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Date 23 February 2012

DCCCD.edu User Interface and Information Architecture Redesign

DCCCD.edu was redesigned with one main goal: to help their primary audience — students — find what they need faster. One XKCD comic clearly illustrates the problems with college websites: they’re usually internally-focused and rarely student-focused, or even information-focused.

The DCCCD website attracts well over 5.5 million visits annually, just on the home page. Students, both credit and continuing ed, are overwhelmingly the largest user group for the website. Add in those who are considering becoming DCCCD students, and the student-user numbers grow even larger.

Needs: A New Information Architecture

The old district site was organized around “audience” — information was categorized based on who people are (current student, future student, employee, business, etc.) instead of by the information’s relevancy. This led to duplication of information, made it difficult to update critical info, and led to confusion for people who got to the pages not intended for their audience via search.

The new approach to information architecture I presented is more “task-based” — information is put into sections by relevancy, making it easier to find. I believe people visit a website like this to complete a task or get information, and a task-based approach is best for organizing complex information.

What Works on Websites NOW

My redesign followed extensive research on what works best on college websites. The redesign is simpler, cleaner, with more room for flexibility down the road. A neutral color palette was chosen to highlight faces and images, to harmoniously encompass all of the colleges’ colors, and to help the design take a back seat to the information on the website.

A strong influence on the redesign process was a report titled “College Students on the Web/Usability Guidelines for Creating Compelling Websites for College Students.” The authors of the report, Nielsen Norman Group, a respected organization specializing in usability on the Web, researched how students use college websites at 12 colleges or universities in four countries with usability tests and ethnographic observation of 217 websites.

The research refutes myths about students’ use of the Internet about multimedia, fancy flashy design, and student tech skills. Most students don’t visit their college website for entertainment – they go there with a purpose and the website should gracefully assist them in their pursuit.

Students Tested The Design

Before we implemented the redesign, we tested it with the intended audience — DCCCD students — in six separate rounds of testing. We got incredibly valuable information from the testing to implement in the design. I assessed the usability test results, made changes to the design based on their input, and categorized and re-categorized information based on where testing showed they would look for it.

For example, “Programs” is a term widely used internally, in marketing materials, and on the website to describe different majors. Most students had trouble identifying with the concept of “Programs” in testing, but knew the term “Degrees”. The terminology was tweaked based on student input, and tested flawlessly in the next round.

The Agents of Change

The redesign was implemented over several months with the District Website Redesign Project Team, including the Internet Publishing Team and the DCCCD SharePoint Services Team.

UPDATE (Q1 2013)

The SACS-COC has mandated visual and architectural changes to the web properties of all of DCCCD’s colleges and the District website; modifications to the IA and visual/interaction design are in process, and the current website may not display as initially intended.