User Testing – Approach, Tools, and Takeaways

A user tests the beta ACC website

User testing is vital to the overall success of a website’s ability to deliver the intended experience to all visitors. User testing can consist of strict requirements to test a particular function of a website or informal processes that show general trends in how participants explore and react to web content, design, or functionality.

The web development team used a number of tools with different audiences to analyze the effectiveness website’s main goals stated in the creative brief. These tools consisted of in-person feedback Q&A sessions, web-hosted user surveys, and tree tests.

First, participants explored the test version of the website as prospective students. They then completed a survey on their experience. Students from area high schools served as the “intended audience” testers. Other participants included current ACC students and other groups.

Additionally, current students completed a tree test, an exercise that evaluates a hierarchical category structure, or tree of the website. Users find content within the proposed information architecture (IA) in order to complete specific tasks or obtain particular information. These included finding the location of tutor schedules or course information.

The team established a threshold of acceptability for each of the tests in order to determine what areas need additional improvement. The team learned that
prospective students were very interested in college life and what it was like to be a college student. Tuition and the costs of attending college where also important to this user group.

Current students placed high value on quick access to the location where their top tasks are completed. These areas include Blackboard, registration information, and their school email. Current students also spent time reviewing specific degree plans and class schedules, while prospective students spent more time on promotional aspects of the test site.

The test website met its goals overall, with areas of opportunity to improve structure, functionality, and design. The team will continue to conduct user testing and will deploy new tools including in-depth web analytics. These new tools and processes will help us continue to improve and enhance the user experience throughout the new website.

Admissions – An Open Door

Student receives help with the admissions process

As visitors to the ACC homepage explore the college’s programs and services, they are offered two calls to action – click either the Request Information or Apply Now button. Both will direct the information to the college’s Recruit CRM system.

Visitors who need more information about their enrollment options before applying or who want to use the website throughout the application experience will find what they need on the Admissions webpage.

The page provides tabbed information to guide users through the four steps in the admissions process, with links to deeper information needed to complete each step. Auxiliary information such as applying for Financial Aid and important dates for prospective students are provided.

Visitors who are seeking other educational opportunities outside a traditional degree or certificate will find links to Continuing Education, Adult Education, and options for English language instruction here on the Admissions page.

Additional application information for prospective students that may belong to a particular type of applicant is also available. These groups include current high school students, active military personnel and veterans, students who may need learning accommodations, and international students who may need to submit additional documentation along with their ACC application.

The Admissions webpage directs users to seek assistance from the College Destination Center if they need it.

Imagine yourself as a prospective student who has decided to apply to ACC and take a look at the new Admissions at ACC page.

Academic and Career Programs – What We Offer

Professor of Government Lisa Perez, PhD, teaches a class on Civil Liberties at the Austin Community College Hays Campus on Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Academic and Career Programs serves as the college’s “storefront,” showcasing all the educational choices we offer.

The top band of the page introduces the prospective student to the different instructional pathways at ACC with explanations of how each is aligned to different outcomes. This is followed by a guide-point band for the “deep shopper” that encourages exploration of the different program options.

Other bands contain information for audiences that may be looking for options that are specific to them. These include high school programs, English language instruction, and college readiness programs.

ACC has a wide variety of learning opportunities and engaging student interaction that can accommodate a prospective student’s individual situation and interests. These are highlighted with easy-to-scan content areas that visitors can click to learn more about that particular option or experience.

Imagine yourself as a prospective student browsing for an academic program or educational option, and check out the Academic & Career Programs page.

Campuses – Locations Across Greater Austin

ACC Highland

The main campus webpage makes it easy for prospective students to see where ACC campuses are located around the college district through a large, clickable map. It also features a click-through area highlighting each campus, with information on their unique characteristics and programs.

Photography is extremely important in the website redesign, and we chose to emphasize regional pride with an iconic Austin image of the South Congress Bridge. as the page’s main “hero” image as taken by our ACC photographer.

Imagine yourself as a prospective student exploring ACC facilities and check out the Campuses page.

Paying for College – Afford a Great Future

The ability to pay for college is a major concern for most prospective students. The new Paying for College area showcases how affordable an option ACC really is.

The page clearly describes the actual cost of a typical class, semester, and degree. A colorful chart compares ACC’s tuition costs with other area institutions. Often these hard numbers are buried deep within the website. Instead, the redesigned website places the information at the forefront, highlighting it as reasons to enroll at ACC.

Call-outs to financial aid and other assistance are highlighted as well. Information on veteran benefits, scholarships, payment plan options, and education tax credits further reinforces that ACC is an affordable college option.

Imagine yourself as a prospective student and take a look at Paying for College.

Learning Support – Here for you

The Learning Support page of the website will promote the specialized learning environments that will help the prospective students achieve their academic goals at ACC. This page will not provide every single detail about how to access these services but an overview of services available to students who attend ACC.

The content on the page presents the idea that no matter the academic challenge ACC has the resources and expertise to correctly advise and support students on their academic journeys. Often students self-identify into subcategories such as military and veterans, students with special needs, transfer students, or even program-specific groups with their own special requirements. The Learning Support page reinforces to a prospective student that no matter what their particular situation is, ACC will be there to provide the assets that are essential to being a successful student.

Imagine yourself as a prospective student inquiring if ACC has the academic support that will help you achieve your academic goals and check out the Learning Support page.

Campus Life – Welcome Riverbats

The Campus Life page is designed to present ACC to prospective students in a fun, energetic, engaging way.

The content selected for this section of the website touches on a variety of topics including “Pride and Traditions.” It introduces the college’s mascot and showcases video content about being an ACC student outside of the classroom.

