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The evolution of alpha.usask.ca

alpha.usask.ca existed from August 2nd to September 16th. It changed a lot during that period in response to user feedback. Here's a look at how it evolved.

In working to upgrade the usask.ca homepage, one of the priorities of the design team was to test design ideas as early as possible with real people. First we created a couple of prototypes for testing with small groups of users. Then we opened it up to the public and created alpha.usask.ca to test our designs with anyone who cared to give them a try.

We worked in sprints and went through a handful of iterations in the design of alpha.usask.ca. With each iteration we took the feedback we received, zeroed in on a few obvious problems, and tried to design something better. Our goal was always to reduce frustration, meet expectations, and add delight.

We gathered feedback in a couple of ways:

  • In-person testing: We found people around campus (and elsewhere) and asked them to perform their most common homepage-related task using alpha.usask.ca. We observed their interactions with the page and asked them about their experience.
  • Online self-serve: People arrived at alpha.usask.ca independently via the current homepage or another means (eg. social media) and chose to provide feedback about their experience.

From August 2nd until September 16th, alpha.usask.ca received over 4,300 unique pageviews and we received almost 200 submissions of structured feedback. Here’s a rundown of how we took that feedback to incrementally improve alpha.usask.ca with each iteration.

The first prototype

Pre-alpha: Prototype 1

July 15-24

Our first pre-alpha prototype was informed largely by short in-person interviews with users and a bit by analytics data. It was an incredibly simple design. In testing it with users we discovered it was, well, too simple.

View that feedback in a previous article.

The second prototype

Pre-alpha: Prototype 2

July 25 - August 1

With this prototype we expanded the navigation options and added a section for news.

This design was a stepping stone to the first public alpha. It was not tested with users but was instead evaluated within the design group to ensure we were aligning with the principles laid out by our steering committee. Those principles state that the design must: 

  1. Be informed by user research
  2. Reflect university priorities
  3. Be measurable
  4. Align with university technology standards
  5. Align with university brand standards

We noted that this design was driven mostly by user research and did not reflect university priorities with any obvious intent. Those priorities are defined in the university’s third integrated plan as: 

  • Aboriginal engagement
  • Culture and community
  • Knowledge creation
  • Innovation in academic programs and services
The first version of alpha.usask.ca

alpha.usask.ca: Version 1

August 2-22

This was the first version publicly available at alpha.usask.ca. It incorporated additional content and visuals that the group thought would better reflect the university priorities that were absent in the previous designs, particularly around Aboriginal engagement. 

User feedback based on 51 responses: 

  • 43% frustrated
  • 39% satisfied
  • 18% delighted
  • Delight - Frustration = -25 (bad!)

Feedback excerpts:

  • Put the menu bar back at the top on the home page
  • had to search for and then click three times to get to the main library site, on the current site it is clickable from the university home page
  • A link to the university library home page and a navbar near the top of the screen would be helpful. 
  • Not enough information available at first glance without scrolling down; no listing of colleges and schools with links; no a-z listing
  • more links - I regularly use the row of shortcuts in usask e.g. library
  • I hope there are plans to be able to click on each signature area for a more detailed description as well as links to the relevant colleges/research programs
Download the full feedback report
The second version of alpha.usask.ca

alpha.usask.ca: Version 2

August 23 - September 1

With this version we:

  • Revised the “About” section (that's how we referred to it) to include more clickable links beyond simply “Colleges and Schools” in order to cast a wider net over the university
  • Added an “Apply” link
  • Revised the links in the audience-focused navigation section
  • Ensured imagery included actual people and not just cool buildings

User feedback based on 75 responses: 

  • 24% frustrated (↓19%)
  • 49% satisfied (↑10%)
  • 27% delighted (↑9%)
  • Delight – Frustration = +3 (getting better!)

Feedback exerpts:

  • Truthfully, this is good enough for me
  • "become a student" and "faculty and staff" etc. headers should be in view without scrolling down.
  • The landing page is minimalistic and trendy, but not very informative and useful. I work here, so I get things. But as a potential student/employee, there's not much to go on.
  • too much emphasis on the "News" section.
  • having more top level links, as with the current site, so that I don't have to try blindly to find the information I want
  • Having the "A-Z" menu more readily accessible.
  • have less text as it gets confusing
  • I didn't like having to click through to another page to find the list of colleges. I didn't like that there wasn't a big old apply button on the homepage. Make it easy for me!
  • Please put back the A-Z listing
  • I don't like the link further down the page than it was on the old page.
  • I easily found what I was looking for
  • I would use this

Download the full feedback report

The third version of alpha.usask.ca

alpha.usask.ca: Version 3

September 2-16

This version included the most drastic changes yet, but we didn’t want to rock the boat too much since feedback from version 2 suggested things were already getting better. With this version we: 

  • Moved the audience-focused navigation into a navigation bar at the top of the page
  • Added a list of “popular” links sourced from our Google Analytics data to surface specific items that are important to users

User feedback based on 70 responses:

  • 20% frustrated (↓4%)
  • 41% satisfied (↓8%)
  • 39% delighted (↑12%)
  • Delight – Frustration = +19 (pretty good!)

Feedback exerpts:

  • not easy to find campus events
  • A more prominently positioned quick-link to the news page.
  • It's pretty good.
  • so many fonts, colors, sizes, backround colors -- clearly no idea as to what is important!
  • Overall, the general look and feel of the alpha page was perfectly fine. Nothing was broken and everything made sense.
  • The University of Saskatchewan logo could be bigger. Everything else looks great!
  • Is there room to put more than 2 news stories on the homepage?
  • It's nicer. All the important stuff is bigger. Much cleaner. Better than older one.
  • Like the colours, easy to read. Straightforward. I can teach my parents how to navigate it easily
  • Really straight forward. Search bar at top is very useful
  • I found what I wanted. Nothing wrong
  • I feel like there could be more news stories listed on there. Two is a weird arbitrary number that doesn't give me any real sense of what's going on at the U of S.

Download the full feedback report

Moving to beta

From experimentation to stability

We'll be taking what we learned in the alpha process and injecting it into a more stable beta version. We'll use the beta to refine the design and work out the kinks. The beta will be publicly available just like the alpha.

Expect to learn more about the beta in the coming weeks. You can also look back at the article about designing in public where we laid out an overview of each project phase. 

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