Accommodation is a major selling point for the University of Dundee, we have around 250 self contained apartments, most of which are located on or around the city campus. Therefore, in parallel with our renewal of the course pages on the Studio website, we have decided to update the Accommodation site.
Due to the way university applications work, requesting a room is more complex than just booking a hotel. You have to hold an offer then we will contact you then there is an award process to try to match students with students they will get along with. As such, the old accommodation site was designed with the goal of guiding applicants through as much information as they need. This was a noble goal, however the underlying assumption was that users would follow the default path – Ikea style – from start to finish.
If you’re a Radio 1 listener you may have heard phrases like “search for Newsbeat Elections to find out more”. Users are now accustomed to searching for anything, whether it’s typing a series of keywords into Google or asking Siri where the nearest coffee shop is. The days of spend more than a minute reading a URL on TV they are far away. Navigation is dead; long live the search.
Many of the changes made to the studio’s website were based on the fact that most applicants will land directly on a course page from a Google search. While left navigation was always available on Study, we found the sheer amount of options to be confusing.
Applicants frequently research universities on external websites, with peer review highly valued over our advertising materials. After all, a university would never put « you will hear bypass sound from your bedroom » on their site. Thankfully Dundee accommodation is rated highly on these websites but the by-product is that applicants already know the words ‘Heathfield’ and ‘Seabraes’ at the outset.
The reason this is important is because the website entry point will often be from a search like « Dundee Uni Heathfield ». Navigation isn’t dead, you just need to figure out where people land and design navigation to work from there.
User starts where user starts
With this in mind, we worked on making individual apartment pages better landing pages, as our analysis suggested that this was the starting point for many users. However, simply changing the starting point doesn’t change the original problem: there are a myriad of contracts and many different user groups that come to the page.
We had previously tried to channel each of these user types – postgraduate, nursing student, Erasmus exchange, current student – into their own separate section of the site. Over time, as users realized they were missing the information they needed, more pages were added to try and help them. Unfortunately, what this caused was a great deal of duplication, plus it took the site to over 60 pages with three distinct levels of navigation.
The solution then was to ensure that no matter what type of user you are, you always have the information available without having to navigate to several other pages. The hard part was how to do it without overloading the pages.
An important part of writing for the web is unlearning the golden rule of elementary school English, « answer the question in one sentence. » People scroll through web pages, looking for a clue that they’re in the right place, before they start reading properly. Therefore, having a large number of complete sentences can work against usability.
Replacing sentences with icons has given us three advantages:
- They have allowed us to highlight the main strengths of our product
- They prevented these points from getting lost in redundant words needed to form a correct sentence
- By breaking up the style of the page they help keep users from getting tired of reading text screeds. When the user arrives at a paragraph it’s a novelty that makes it more likely to be read.
We also considered the most common user case. By trying to treat everyone equally we were doing the majority of applicants a disservice – first years taking the 39 week contract. We made this contract more important by making sure the other contracts were still clear to affected customers.
As mentioned above, getting a room in our accommodation requires an offer, however we receive hundreds of applications every year from applicants who don’t realize they can’t just go and book their room as a hotel. We’ve changed our previous five pages to a single ‘How to Apply’ and put in a series of easy to follow steps to make it clear that they need to apply for their course first.
We have continued this page with information for applicants with disabilities, an explanation of how they will be allocated a room and how they should accept. By putting this information in one place, we believe it will make it more obvious and show it as part of a single procedure.
We’ve also created a unique section for Moving In, to help plan the big day our students arrive. Every year people show up with too much stuff or forget the essentials, so we’ve tried to put all the tips and tricks in one place.
Moving between these pages is the case to have a large button at the bottom of the previous page with a clear call to action. This easier navigation, coupled with a 65% reduction in total page count is designed to help all users find everything they want to know, plus everything they need to know, no matter how they get to our site.