When making a decision, it’s often a balancing act between intuition and data. When we lack the data, we lean on our intuition. But there’s a risk with this approach. We should always be trying to close the gap to make even better decisions.
As part of implementing Codiance Higher for The University of Bedfordshire we were tasked with a redesign of their website. We all agreed it felt ‘dated’ and we were confident we could make it look ‘good’. But making a website look good doesn’t necessarily mean better results!
Designing towards clear outcomes
The University of Bedfordshire had a set of logical, but intuitively-led design requests. The first thing we suggested was aligning every design choice to two key challenges faced by every university:
- How do we increase open day attendance?
- How do we increase course applications?
We took the decision to run an in-depth eye-tracking study to close the gap between intuition and data. As part of this, we worked with real prospective students, who completed tasks whilst having their behaviours tracked in a controlled environment.
There were three real surprises that your university could benefit from right away:
1. Implement scrolling, rather than deeper linking
To the left of every course page, a large menu allowed people to jump to varying sections within each course. Technically, it was the shortest route to important information. It should have made webpage consumption more palatable.
However the data showed it wasn’t looked at. It wasn’t doing the job it was designed for.
Based on the eye-tracking behaviours in the study, we instead made each section easier to consume whilst scrolling. More content was now consumed. It was particularly impactful on mobile as it made navigation less cumbersome and more natural.
2. Focus on better search functionality, rather than homepage links
Homepage real estate was heavily sought after. Intuitively, it felt the most prominent place on the website. Although rational, it wasn’t reflected in the data.
In reality, prospective students already knew what courses they were looking for when arriving at beds.ac.uk. Someone looking for an English degree wouldn’t be encouraged to click an engineering link.
In fact the first thing everyone wanted to do was ‘search’. This would never have been spotted through website click data alone.
We therefore focused on dramatically improving the search functionality and prominently placing a large search box in the centre of the homepage. This made it super-simple to fulfil the primary objective of searching for courses!
3. Structure your menus around student behaviours rather than internal structures
The top menu is where people were meant to find their desired courses. It contained every school and department, structured as the university was internally structured.
Over time, navigation became overwhelming. By being aligned to internal structures and not user-behaviour, navigation could actually be counterintuitive.
We simplified this menu and structured it around search behaviours rather than internal structures. Although search was always the first action, the new menu system made contingent browsing simpler and more sticky. People stayed for longer.
The University Of Bedfordshire has seen a 68% increase in enquiries and 40% increase in open day views on their website. They’ve bucked the national trend. We of course can’t put this all down to us! - but we’re confident we’ve played a vital role in helping the university put its best foot forward with every student interaction.
To see how we can help you and your university, please get in touch and speak directly to our Codiance Higher team!