Shoreline is an award winning, nationally accredited two-year college dedicated to meeting the needs of its community with hundreds of academic, profession/technical, and workforce training programs.
In order to better serve its students, staff, and faculty, Shoreline has recently migrated their website to a new platform. To better match their new platform’s features to the needs of its users, Shoreline asked me to help them rethink the site’s underlying information structure, with special emphasis on the Program Pages section.
As a first step toward matching information structure to positive user outcomes, we needed to build a solid understanding of user needs and goals for the Program Pages section of the site and of the tasks they hoped to achieve there. Since Shoreline already had an in-house team that managed much of the website day-to-day work, and had already consulted with agencies that had done and delivered standalone assessments and recommendations, I proposed a collaborative engagement built around three day-long workshops with key members of the web and Program Pages teams. We would perform core tasks together, then I would help them set up follow-on work that Highline team members would execute in preparation for our next session.
Our first step was to scope, plan, and prepare for a round of under interviews with Shoreline students and front-line advising staff. Our tasks included:
- Inventorying what we already reliably knew and what needed to be vetted
- Identifying new research goals and what we needed to learn
- Identifying key interviewee target categories
- Creating interview guides for key groups
After Shoreline staff completed the interviews, we met again to analyze and synthesize the data into a set of findings that would inform and drive decisions about site strucure and behavior.
Ad Hoc Personas
We began by combing through the interview data to identify common goal-based situations, and grouped these under unique “I want … /I need …” statements to identify tangible information tasks the site needed to support. We then prioritized these want/need statements and used them to formulate a rough set of “ad hoc” personas.
User Journey Mapping
After we had established an evidence-based understanding of who site users are and what they need to accomplish, we next mapped the ideal path that led prospective students from “I’m interested in pursuing study in … ” to beginning the registration application process.
This map was created collaboratively and with the input of Shoreline’s developemnt, regulatory, and leadership teams in order to ensure practical viability and larger-team buy-in. As a follow-up to our one-day workshop, I refined the journey map we created and delivered it as a document that could be used to drive discussion and further refine the approach throughout the organization.
Our last collaboration session focused on brainstorming taxonomy and content modeling approaches for the Program Pages section based on insight gathered to date. This workshop involved representatives from Shoreline’s web, tech, regulatory, and leadership teams and resulted in a set of implementable models that the web team will continue to evolve and then integrate into the new website during the summer break.
Shoreline used the work we did in our collaborative sessions to work through a process and technique roadblock that they had been unable to overcome with in-house expertise. Our workshop sessions helped them better understand the problems they were facing and effectively frame solutions to get past them. Once this groundwork was set, they were ready to take the work back in-house and use their internal resources to finish out the project.
This approach of working “with” Shoreline’s internal team instead of “for” it meant that the final results came at a lower total cost, and that they are more sustainable over time, since the team responsible for implementing them was part of the process all along.