Playing with PAWS

We're in the alpha phase of some design work in PAWS. Here's a look at where we started and where we think we're going.

The design team gets user feedback about PAWS all the time. It's not what you think. Sure, when something doesn't work, we get email, but the niggling things—the things that bother users or make them mildly annoyed (or worse, unable to find things)—we hear about in roundabout ways. Chatting with a co-worker we might hear, "Why are some things in Admin Services and others under Employee?" We start to collect common It-would-be-great-ifs and It-makes-me-crazy-whens.

PAWS is an ever-evolving system. The look and feel people see today has come a long way since its first iteration in 2003. But the current User Interface (UI) is now four years old and enough niggles have built up that we decided to gather more formal feedback to identify and then solve a few things we've been hearing about.  We sat down with real students, faculty and staff and asked them about what they use in PAWS, how often, and how they discover things. What we found is that most people use a handful of things, and they use them frequently.

With more information from our interviews, we started sketching. Our team of five (which includes the varied skill sets of a designer, several web developers and a communicator) all came up with similar variations on a theme. Like any good workplace democracy, we voted with dots. This helped us to narrow down what ideas to try first.

Drawings of new PAWS with sticky dots.

We took the winning ideas from concept drawings to a testable "alpha" version of new PAWS and played with it some more until it was ready to test on a group of students, faculty and staff. These willing guinea pigs let us observe how they use PAWS, and in turn, how the concepts we were testing would stand up to real people. Of course, like all ideas, some of them worked and some of them didn't. So we moved things, scrapped a few ideas, finessed others. This process of designing in sprints is one we've used before on the usask homepage.

Screen shot of early alpha version of PAWS UI changes.

Another round of testing with a new group of staff and students has us nearly ready to test the new user interface as a beta version in production. Here, users will be given the choice to try the new version and give feedback. We know we'll hear what people like and what they don't. We can take it.

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