking into consideration the immense scope of this project. I feel proud of myself for being able to complete it all in only two weeks — something which definitely would not have happened had it not been for hard work and dedication. Project three, I’m sure, will reveal more improvements necessary in my process and hopefully I’ll start to feel like a real UX designer!

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