Website content organized and developed for Western Washington University’s Computer Science Graduate Program to showcase program and advising information to current and prospective students on their departmental website.
Oct. 2020 – Dec. 2020 (10 weeks)
Designer x 1; Developer x 1
UX Designer, Content Designer
Skills: Content Editing, Front-End Development, Copywriting, User Interviews, Information Architecture, Heuristic Analysis
In September 2020, the Computer Science department at Western Washington University (WWU) updated their website (cs.wwu.edu) to match the Drupal theme being deployed campus-wide. With this update, a unique opportunity arose within this update to incorporate a part of my capstone project’s mission of making the graduate student advising process easier by updating pre-existing webpages with in-depth content about the graduate program.
At the time of the project, the Graduate Advisor for the WWU Computer Science department was receiving many repetitive questions from prospective and current graduate students alike regarding admissions, advising, and steps for progressing towards graduation.
Although the departmental website had the necessary resources available that pertained to those asked questions, its current state required cross-navigation and re-routing across other websites and resources to find answers, resulting in a tedious and complex communication process to find the desired information for all parties involved.
How can WWU’s Computer Science department use their website to communicate available resources for their graduate program to current and prospective students?
To gain a better perspective of what type of relevant content the graduate program would need on their webpages, I immersed myself in the graduate student content space using the Computer Science department’s available resources such as the program’s Graduate Student Handbook and WWU’s Graduate School website. Furthering my research, I conducted user testing and a heuristic analysis of the departmental website’s overall organizational structure using timing, effort, and visibility as key evaluators to find information.
Current website content was not informative and too broad
Compared to the Student Handbook, most prospective and current graduate students saw the website as challenging when searching for more specific information regarding advising, admission requirements, process to graduating on time, or scholarship and funding opportunities.
Undergraduate student resources were dominating the program’s website
A good example of this was that under the Advising tab on the Website users were redirected to webpages with undergraduate advising resources, but no advising resources were available for graduate students.
Knowing there was a gap for needing up-to-date detailed content about the department’s graduate program to students, I needed to next figure out what content would be needed exactly.
Having a well-defined target user of current and prospective students, I wanted to understand what other offers were available for graduate programs. I looked at websites from other graduate programs at Western Washington University, as well as schools with a high reputation for their Computer Science department, like University of Washington and University of Notre Dame to name a couple.
One of my key takeaways from this analysis was how in-depth and informative these sites were. Already knowing the lack of information of WWU’s Computer Science graduate program, I settled on the following design principles for adhering to in content ideation:
Design for Informativity
With content currently being too broad on the site, going more in-depth and detailed about the program itself is essential to reaching a larger audience of prospective students while maintaining a positive perception for current students with questions.
Design for Simplicity
Improving the user flow and reducing the amount of cross-navigation between sites for information is essential to improve user retention rates for the site, and therefore number of graduate applicants.
Information Hierarchy & Architecture
I pitched a different information hierarchy and user flow for the website’s Academic section. This included advocating to clearly define which online resources were undergraduate and graduate focused within website navigation.
Using the department’s Graduate Student Handbook for structure, I then defined multiple pages of content to add that would be most effective and informative, while not redundant to keep the design simplistic in nature.
Using information gained from interviewing and communicating with SMEs, I also worked with the department’s graduate advisors to craft a list of relevant frequently-asked questions for prospective students. These questions stretched across categories such as working on their grad application, transferring from another institution, next steps after getting admitted, and financials about tuition, research funding, and scholarships.
Prototyping the Information & Content
With the desired information and content put together, I prototyped the 9 pages of content in Figma adhering to the university’s design system used in their released Drupal theme. My intended goal with developing the content for these pages was to make sure that my target audience, prospective and current students of the Computer Science Master’s program, could quickly find, interpret, and understand information as needed. With this in mind I kept the tone of the content in a conversational yet direct manner.
By January 2021, the departmental webmaster had added several additions to their website based on my content design suggestions.
What I Learned
Be curious, always ask questions, and be open to change/new ideas.
Before developing this content, I was not too familiar with how the graduate program or the administrative staff operated within the Computer Science department. Communicating and talking with essential staff and faculty about the graduate program not just let me get quickly familiarized within that domain; it also helped me come up with better ideas for content and components that staff could then easily add to the website.
Leveraging design guidelines and rules of accessibility is KEY to success.
As part of crafting content for the Graduate department, I had to learn both the design styles and accessibility guidelines that WWU abides by. Since all the university’s webpages adhere to WCAG 2.0 principles, I had to make sure that when designing my prototypes that I was making the interactions and user flow as smooth as possible when leveraging design patterns. This not only improved my ability to think about digital accessibility for all users, but it also made streamlining the design to implementation much easier when I handed off my prototypes to the departmental webmaster.