Websites that perform heavy-duty administrative functions need to work twice as hard to anticipate and meet user needs if they also want to provide a pleasing user experience.
Case in point: the University of Pennsylvania Student Registration and Financial Services (SRFS) site. A joint project by Penn’s Financial Aid, Bursar, and Registrar’s Offices, this all-in-one site manages a long list of student-and parent-facing activities related to financial aid, course enrollment, tuition payment, and post-graduation records management.
SRFS’s vision for the site was to provide a big-picture view of resources and information for prospective and current students, families, and alumni to help them manage their time at Penn and beyond. However, when we met with the SRFS team, they realized they were falling short in some key areas and needed help gaining ground. As a preferred vendor having worked on several other Penn projects, we felt the project was a natural progression for us.
A deep discovery revealed that existing users were unclear about the array and value of SRFS offerings, and they found the design inconsistent, the navigation confusing, and the content difficult to find. In fact, on the old site, students were immediately presented with two options on the home page: "Bursar" or "Registrar" — and most had no understanding of what those key terms meant.
Our research included user surveys for current and prospective students and alumni, video usability testing on both desktop and mobile, and focus groups utilizing a series of personas we created representing typical users of the site: a first-generation student, hyper-scheduled high school student, international prospective student, and more.
We asked actual users to work in small groups, read about the personas created, and anticipate what they would be looking for on the site. Hypothetically acting and thinking as that specific person, we asked them to go through the new sitemap and identify where to find the information. The results and feedback from this exercise led directly to several meaningful edits to the sitemap.
The resulting site now does double duty as both a functional set of tools and an enlightening experience that alleviates common pain points users face regarding finances and student life planning. For instance, the content is now immediately welcoming and extremely transparent, with an easy-to-digest introductory overview of key topics related to courses, financial aid, and budgeting. Overall, information and calendar events are sorted both by topic and by audience, with clear indicators for new updates, alerts for important can’t-miss deadlines, and smart connections between related areas of interest.
Throughout the experience, the site makes a top priority of giving users access to sources of additional help with a variety of tools that include a “Must Do” list, an FAQ, a glossary for confusing terms, an integrated existing user-friendly cost of attendance calculator with clear explanations for each line item, and links to counseling session scheduling on relevant key pages.
Users can now appreciate that the site does all of the hard work they need it to do — but it doesn’t leave their personal needs and preferences out of the equation.