Apologies for going so long without posting. The rebuilding team has been burning the candle at both ends lately and there are is so much important and exciting work to be done it is difficult to find time to blog.
Right after the last post – end of June – we were joined by a consultant from Cignex for two weeks to guide us in the set up of our Plone content management system and train us in the programming required to make customizations to it. We had spent several hours on the phone going over our needs prior to her arrival and having her on-site for two weeks was great.
For the last month, we have been coordinating with I.T. (with great help from Mark Dunkerley), setting up test servers and programming our custom features. Meanwhile, editorial has been working on re-writing our content to be web friendly and the visual design team finished mockups.
Our Web Manager, Gibran Soto, had the opportunity to present an update of the rebuilding plan and the mockups to President Ross and the deans. Now we are ready to share a glimpse of the future lynn.edu with you. These mockups are rough and not final. We will continue to make tweaks to the design as we build the new site.
We are hard at work on visual design but I thought today I would mention our Web Watchers program for those who are not part of it or might not know about it.
When former Director of Web Strategy left the university, Matt and realized it would be very difficult for us to continue managing the change requests coming from across campus in the same way he had been doing. (He was handling all the little changes himself, freeing us to work on bigger projects.)
We would often get changes from different sources within the same department. Sometimes these changes would conflict or get reversed a week later.
There were also departments that were not sending us any updates. They thought we would already know when changes needed to be made.
This was resulting in inaccurate and outdated information across the site which could only confuse and frustrate prospective students, leading them away from Lynn University.
We realized that we needed a better system and came up with the idea of Web Watchers. WWs are liaisons in each department – one person per department – responsible for checking over their content and communicating necessary changes to us.
So if you are not a WW but see something on the site that needs to be changed, let your WW know. If you don’t know who that is, ask around your department or email Darren (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In Step 1, Goals, we did a lot of research to understand our site’s users and their needs, as well as incorporate the goals of the university for the site. Now in Step 2, Content, we are taking that information and turning it into a picture of what our site will look like.
We started out by making a list of everything on our current site. We thought we might work from that inventory to determine what we still do or do not need. However, it turned out to be more efficient to just focus on the needs of the users and create a new content inventory based on those needs.
Once we had that list, we labeled index cards with every piece of content and performed a card sorting exercise while trying to imagine what groupings of content would make the most sense to our users. We also asked some recent Lynn graduates who work in our office to do the exercise as well, hoping their brains would be a little more in tune to the target audience.
Combining the results from these card sorts led us to our prototype site map. It’s worth noting that at this point, all of the words used to label the content were our own and are subject to be changed by the writing team who is working on careword analysis.
“When you discover the carewords of your customers, you discover what makes them click.”
-Killer Web Content, Gerry McGovern
Here is the basic top-level plan for the new site (in no particular order). This means we believe that everything that is pertinent to the users we’ve identified falls into one of these 5 sections and they represent the main navigation that will appear throughout the site.
- Home Page
- Life at Lynn
- Getting Started
- About Lynn
- Career Preparation
We’ve also begun work on the visual design of the new site. Lynn’s graphic design team, normally responsible for printed matter, is busy creating the look and feel of the new site in collaboration with the web team. New layouts, type styles and colors will be created so the entire site has a consistent feel. When we are further along in the process, we will share these designs with you.
Over the course of the last several months everyone in the Office of Marketing and Communication have been working on gathering information about users of www.lynn.edu in order to help create our user personas. We’ve done the research, conducted usability tests and mulled over survey results so that we could learn as much as possible about their motivations, needs and goals while using www.lynn.edu.
From the data gathered we were able to createÂ personas that outlined the user’s background, motivations (why), needs (what) and features (how). Each persona represented a site user from a different audience group. Our users include:
Personas can help in explaining and predicting human behaviors:
A lost wallet lies on a Manhattan street, stuffed with cash. A white middle-income male New Yorker, between 30 and 44, picks it up. Will he look for the rightful owner, or pocket the cash? Who knows? But if George Costanza, the white middle-income male New Yorker between 30 and 44 from Seinfeld, picks it up, everyone knows exactly what heâ€™ll do. Heâ€™ll almost certainly keep the money, yapping endless self-justification to his friends at the coffee shop to conceal his feelings of guilt (Persona-lizing a site).
Each visitor is unique from any other visitor to the site in:
- Who they are
- Computer experience
- Motivation for being on the site
- Thought process
- Browsing habits
It would be impossible to create a persona to identify every type of user. Instead it’s important to define user’s on their commonalities and create personas to cover a range of users that are unique, but share traits with other users.
The process of writing personas will help lead you from a vague understanding (or none at all) of your audience to a clear definition of your core user(s) and the tasks/goals they are looking to accomplish.
Before personas can be written, it’s important to first know your user…
RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH
Gathering research about the site’s users will provide the foundationÂ for the creation of the personas. The data that is gathered will be used as a reference point to support and justify what is written in the personas.
Some things to look for when researching users:
- Demographic information
- Family Status
- Computer experience
- Frequency of use
- Reason(s) for use
- Reason(s) for being on the site
- Task(s) they are trying to accomplish
- What things influence the ways in which they act and think
How to Gather Research?
- Contextual Interviews
- Individual Interviews
- Surveys (Online)
- Focus Groups
- Usability Testing
- Web Analytics/Statistics
Using a mixture of these research techniques will allow you to gather a solid source of data about who a site’s users are and how they interact with the Web site.
Here’s an interesting article focusing on the collection of research and what exactly to look for: Making Personas More Powerful: Details to Drive Strategic and Tactical Design. The article also include a comprehensive and elaborate (more detailed than what is necessary for most people’s persona needs) toolkit.
Writing the Persona
There is no set-in-stone template for what a user persona should look like, so the final appearance will come down to preference of those involved. While presentation may vary, there are a few key elements that should be included in any persona:
- A name and picture
- Demographic information
- Position, title and responsibilities
- Goals and tasks
- Environmental information (physical, social, technological)
- Written synopsis
- A quote that sums up what matters most
All this will help to create a persona that anyone can instantly associate with representing that group of users.
A persona should fit on a single page
However, emphasis should not be placed on the amount of content, rather the readability and quality of the content. The following are some things to keep in mind:
- K.I.S.S. – Keep it simple stupid
- Clearly label sections
- Use lists
- State the facts
- Less is more
A persona is not meant to be a biography, so don’t treat it like one. Focus only on the most critical information that plays a role in how the user perceives and interacts with the Web site and you’ll be well on your way to a good persona that clearly defines your users and their tasks/goals.
Here are some examples:
- USDA – Policy Gatekeepers
- USDA – Press Media
- USDA – Senior Manager
- Usability.gov – Contract Administrator
- Usability.gov – Management Analyst
- Usability.gov – New Employee