Higher Ed Website Information Architecture

CLARION UNIVERSITY

THE GOAL

Redesign the site structure and navigation for a university with nearly 2,500 pages of content — a website so unfriendly that some students said they nearly didn't apply because they couldn't find anything.

Not only re-architect the website so it's usable, but also so it supports the client’s long-term vision and a mobile-first, responsive experience.

What I Did

Domain and Market Research, Discovery, Personas, Competitive and Comparative Analysis, Web Analytics, Content Inventory and Mapping, Gap Analysis, User Flows, Interviews, Scenarios, Site Mapping, Sketching, Evaluative Research Design, Usability Testing, Wireframing, Design Documentation

Background

I joined this project as a freelancer for the agency Mind Over Media, which contracted me to design a new information architecture. From January to June 2014, I embedded with the agency and additionally contributed to the project’s interaction design, UI design, and overall user experience.


THE QUEST

Analysis of what visitors were searching for on the client's website over the course of a semester.

When I joined the project team, there was already a trove of discovery material. I soaked up and synthesized interviews, audience surveys and multiple sources of data, adding my own exploratory research into search patterns, traffic data, target audiences, and competitors. From the get-go, I collaborated with the project manager to set expectations and deadlines.

 

To re-architect Clarion’s website, I knew I had to become intimately familiar with its current structure and content. With an inventory in hand, I pored over clarion.edu to sift, tag, organize, group, and weigh its many pages. This was a critical first step toward identifying key tasksworkflows, organizational needs, and user pain points.

Excerpt from a user flow diagram, used to drive conversation internally about how students would move through academics content.

 

Excerpt from a wireframe, illustrating for clients how we might consolidate content relevant to current students in a more usable way.

Iterating through each section, the new architecture began to take shape. Along the way I conducted further interviews, drafted user flows, mocked-up wireframes, and modeled enterprise relationships across content.

 

BUMP IN THE ROAD

It soon became clear that one vital piece of the architecture wouldn't play nicely. An initial design involving the school's degrees and programs was proving exceedingly complicated once I began to flesh it out. After trying to force the solution, I realized the only way to go forward was actually to go back and sketch alternatives. Could it be any other way? What if we did this? What about ... ?

Parallel design and team collaboration led to a new structure. I documented the reasoning and presented it to our clients, explaining our choices and earning their approval.

 

This document was drafted in response to client questions about which terms to use on a page. Wherever possible, I advocated for decisions based on relevant data rather than unproven opinions.

Throughout the design process, I directly interacted with clients and delivered IA updates and presentations while guiding conversation during weekly meetings. As necessary, I responded to client questions with additional research for addressing issues big and small.


THE RESULTS

I tested the usability of the new IA with more than 150 prospective and current students, and the results were better (and more illuminating) than we could have hoped for. Rates for findability and directness exceeded 80% for key user tasks, and where performance lagged we learned from students' mental models to further shore up the design.

In the end, Clarion's new architecture was half the size of its old one, and we met project deadlines. My work earned praise from both Mind Over Media and Clarion University:

It is a rare occurrence to find someone with your self-discipline and skills. It has been an excellent relationship. … Thanks for going the extra mile.
— Stakeholder at Clarion University

Did I mention I'm available for full-time hire and contract work?