Research has shown that the non-academic aspects of student life play a huge role in attracting a prospective student, encouraging them to enroll, maintaining a satisfying experience while a student, and loyalty after graduation. The purpose of the Student Life section of the Kent State University website is to support students’ needs and desires outside of class. The Student Life and Campus Safety sections of the site are currently not well organized: a patchwork of links, images, and sections that could do a better job of meeting site visitors’ expectations.
We identified the four top-priority audiences for this section of the site:
new undergraduate students
Parents of students
Current on-campus undergraduates
Online graduate students
Based on observation and research, we found that these audiences had many needs and goals in common. We created a persona for each of these groups that summarized these desires. The following is a summary of the kinds of content that would resonate with these people.
University Business goals
Kent State Student Life program staff feel over worked and short of time. The technical side of managing the CMS is more time-consuming than it should be. They also are not necessarily writers or editors. They have very little time to actually post and manage content—most of their day is spent managing the student programs.
Connect students with clubs and student organizations across different sub sites
Communicate commitment to safety
Support, communication, and training from the IT department
A simple to use CMS that they are familiar with, no changes
Knowing what content is most popular, and highlighting it
Having a regular schedule for new content, a content management policy
Page profiles or templates for safety alerts and a way to post them as timely notifications
Know how to implement accessibility
Integration with other sections of the KSU web site
Information organization. Students and parents both are busy and trying to multitask, but for different reasons. They should be treated as if they have attention deficits. Many of the students actually do suffer from ADHD and are sensitive to information overload. Home page layouts should be minimalist and have a simple, uncluttered feel. Highlight priority items without distractions from secondary items.
Safety alerts. Students and parents are very concerned about security. Web editors should have discussions with IT about how to post timely and regular safety updates to the site.
Content silos. Editors should be able to populate content across different sections of the larger site. Technology should make this simpler, not more complex.
Content calendar. Make it clear where content is coming from and when. There could be regular schedules for each type of content to be posted so a program manager knows what to expect.
Analytics. Content editors should have access to analytics so they know what pages are most popular, and get feedback so they know how to make important business content more visible.
Project produced while a student project at Kent State University UXD program. The Persona Experience Framework is by Brand Therapy.
As a writer, you fight a war against indifference. You have to force people to care enough to click through to your story. You have to convince them to take a chance on you… —Quincy Larson, Free Code Camp
Terrain.org is an online literary magazine that publishes high quality essays, poetry, and creative nonfiction about the natural and urban environments. This project aimed at increasing readership, encouraging more engaged reading of longer essays, and maybe there by increasing donations. I conducted usability interviews, and an expert review with four other designers. My role was user researcher. I interviewed people in person and interpreted the results. In collaboration with the publisher and site owner.
A casual glance shows Terrain.org looks beautiful and is doing well. It has lots of visits ( 200,000–250,000 in 2015) and a large list of subscribers. But, there are some pain points. The number of subscribers had leveled off. Analytics showed the bounce rate is high and average time spent on site is low–a major concern for a literary magazine featuring long essays.
In 2015 were down 4.75% from the previous year
Only 20% of the total viewers were returning visitors.
85% of visitors exit from the home page.
The average number of pages viewed is 1.5.
The number of new subscribers has leveled off and few people use the “donations” link (less than 1% of site traffic).
Since Terrain is an all online journal and there are a lot of challenges to reading longer articles on screens, we started comparing how people read online as compared to print magazines. After a review of the literature on readability and surveying similar text-heavy sites, we conducted an expert review of the site usability. Next we conducted live interviews and walk-throughs of the site with both current Terrain readers and potential readers.
We wanted to understand the goals of new visitors and things like:
How does site usability and typography influence engagement with longer literary texts?
How do most Terrain readers arrive at the site?
What are their motivations for coming there?
How do they search for content they want to read.
In addition, we asked people how they thought about donations, to this and other sites. Is the Donate button too small to easily find?
I created a matrix of results from the expert usability review (also called a heuristic evaluation) showing the scores, and comments for each check point, as well as an overall score for the site (54%).
