Ensuring That Departmental Websites Meet the Actual Needs and Wants of ALL of the Audiences They’re Supposed to Serve

Context

This project was completed by 2019 MA in IxD degree recipient Michele Hindman. She undertook it as her capstone project experience during her final semester of study. An MA in IxD student’s “capstone” begins during the summer prior to his, her or their December graduation and culminates in a final presentation and defense about a week before this graduation occurs. Capstone projects are guided by design-led, evidence-based research approaches and methods, and can result in the development and design of a new product, system, service or set of protocols and procedures. These projects tend to be rooted in an area of deep, personal interest to the students who undertake them, and often become a stepping stone experience into the next phase of those students’ careers and lifepaths. In this capstone project, Michele’s research led her to propose a means to improve a wide variety of Departmental websites across many types of universities by implementing an onboarding process for those who own them. As you’ll see when you peruse Michele’s “Goal Setting for University Websites,” the onboarding process she proposes has the potential to help given university departments prioritize the work these sites must actually perform within what are often restrictive budgetary and time-based constraints.

Challenge

To ensure that websites devoted to proving information about individual university departments are designed and sustained in ways that satisfy the actual, supported-by-evidence-gathered-via-usability-testing needs of those—students, faculty, potential collaborators, and potential students—who use them the most.

Methods

Secondary Research
Ethnographic Interviews
Stakeholder Observations
Future Casting
Scenario Building

A website that could be easily understood and acted upon that articulates how a type of onboarding process can be undertaken by university personnel who own or are otherwise responsible for maintaining the web presence of a given department.
Primary Objectives

1. Ensure that current and prospective students can easily and effectively gather the information to complete specific tasks, such as determining if particular programs of study are right for them, understanding the processes necessary to apply for a given program, apply for funding to support their studies, and learn about that department’s array of faculty and staff.

2. To engage in rigorously planned, operated and analyzed usability testing that to guide design decision-making in ways that would make departmental websites communicate essential information clearly and be easy to navigate for their primary audiences.

3. To attempt to show that a decentralization of website design and maintenance responsibilities would allow for definitions of successful website functionality that were and are department-centric, and that would ensure that design decision-making would be student-centered.

Research Process

Research began by profiling the roles of various stakeholders and users. This transpired more or less in parallel with a critical examination of how and why the ecosystem that facilitates the operation of the university and, more particularly, specific departments, functions, or “dysfunctions,” as it does.

Research Outcomes

Without relying on traditional urban planning scenarios predicated solely on brute physicality — e.g., infrastructure, economic footprint, transportation — students employed innovative strategy: recasting the West End as an experience rather than a place. The district became an ongoing, evolving ‘event’ shaped by interactions between the totality of its built environment and the unique dispositions of the district’s diverse user groups. This strategy led the students to create three distinct, aspirational narratives that shaped their experiential approach and its corresponding solutions. Thus, the final solutions offered were not only tailored to address the district’s current civic needs, but also sparked new thinking about the district’s possible futures.

Response 1
The Historic West End as Dallas’ Front Porch

An economically driven metropolis focused on the horizon, Dallas long ago plowed over much of its history and its founding culture. Constant progress, while welcome, has led the city away from the best of its authentic roots. This scenario reframed the Historic West End as the city’s ‘front porch’ — the living embodiment of the Dallas’ history and a physical and cultural bridge between its storied past, vital present and imagined future.

Response 3
The Historic West End as Connection

Connections are the essence of belonging and welcome. Once made, they can live, grow and create feelings of pride, place, and purpose. In this scenario, the thoughtful use of technology would enable the West End to become a place of connections: between past and present, place and people, memories past and those of the moment. Technology would help the Historic West End create a living history in which every visitor and resident knows they belong to a greater story.

Research Documentation

The West End Workbook provided contextualized research findings, strategic direction, and was presented to stakeholders as a playbook for community focused revitalization efforts. A copy of the West End Workbook can be downloaded here (60 MB).

Measurable Outcomes

1. The district was presented with an extensive workbook that contained hundreds of ideas for pilot projects all logically derived from, and categorized by, the three aspirational narratives. These ideas could be implemented as presented or function as catalysts for the district stakeholders’ own thinking and aspirations.

2. The workbook also contained sections that documented the research and innovation processes employed by student investigators. These sections explicated a meta-level, contextually transferable working model that other Dallas districts could easily adapt to their own, unique civic challenges.

3. The project gave strong credence to the idea that when designers and non-designers work collaboratively and unfettered by strict disciplinary boundaries, refreshing new insights and innovative outcomes can result.