Improving user experience and fostering change

This is the second of a series of reflections on this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop.

Read an introduction and the other posts.


Gateshead Millennium Bridge

Following Ross Ferguson’s inspiring talk, further food for thought was provided by Neil Allison, head of user experience at the University of Edinburgh. He posed the question: what’s with user experience in higher education?

This talk provided a reminder that the website usability is just a small part of the overall user experience. He cited Jared Spool, who pointed out that the user experience can be ruined by a bad face-to-face interaction, no matter how good the website usability is.

This is key for us in universities. Only small a part of our business takes place online. The majority of interactions are still face-to-face.

We talk lots about making sure that the website, digital communications and print publications are all consistent with each other. But many of us are not yet asking about how this ties in with the physical interactions the organisation undertakes.

This got me thinking about the nature of our roles. We have recently made the big leap of thinking beyond web and encompassing digital as a whole. But now I wonder if we should be making a further leap beyond just digital.

Perhaps we should be thinking about how we can contribute towards the user experience and service design as a whole, and the impact that could have on student and staff satisfaction. For most of our users, the web and digital is just one part of that overall experience.

Neil Allison pointed out that there is a huge UX community out there, and lots of UX jobs are advertised in the commercial sector and local government. But very little of this is happening yet in the higher education sector.

Neil noted that UX flourishes in markets where the product has matured and UX becomes the differentiator between products. Since the introduction of tuition fees, students have come to expect more from our services. So perhaps it is time for the higher education sector to start taking UX more seriously.

Neil also made the point that, just like the web and digital, UX is not a project. It is a process. There is no use just throwing money at it for a couple of years. This is about fundamentally changing the culture and processes of the organisation.

I take heart from the fact that the University of St Andrews is beginning to make some of these advances. A change unit is being created on top of the increasing adoption of lean. There is currently a lot of will among the people on the front line here. The organisational change required to foster that energy is beginning to happen.


Read more posts about IWMW 2014.

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