WWU Computer Science Graduate Program Content

WWU Computer Science Graduate Program

Overview

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.

Timeline:
Sept. 2020 – Dec. 2020 (10 weeks)

Role:
UX Designer, Content Designer

Tools Used: Drupal, Figma, WWU Design Style Guide, WWU CS Grad Handbook, Google Slides

Skills: Content Editing, Front-End Development, Copywriting, User Interviews, Information Architecture, Heuristic Analysis

Background

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.

Problem

Yudong Liu, the Graduate Advisor for the WWU Computer Science department at the time of the project, 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.

Research

Graduate Student Handbook (as of October 2020)
Website Content for Computer Science Graduate Program (as of October 2020)

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 their Graduate Student Handbook and general Grad School website. Furthering my research, I conducted a heuristic analysis of the departmental website’s overall organizational structure using timing, effort, and visibility as key evaluators for finding information.

One of the crucial findings that came out of my research was that current information available on the departmental website website was too generalized to address questions about the graduate program. With the exception of the Student Handbook, most prospective and current graduate students saw the website as challenging to be able to quickly find and learn detailed information about advising, admission requirements, process to graduating on time, or scholarship and funding opportunities. At the time of my heuristic analysis, I also found that the department’s website content and resources were more catered to prospective and current undergraduate Computer Science students.

Structuring the Information & Content

With these findings, I pitched a different information hierarchy and user flow for the website’s Academic section. This included advocating for the separation of undergraduate and graduate pages within website navigation, and introducing about 9 new pages of content detailing specifics about the Computer Science Master’s program that was previously only available within the Student Handbook.

Using information gained from interviewing and communicating with SMEs, I also worked with the Graduate Program in crafting a list of 22 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 both the university’s design style guide and the newly 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.

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 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.