User-driven design: improving the website user journey

Daniela de Leon
Thursday 9 May 2024

We ran user tests on our study and subjects webpages to understand how the structure and information could be improved.

The current study and subjects webpages are biased towards undergraduate students. Furthermore, students have to continually make choices as to whether they are an undergraduate or postgraduate student, for example, on the fees and funding page. We wanted to test an alternative approach, where information was separated into undergraduate and postgraduate sections, to see if it would make it easier for users to find what they need.

Stock image of people using post-it notes in a user testing session.
We found that this new approach worked: 57% of users were able to find all the necessary information to apply for a postgraduate course using the new site layout, compared to only 14% who could do the same on the existing site. These tests provided valuable insights into how users interact with the website and highlighted areas for improvement.

How we tested

To see how well users could find postgraduate information on our website, we set up two tasks: one with the current website design and another with a version that had separate sections for undergraduate and postgraduate content. We asked participants to speak out loud about their actions and thoughts as they navigated the website, noting which pages they visited, how they got there, and any difficulties they encountered.

We chose a group of seven users based on research by Turner, Lewis, and Nielsen, which shows that this sample size was enough to identify 90% of the scenario’s usability problems that happen at least 30% of the time. Although most were undergraduates, we also included postgraduate students and others not currently enrolled at the University. Those studying at the University were enrolled in a range of science and arts based University courses. How often they used the University website varied from no time at all, to more than two hours a week.

What we found

We gained a lot of useful insights into how users move through the site and the problems they encounter when looking for information.

Some of the major themes that emerged were:

  • Search preference: Users prefer to use Google or the website’s search feature to browse through menus. They find it easier and faster – there was a general sense of frustration at how many pages they needed to click through when not using search.
  • Navigational challenges: Users are confused by the website’s mix of old and new designs, which disorients them and makes them doubt the accuracy of the information. The desktop version of the site also has layout issues which make it difficult for users to navigate content.
  • Terminology clarity: Many users are not familiar with University terms like ‘foundation’ or ‘supported pathways’. This shows a need for simple, jargon-free language on the site, especially for prospective students.
  • Search functionality: Despite preferring search, users find the site search interface to be difficult to use and the results it returns overwhelming.
  • Content concerns: Users feel some of the content they encounter is too promotional, text-heavy, or vague to be helpful. They want streamlined, detailed answers without having to read too much to find them.
  • Social media: Users feel that platforms like TikTok offer a more genuine look at University life. They prefer using these social media sites over the University’s website to learn about student experience.

Potential next steps

  • Search functionality: Users prefer search. Improving our site search for a more streamlined user experience will help users get the information they need from our website.
  • User-friendly terminology: Using clear and simple language on the website will help to ensure that everyone has access to the information they need for programmes like widening access and participation.
  • Simplify content: Avoid overwhelming users by reducing the amount of text in our content and combining important information into fewer pages with clear, brief summaries.
  • Course information: Streamline the content on course pages by focusing on the details users need most, such as assessment methods, reading lists, and sample timetables.
  • Social media presence: Connect with users on social media platforms that they are already using, like TikTok or YouTube. Sharing ‘day in the life’ videos and hosting live question and answer sessions could bridge the gap between the website’s information-driven approach and the authentic, experience-focussed content users prefer.


Overall, our user testing highlighted the benefits of organising content into separate sections for undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

We also found meaningful insights about how users interact with the University website as a whole. We’re excited to put these insights into action, making the website a more accessible and user-friendly experience for everyone.