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Making U of T more user friendly

Submitted on Friday, April 06, 2018

Their assignment was to make life easier for their fellow students. To redesign those U of T websites where it’s hard to find the information you need. To rethink the library kiosks at Robarts where there’s a low-usage problem. And to re-imagine a popular and useful student handbook as an online resource.

Taking up these challenges were the first graduating cohort of user experience design (UXD) Master’s students from the Faculty of Information. Their partners were nine different organizations across campus who wanted to redesign the user experience of the products and services they offer to students.

At a special exhibition held the last week of classes, Erin Canning explained how she and her fellow students from INF2192 worked to create an online version of the university’s Student Life Resources Guide. The paper book is handed out during frosh week and consulted often throughout the year, but the goal was not to simply replicate it online.

Erin Canning (left) and the UXD students who created an online version of the popular Student Life Resources guide

Holding her laptop in front of her and standing before the user experience map created by her group, Canning uses the new Health and Wellness Centre page her team created as an example of their design thinking. The students wanted to show “the human aspect of this resource” so they included pictures of the Centre’s receptionist and staff to help patients arriving for their first visit recognize the faces and feel more at ease. They also posted the busiest hours for the Centre, which allows visitors to come by during off hours if they can.

The UXD students tried to put themselves in others’ shoes, even considering how many people arrive early for important appointments and then have to kill time. “You don’t want to be that early weirdo in the waiting room,” said Canning, so the team made a list of nearby resources including a Second Cup, the university bookstore and a T-Card centre next door.

Heather Kelly, the Senior Director of Student Success and a project partner, said she was especially impressed with how the UXD team anticipated the different ways students might ask questions. “I think sometimes we search too hard to get the answer when there can be many different answers,” she said as she admired the online guide prototype.

When the project started, the university’s Accessibility Services group knew its website had a number of  pain points which prevented students from finding the important information they were looking for. The website wasn’t intuitive, explains UXD student Hiba Rafih. “All the information was there. It just wasn’t available where you would expect.” Among the fixes the UXD team suggested were new label names, redesigned menus, and the posting of critical forms to multiple web pages instead of just putting them all in one place.

UXD student Jude Park, who worked on improving user experience at the kiosks in Robarts Library, said students raised in the age of Google often don’t know what a call number is. It’s not a concept they’re familiar with or have ever had to learn. “Depending on their major they might never have needed to find a physical book,” he said. They often think the first letters of the call number refer to the book’s title or author’s name and become confused when they head into the stacks to get their books.

Jaisie Sin (second from left), Jude Park (centre) and the team that redesigned the Robarts kiosks

Jaisie Sin (second from left), Jude Park (centre) and the team that redesigned the Robarts kiosks wanted to stop students fron getting lost in the stacks

As a result, it was important the kiosks show clearly how students can find the books they’re looking for. The UXD team decided the opening screen should be  a map. Instead of giving library users an old fashioned choice of different category icons to click on “we give them the information they want right off the bat,” says Jaisie Sin.

While UXD often aims to help people spend as little time as possible finding what they want, Sin is a different kind of case study. As one of the Faculty of Information’s first Master’s graduates in UXD, she’s planning to stick around the Faculty of Information and complete her PhD in the field of UXD and human computer interaction.

Read more about the UXD concentration

Topics:
UXD