Other content bands provide quick insights to Student Life programs and additional opportunities for students to immerse themselves in our community. The Arts and Culture section showcases just a few ways students get to experience these things not only as ACC students but also as members of an involved and active community.

Imagine yourself as a prospective student and take a look at Campus Life at ACC.

Using Card Sorts and Tree Tests to Influence Information Architecture and Naming Conventions

Information architectures (IAs) are blueprints for how a website organizes it content. IAs specify where content natively lives within the website illustrate hierarchies, labels, and other characteristics. When developing a website, designers test IAs multiple ways to ensure content is placed in locations users expect to find it.

ACC’s website redesign project relies heavily on a fully comprehensive and tested IA as a starting point for different sections of the website. This includes landing pages for defined users (prospects, students, faculty/staff, business/community, and alumni).

Our IA development began with creation of the creative brief and content audit. It continues with two methods of user testing: Card sorting, which helps create the initial IA draft; and tree testing, which tests the drafted IA’s effectiveness.

Card Sorting

The web team will use a card-sorting exercise with different user audiences to ensure information is labeled and organized effectively.

We create a set of cards, each representing a piece of content, which users will organize into categories. The terminology of the cards and categories can be pre-determined or created by the user at the time of testing. For our purposes, the web team will test pre-determined terms recommended by the marketing team and college stakeholders.

In the earliest stage of the redesign project, the team conducted a card-sorting test using current ACC labels and terminology with visiting high school students. The results showed that test subjects were confused by the labels and terminology so could not effectively sort content. The early test clearly demonstrated the need to remove jargon and adopt more common language.

High school students participate in a traditional card sort. High school students participate in a traditional card sort. High school students participate in a traditional card sort.

Card sorting is currently underway and will continue until all IAs for the top tier of the ACC website redesign are complete. In the meantime, you can view the report of the card sorting exercise completed by our visiting high school students.

Tree Testing

The web team will use tree testing to ensure the effectiveness of proposed IAs with each specific user audience.

Tree testing is considered the reverse of card sorting to test the “findability” of content. To complete the test, users attempt assigned tasks using a simplified web version of the proposed IA. A computer programs tracks their activity as they navigate the test IA and attempt to complete each assigned task. In short, a tree test will measure how well we have organized and labeled content in the redesign.

Tree testing will begin in the next few weeks and continue through the duration of the project.

Beta launch of the new ACC homepage

About the beta test

We are launching a “no click” beta homepage – available for viewing at this time. The navigation menu and links are not enabled. While not a finished product, the beta homepage provides an opportunity for viewing the new direction of the page and offering feedback. Photos you see here are placeholders and not necessarily final selections.

About the homepage

The homepage is designed primarily for prospective students. Its role is to promote programs and services as well as help future students connect with enrollment advisors and begin the admissions process. Visitors who are not prospective students will access their relevant information and resources through the audience-identifier links.

The main navigation menu includes the content areas most important to promoting the college and converting prospects into applicants: Academics, Admissions, Paying for College, Learning Support, Campus Life, Campuses, and About.

The homepage goals are threefold:

  1. Set a welcoming tone and drive prospects to explore academic programs, campus life, and the admissions process, etc.
  2. Increase the number of prospects who request information. Users who complete the “Request Information” form enter the college’s CRM, or customer relationship management system. After the CRM captures the prospects’ information, enrollment advisors provide high-touch guidance through the recruitment and admissions process.
  3. Increase the number of prospects who submit the application form, enter the CRM, and receive high-touch guidance through the admissions process. Applicants can then be tracked through the registration process.

View the “no click” beta homepage and leave your feedback in the comments below.

View Beta Homepage

Content Strategy Development

Checklist

A content strategy focuses on the planning, creation, delivery, and governance of content with the intention of reflecting the institutional goals and user needs. Usability.gov illustrates some common concepts in content strategy including:

  • Understanding how a user thinks and speaks about a subject.
  • Communicating to people in a way they understand.
  • Being relevant, factual, and up-to-date.
  • Being accessible to all people regardless of any special needs or disabilities.

As part of ACC’s web redesign, the web team used a common outline and structure to identify the content strategy for each section and audience of the new website.

  • Position statement
  • Expansion statement 1: Goals
  • Expansion statement 2: Top Tasks
  • Messaging Framework
    • First Impression
    • Value Statement
    • Proof

This outline was applied to each audience identifier specified in the creative brief. It serves as a starting point for the overall direction of content to reside within each section of the new website.  The creative brief outlines the audiences and gives a sense of the general personas or audiences that will interact with the ACC website.

Audience and User Types

Lead – A user who is interested in attending ACC or is gathering more information in order to make a decision. This user has not completed any key conversion tasks (apply or request information) and may just be exploring available programs, comparing costs, and finding out if attending would be possible for them based on program availability, financial concerns, or some other reason.

Prospect – A user who has completed a key conversion – either applying or requesting information.

Student – A user who has applied and selected an area of study or program. This user may have a record either within the customer relationship management software (CRM) or the college’s main enterprise resource planning software (ERP). This user may or may not have attended class yet and would be engaging with the college based on identification through one or both of these systems.

Business and Community – A users who has an interest in engaging with the college either due to business relationships, as taxpayers and tax paying entities, or because of some other interest.

Faculty and Staff – A user who is a current employee and engages with the college as part of their employment. This audience has special privileges and access to content and systems that may be restricted to a credential-based login system.

Content Strategies by Audience

Next Steps

The web team will use these content strategies in conjunction with the content audit to develop information architectures (IAs), or outlines, for sections of the website that match up with the audiences specified in the creative brief.