In its 2010 report The Telegraph disclosed that “Universities are spending millions on redesigns and maintenance of websites which students say are inadequate and lack basic services”.

Little has changed in 2012 according to a report by UX consultancy Nomensa. Fees may have increased, applications have decreased (by -7.7%) and new comparison sites (HEFCE KIS, Which? University) have launched, but institutions are still “failing to optimise the online experience”. This is despite higher education becoming a “bigger purchasing decision than ever before for prospective students”.

Report Relevance

Nomensa recommends that University websites borrow more heavily from user-centred design, e-commerce and modern interface design practices in order to optimise user journeys and their experience.

Neil Allison (University of Edinburgh) has an excellent critique of the core advice from the report, namely:

  • Structure your information architecture around the stages of student decision making
  • Be clear about and communicate the unique selling points of each degree.
  • Location and orientation are important.
  • Poor information results in bad decisions.
  • People are interested in people.
  • Express the anticipated user experience and share it.

Achievability?

These are all wholly worthy ideas that could, if implemented, add value to the user experience and the institution’s ability to realise it’s mission; whether educating students or securing funding for research.

Indeed at City University London we have tried to integrate HESA data (like employability and graduate salaries) in our course pages and are actively working on credible profiles of students, alumni and placement students.

However Nomensa ignore the elephant in the room, the University, including; its size, complexity, role, politics and the ability of its Web Team to service complex and competing demands on their time. As Neil and Sophie Dennis (.NET Magazine) aptly point out:

Universities are complex, siloed organisations. They serve multiple, often competing audiences: prospective students, current students, staff and industry. Even their core mission is ambiguous. Do they exist for profit, or for the common good? Sophie Dennis

I often think that a university isn’t so much a business, or a single organisation even. It’s more like a load of semi-autonomous businesses operating under a franchise. Neil Allison

Final thoughts

I find it very encouraging that the report exists, irrespective of any concerns about the practical realisability of its recommendations. Hopefully it represents another step on the road of evangelising user experience in higher education information services and marketing divisions.

Further Reading

About The Author

I blog about how to collaborate to design simple, usable and inclusive information experiences that make the lives of customers easier. Read more in the blog Categories and Tags.

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