I recorded user interviews using audio and screen capture videos. From our notes and transcripts, I organized the rich qualitative data obtained from the interviews by research question, using affinity mapping with sticky notes. I also noted new themes and ideas coming out of the research. I then organized this data into a Findings and Recommendations Matrix, featuring quotes, summaries and key insights from each participant.
Most users commented positively on the site design, admired the images, and eventually read something interesting. Yet, the site’s overall usability score is below average. Users in the interviews were more forgiving than the experts, and combining both methods we found key design edits that would increase readability without changing the site’s WordPress theme.
Most people interviewed preferred print on paper for personal, literary, and in-depth reading over digital screens. Computers were seen as better for research, email, and finding facts. In keeping with this, participants all scanned the pages first, looking for cues to content before committing to an article. Everyone got stuck on the featured images, trying to use them to decide what to read, which was not reliable. The photos were either a beautiful distraction, or visual overload.
Everyone interviewed did finally enjoy some longer reading that engaged their interest. This supports our idea that providing the right visual cues, and clearing the critical path to interesting content would help people reach this desired state of engagement with text.
After watching people choose a story from the home page, I believe most of the page views come from links in the email newsletter to subscribers. People usually read only the page they clicked on, and don’t browse the rest of the site. That could be due to browsing usability. My theory is that a user is confronted with too many choices, however enticing, and has a hard time choosing just one to read. This is knowh as Hick’s Law: the more stimuli people have to choose from, the longer it takes the user to make a decision. In effect too much cognitive load and likely abandonment of the page.
Few people found the Donate and Subscribe links. People wanted to share articles, but there is no share link to make that easier.
Key recommendations. Usability improvements will help keep users on the site, but that alone will not increase readership. Since most people arrive at the site from external links to a particular article, Terrain should maximize its presence in the external places where likely readers readers would find the site, like links and banners on other relevant sites, content aggregators, social media, email newsletters, etc.
Given a longer-term trend away from home pages and towards apps and social sites, Terrain should look outward to publishing on other social sites like medium.com, Apple News app, and Facebook’s new Instant Articles feature which allows people to read without leaving that site. A longer-term goal might be to create a phone app, as more people are reading that way as well.
Tumamoc Hill is a puzzle: a tiny piece of highly-protected wilderness surrounded by a growing city. Compared it to Central Park in New York, there would be only one path through it, the rest of it off limits, left as much as possible in it’s natural state–before Europeans colonized it.
I made this slide deck for the report on a usability test on the Weather Underground web site. The slides are intentionally dense with information because this was meant as a high-level deliverable as well as a presentation. The project was done for Kent State University. I did everything myself.
Everyone talks about the weather–Weather Underground does something about it. Wunderground.com a beautiful weather and climate site absolutely packed with information. The site can be a bit intimidating for a new visitor or someone who is not a weather geek. This usability study looks at the experience of these new users.
Although the home page and search functions work really well, There is some friction in the interface and critical paths to user goals are cluttered. The resulting cognitive load causes some slowdown and failures.
The people who completed the tasks took a long time going through the site. For 6 out of 10 task failures, users thought they had actually completed the task, or were uncertain about it. Sometimes people found the right place by accident.
Because of some difficulty in finding the information people wanted, there was a low satisfaction level. Some of these problems are due simply to a low level of general understanding of weather science.
Public Library, Upper-Sandusky, Ohio / Kent State University
Project dates/time frame
Interviews, literature review
personas, sitemap, wireframes
Balsamiq, Tree-test & 1st-click test by Optimal Workshop
I did this project in an Information Architecture class at Kent State University.
Library sites are complex and small town libraries often don’t have to resources to hire professional designers. The Upper Sandusky Library site had become cluttered over time by the accumulation of new content without a strategy for organizing it. It was difficult for patrons to find information.
I analyzed the information structure of the current site and did a content inventory. Then I did a literature review of research on other library sites and interviewed several librarians. With this input, I designed a new site map, created personas, and tested the new navigation remotely with users. After revising the structure several times based on feedback, I created the wireframes shown in this report.