Princeton University: Usability Testing

Princeton University: Usability Testing

Today my challenge is to make a usability test for Princeton University and suggest one possible solution based on a detected pain point. This time I put a my “usability tester” hat on and look for the verdict from the users, leaving my own assumptions, ego and opinions aside. The best thing every UX specialist (especially a beginner like me) can do is to collect feedback from real users, identify the flaws that are not otherwise obvious and solve it, because ultimately every product has to find its place on the market and its place in the hearts of users — and not us — designers, UX specialists or business directors.

We’ll look at the company, how I ran the test and what could be potential solution. Let’s get started:

About Princeton University

Princeton University is a private Ivy League research university in Princeton, United States. The university provides undergraduate and graduate instruction in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering. Founded in 1746, Princeton now has a population of approximately 5,200 undergraduates and more than 2,500 graduate students. It is making its unique education accessible to students from a broad range of backgrounds as they aspire to build a better world.

Usability Testing

According to Neilsen, usability includes learnabilityefficiencymemorabilityerrors and satisfaction. A lot of these elements could be analysed with real users, but before jumping into the actual user testing, I wanted to do a bit of my own research about the performance of the website. Here are a few elements that I took into consideration:

Page Speed

One of the important (and sometimes forgotten) aspects of every website. According to Kissmetrics research, people can leave your site fast if the page takes more than 3–4 seconds to load. Therefore I started testing how university website (which has a lot of information too) performs in speed.

I used GTmetrix in order to test it. According to the analysis made, the website performs very well. This is a good exercise to drill down into what kind of code-related aspects are slowing down the performance and it allows to easily identify the errors.

Screenshot from GTmetrix

View on different Browsers

Firefox 14.0.1

Optimizing website for mobile is crucial today, but what about different browsers? As one of the top research universities worldwide, the Princeton university has a very wide target audience that might be using different types of devices to access the website, therefore I thought it is important to do a browser check. For this specific purpose I used BrowserShots — a great tool that provides you with an impressive array of browsers. And I discovered a lot of surprises — it’s interesting that the website looks so different of various browsers and it is important to optimize the performance for all of them.

Opera 10.53

A combination of these usability techniques allowed me to familiarize with the overall state of Princeton university and get a head start to improving the experience. I would like to highlight that having an access to the source code of Princeton university would have allowed me to perform heat map testing — which is another great technique for checking website usability.

Time to talk to the real users!

I decided to use a combination of open-ended and specific task-oriented questions to encourage users give their first impressions and also perform a regular task while observing them. Here’s what I asked:

  1. Tell me your first impressions of the website “It’s a very typical educational institution website — easy to read and navigate — something I would expect from the University”
  2. Give me a group of adjectives to describe this site “Simply, serious, visual, clean, tidy”
  3. What do you think about the navigation of the site? “There is the main menu and secondary menu at the top (I guess that is for alumni, but I am not exactly sure), there is also a menu at the footer section with standard sections and social media links. Overall there is a lot of information and links — and the structure is not very clear from the first look”
  4. Find three things on the website without using the internal search function:

The mascot of the school — failed. The user could not identify the part of the website after visiting Meet Princeton subsection — where he expected to find more information about the university. The user navigated through Facts & Figures, The Faculty Section and could not find the mascot.

If the school offers foreign language instruction for Arabic — failed. The user went directly to the International student section, got back to the main menu section trying to look for identification of language section of support for international students.

The nearest airport to the school — completed. The user finds it with 2 clicks and easily identified the closest airport to the university.

Key Pain Points

As it was noticed during the usability test, the person could not find all the requested information and there was no consistent structure of the menu throughout the website. Therefore I have decided to remake one essential part of the website — Information Architecture in terms of navigation and propose a new structure. I intentionally wanted to keep all the information and links, because removing or adding more content would require in-depth analysis of the content of all section and that is another type of project that requires knowledge about the objectives of the university too. Therefore, I made a suggestion on how the current information on the site could be restructured and updated.

Just to compare — this is the current structure of the website (the sitemap):

The key observation here is that primary and secondary menus collide and there are too many things. My key objective is to rethink sections of the website and restructure information in a better way. Here is my suggestion on restructuring the content:
Top Menu — the focus of this menu section is for students and staff to find relevant information for them. It is a clear CTA for both groups to access all the information they need from there. This is so called audience-based navigation. It works best when the content is unique to that audience group and justifies decision to make section on its own. The links related to events, news and giving were more related to the current happenings at the university, therefore I have merged it together with the video — so that all the news are accessible from one place.
Primary Menu — by minimizing the information and links at the top, there is a much more clear focus on the primary menu above the video.

My key reflections:

I learned tons about the Information Architecture while doing this exercise. It is essential to providing a good UX. A well-thought-out design strategy provides a solid foundation for any user interface, as well as the structure of its underlying information environment. Therefore my key objective in this assignment was to analyse how can Princeton university can show only enough information to help people understand what they need and learn how can huge amount of information be limited to allow people better absorb the content.

What are your thoughts? 🙂


Posted on

August 8, 2017

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