SP | Singapore Polytechnic
Project 2 Retrospective: Re-designing Singapore Polytechnic websites Information Architecture.
For this project, the task was to conduct research, business comparison and heuristic analysis of the Singapore Polytechnic’s website and based upon the findings, develop and re-design the Information Architecture to better meet the goals of the users, the school, while further defining the existing brand. Three pseudo personas were given to us for which the redesigned information architecture should cater to meet their specific needs.
I began by applying a heuristic evaluation and analysis to the current website. The existing direct and underlying issues were apparent from the get go and putting myself into the shoes of a perspective or current students, the problems that I faced trying to use the site was nothing short of painful and could probably be likened to a 4.0 Pepsis wasp sting from the Schmidt Pain Index (SPI). This would be further tested and proven with real test subjects later on only with less humurous pain descriptions.
The websites hierarchical architecture has multiple and repetitive topic headers shared within various categories across the website. Coupled with duplicated events with unspecific or outdated information are just to name a few od the issues.
To quickly summarise, the current site doesn’t meet with many or any of Jacob Nielsen’s 10 heuristic principles and this was something I’d try to rectify in my proposal.
Content audit and business comparison:
An analysis and a competitive business comparison study was conducted between two of SP’s competitors site and while there were some striking similarities between there inefficiencies, both competitors seem to perform better in terms qualitative evaluation.
A complete site content audit was conducted with the help of two colleagues also assigned to the SP site. This was an extensive and time consuming process but very insightful as laying out the content, first in a spreadsheet and later in an existing site map, could the extent of all micro sites and endless sub categorised content folders be discovered and fully analysised and appreciated along with the gravity of the task at hand.
The current site has the information pertaining to the three personas but makes it almost impossible to find and takes far too long for it to be retrieved.
Conducting research analysis through interviews, card sorting studies and usability testing with prospective and current students was a challenging process. I began by creating research participant screeners specifically targeting the three personas criteria. The response was not ideal and the only solution available was to seek and draw on hypothetical participants to roll play a particular persona as well as heading to the campus to meet and interview current students.
Testing various subjects, setting them clear tasks on what to locate, more often than not resulted in failing efforts. An interesting observation, was that even once a item was located, conducting the same test a few minutes later would result in another failed attempt — not a very memorable flow process. Timing also proved to be an issue with what should be a simple task taking far longer than expected.
As the personas had already listed out their pain points, getting the perspective from actual users whether perspective or current was an invaluable insight into the fundamental issues.
I also discovered that the majority of the current students interviewed never went onto the SP website and solely used the student portal for all academic, administrative and CCA requirements. It was through this discovery that I decided to change my persona focus as, although I had viewed an interviewees student portal page, there just wasn’t sufficient information available to me to make significant and purposeful changes to based on actual user feedback and that I was having more luck working through the user flow of perspective students.
Both Open and Hybrid card sorting exercises were conducted with current students on campus as well as participants who would best suit the perspective student rolls in both a student looking for full time courses and continued learning scenarios through online platforms. The findings of these exercises greatly helped inform the solution and proposed alternative to refining the information architecture. The process helped define what categories should remain, which should be consolidated or renamed and what alternatives could be included. The sorting exercise informed the fact that regardless of a continued learning header a mature perspective student would still first look to course information which wouldn’t be found in the current site.
While only tackling a portion of the problems some of the subtlest moves could have a fairly major impact on the users experience and site flow. Creating a format so information can be found and retrieved clearly and decisively without having to navigate to countless sites could make all the difference on converting a perspective student into an enrolled one.
Without discussing and engaging the stakeholders, a redesign of the website would not fulfil the brief requirements as it’s not clear what details of the existing site are absolute requirements that service and meet their business needs. This would have to be discussed and resolved in the next stages but based on the initial findings, the following are what I set out to resolve proposed redesign:
- Simplify the hierarchal information system
- Remove repetitive sub-categories and sub-section directories
- Rename categories proven to show that current and prospective students alike are unable to identify with
- Consolidate information for current students to a single tab with access to students portal
- Introduced categories pertaining to the specific requirements of our 3 persona case studies
- Cross link related information
Prototype and usability testing:
The brief also required a working prototype and so I set out with wireframing and then with limited Axure knowledge and short time constraints I decided against pursuing some of the more ambitious site interactions and worked within the bounds of what I felt was achievable within the given dead line,trying to learn and implement as many site features as possible and concentrating on the user flow for my chosen persona (Mark).
In truth, I don’t think that did nearly enough testing, and that is something I would address in the next steps. From what testing a had conducted was incredibly valuable in identifying user issues immediately and sometimes not only resulted in fundamentals to the UI and graphic layout concerns but to the information architecture having to be re-addressed. Highlighting that the processes are very much a continuance and could potentially be in a constant state of iteration.
The next steps:
- When taking the design further I would like to implement and cleaner more effective layout with clearer navigational directions.
- Further combine sub level information to reduce the navigation steps
- Appraise the existing content with SP overview to further reduce unnecessary content
- Make additional navigational and layout amendments to the prototype
- Further test the dropdown menus to understand if navigations are identifiable and clear to more users
If i’m honest I think I’d take a page from Mike Monteiro’s book, ‘Design is a job’ and wouldn’t volentarily touch this project unless the client understood the current state and were willing to start from scratch.
My solution is not ground breaking but serves to answer the brief and address the issues of the users through revised information architecture.