Oracle Usable Apps | Applications User Experience Simplicity, mobility, extensibility
   
 
Customer Successes: Considering the User in the Design Process
 
BYU-Hawaii Goes to The Users for Guidance in Redesign

 

Teena Singh Kathy Miedema

Authors: Teena Singh and Kathy Miedema, Oracle Applications User Experience
April 7, 2011




When the time came for Brigham Young University (BYU)-Hawaii to redesign its Web site in 2009, it just made sense that, in order to improve the university’s Web site, talking to the university’s major group of users – students – was at the top of the to-do list. 

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Kevin Schlag, left, and Jinendra Jinadasa led the Web site redesign effort for BYU-Hawaii.

In redesigning the Web site from a user-centered perspective, BYU-Hawaii used many of the same research techniques that Oracle uses when creating improvements for the next upgrade of an application such as PeopleSoft, or building a next-generation enterprise application such as Fusion Applications.

The result has been worth the extra effort, says Kevin Schlag, Director, Enterprise Information Systems for BYU-Hawaii. Schlag oversees the Web and PeopleSoft team for BYU-Hawaii. He offers this advice for others starting a redesign: listen to the target users and spend time understanding their needs, wants, and frustrations. Design a survey that is simple but covers the important design features and elements when you are looking for feedback.

Deciding on a user-centered design

Schlag said he’s always been interested in figuring out how to make things easier to do. “As the Web matured, and as we started getting more traffic to our university Web site, it made sense to look at how we could make things better,” he said. Improving usability was a natural goal.

Although the university’s main Web site was the area of focus for this project, the technical team also customized their Oracle PeopleSoft Enterprise Portal, which is where a student may log in to see personalized content and conduct secure transactions, to make it look similar, Schlag said.

But before any of that happened, the scope of the project needed to be determined. And for that, Schlag and his team went to the users.

“After studying several articles and books on user-centered design concepts, we decided to consult our major user group of students,” said Jinendra Jinadasa, a Web architect who coordinates all technical aspects of the university Web sites and works with University Communications on the content and design. Jinadasa said the goal was to get the students’ feedback as to what features they would like on a newly redesigned BYU-Hawaii site.

Research techniques

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The starting point: users complained that BYU-Hawaii’s Web site before the redesign was confusing and out-dated.

BYU-Hawai used a subset of many of the same techniques that the Oracle Applications User Experience team employs to research problems and design solid software solutions. Jinadasa said those techniques included:

  • A culturally diverse student focus group
  • A survey to all students, faculty, and staff
  • A card-sorting activity to help determine how to group links
  • A prototype that was made available for usability testing and direct feedback

Focus group: “By taking a focus group of freshman-through-senior students, and students from various cultural backgrounds, we were able to determine the major questions and issues that students had with the old site,” Jinadasa said. With the information provided from the focus group, the team compiled a survey containing very specific questions about user experience.

Survey: The team sent out the survey to all students, faculty, and staff. The top requirement that emerged through the answers from the survey was to provide students with the information they need when accessing the school’s Web site. One respondent said: “I couldn't find the tuition page.” Another pointed out buttons that went nowhere, out-of-date information, and inconsistencies in color and design between different pages. Many gave examples of not being able to find what they were looking for, areas of the site where they were confused, and areas with complicated or disorganized information. Most added in their comments how glad they were that the site was being redesigned. “The biggest surprise was finding the large number of users who felt that the site navigation was confusing,” Jinadasa said, adding that this feedback had a direct impact on how the site was redesigned.

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These three images show early concepts for the Web site. These ideas were incorporated into different prototypes as BYU-Hawaii redesigned its university Web site.

Card-sorting: Often, when navigation is an issue, a card-sorting activity will help clarify how users organize details and information in their minds. Results of a card-sorting activity will help determine how information architecture should be structured on the Web site. “For our portal, we had many links we needed to categorize,” Schlag said. The BYU-Hawaii portal is a place where current students can get what they need from the university, such as class catalog information or answers to frequently asked questions. “We wrote each link on a 3x5 card, and asked several users (students, faculty, and staff) to sort them the way that it made the most sense to them. It was an interesting exercise. Some sorted everything alphabetically; some grouped all the links into one main group. It was good to know that, for the most part, the users grouped the links into categories similar to what we were thinking.”

Prototype: After the components of the Web site had been grouped, the next step for the PeopleSoft staff was to create a prototype, using information they had gathered from the focus group, survey, and card-sorting activities. “We had three graphic designers create prototypes based on the results of the survey from our users,” Jinadasa said. “We then were able to build a final prototype by taking the design elements from the three designs we felt were what the users wanted, and fit in with our vision for the end result.”

However, Schlag and Jinadasa said, designing a prototype was not easy. More than 10 prototypes were developed, and the redesign team consulted with Cameron Moll, a graphic designer with expertise in
user interfaces
on the Web, who helped them put together the final prototype.

That wasn’t the end of the redesign project, however. BYU-Hawaii then made the prototype of the proposed redesign available for a month by displaying it on the home page, where students and faculty alike could test it and provide direct feedback. This is very similar to the customer feedback sessions that Oracle runs on its own products and detailed prototypes. More than 200 users tested the new BYU-Hawaii site and gave feedback to specific questions about the usability of the site.

Feedback from BYU-Hawaii users

Even during usability testing, opinions about the Web site had clearly shifted. About 75% of those who tested the final prototype for usability said they favored the new site. The remaining users had specific concerns about certain features on the final prototype, rather than general dissatisfaction with the whole site.

But the real test is when the final design goes live. What type of comments did BYU-Hawaii’s users have about the new site, which launched in January 2010? Students commented about the simplicity of the design, the changing features of the Home page, and the consistent navigation, which now provides a direct link to vital departments.

Schlag and Jinendra decided to do one more thing to ease the transition to the new Web site: they created video tutorials to help students navigate the new Web site. All of their work has had a measurable effect on productivity for users.

“We have noticed a significant decrease – about 20 percent -- in the e-mails and phone calls requesting assistance in locating information on the Web site,” Jinadasa said. And that’s a time-saver for everyone.

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