For a long time, Cappex has served over 10 million prospective students with the information they need regarding colleges. However, in recent years, the access to college information has become more and more convenient so that many competitors are able to provide the same information. Let's why we started to rethink every product we have and how to make them better.
Our goal is simple: college admissions is complicated, we want to guide students through the journey and help them get accepted to their dream schools.
1. Make it simple for everyone to use.
2. Provide users with more guidance on where to find content.
3. Create a platform or ecosystem instead of a stand-alone product.
I led the user research process and collaborated with two product managers and one other designer to conduct user research. I also led the effort in analyzing research results and setting goals of the design. In addition, I continued working with the other designer on the detailed UI design phase as the website started to get built.
The new Cappex website will be launched in September 2018.
When we started the project, we didn't have immediate problems we want to solve and we didn't feel we have a solid understanding of the pain points on the user journey. Therefore, we decided to do exploratory user research first.
We started by interviewing students to understand the general steps they took on the admissions journey and the major pain points they faced. Our team had 3 rounds of interviews and interviewed over 50 students and parents in total.
Our interview process was iterative. For every round, we refined our script to include better questions.
As we gather more information about the steps students take, we are putting post-it notes on the wall to form a user journey map.
After the 3rd round of interview, we gathered enough information to conclude the user journey map. The college admissions journey includes 8 big steps, each 8 step may also contain several small steps. Although the journey is not in a strictly linear order, we could present it in a relatively linear more conveniently as the following:
From the interviews, we also collected nearly a hundred potential problems to solve. However, we understood that we are a small company with unlimited resources and that solving many problems at the same time would not be realistic. Therefore, we decided to prioritize the problems.
Firstly, we wrote down the potential problems in the format of outcome statements students want to achieve. For example, one outcome statements could be "minimize the time it takes to search for admissions requirements". Then we worked with Qualtrics to send the outcome statements to over one thousand students and parents via a survey to evaluate 2 metrics for each statement:
Importance: how important to achieve the outcome
Satisfaction: how satisfied with the market solutions to achieve the outcome
After getting the survey responses back, we were standing at a better position to redesign the user experience. We started to pay special attention to the areas where Cappex participates and found several pain points we can start working on:
From the exploratory research, we discovered two types of search needs: exact search and exploratory search. When students do not have sufficient domain knowledge to conduct the exact search, exploratory search is highly preferred. They want to quickly discover the colleges that match their preferences.
We reviewed our current advanced search design and we identified a few obvious issues.
Before redesigning the search interface, we did a survey to understand what filters students wish to have and planned to order accordingly. We asked "what questions you want to get answered?" and "what filters do you wish to have" on the survey. We sent out the survey to over 300 students and received the results.
College search should be simple. Ideally, users should be able to click a few times and narrow the results down to match their preferences. After having a better understanding of our users, we started to create the design from wireframe to detailed screen mockups.
Redesigned College Search
Most of the users come to our site to research colleges. Once they pass the college search, they will land on college profiles which provide information on each college.
We have more than 300 data points on each college, and from the research, locating data points is one of the major pain points for users, along with several other issues:
In order to make sure that students can easily find the information they need, so we decided to take a step back and do an information architecture study.
350 Cappex users participated in a hybrid card-sorting task. We gave each participant 30 cards and each card contains one statement about a college. Participants were asked to sort each card into 5 pre-defined groups. If a participant finds that it is hard to group some cards into the groups, the participant can create a new group and name the new group.
The card-sorting was done online via a survey tool as in the following image.
After analyzing the research results using percentage rate and distance metrics, we created an information tree that all college data should live within. We were confident that this new architecture can help students find the college information they need more easily.
Redesigned College Profiles
From the research, we found that the parents and counselors are commonly the "co-pilot" of students' college admissions journey. Over 70% of students told us that their parents are major decision makers.
However, Cappex didn't really empathize with these other roles and did not provide features tailored to their needs. To change that, starting from the registration, we provide a more tailored experience.
The primary users are still high school students who plan to attend colleges within the next two year, but we also made sure that the other roles are included in the registration.
We reconsidered all the questions we asked on the registration path and took the unnecessary questions out. As a result, we were able to reduce the number of steps from 4 to 2. In addition, we changed our previously binary gender question to be more inclusive.
As we are redesigning Cappex, we wanted to avoid any issues that stop users from completing their tasks. Before launching new features, we conducted a series of usability testing sessions to validate design assumptions and identify usability problems.
We track and prioritize the issues identified through usability testing, and set a 2-month feedback cycle. For every 2 months, we do another round of usability testing to identify new issues and validate whether the design change solves the issues found previously.
Some Design Improvements
From the usability testing, we found that when users use our platform to submit college applications, it is inconvenient to only allow submission of one application at a time. Therefore, we built a bulk submission feature.
We also found that when users are filling out a long form, such as college applications, they are not sure if the form is being saved in real-time. Therefore, we designed a save indicator micro-interaction to keep users confident about their information being saved. The indicator shows up for 3 seconds once a user finishes editing an input field.
This is a long-term iterative project. In the long run, we will continue to make effort on simplifying user journey, crafting more user-friendly features, and making the product engaging and fun through gamification. Stay tuned for updates!
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