The University of Michigan Alumni Association (UMAA) serves as the main contact point between the university and its extensive alumni population. Meeting the diverse information, networking, and support needs of U-M graduates worldwide, the organization needed a complex and versatile website that would incorporate a variety of dynamic elements but still be easy to navigate and easy to use. The website would provide a number of unique online services, but they would only be useful if site visitors could easily and successfully take advantage of them.
The UMAA came to Diamond Bullet for help in meeting their service and usability goals. The new site would incorporate many key features and components, all designed to ultimately enhance the appeal, usefulness, and usability of the site. They included:
In addition, the new site would include an affinity portal to differentiate member and non-member services. Only members would be able to access the organization's Career/Exchange Center, while an online catalog of products and promotional materials would be available to nonmembers as well. The site design would also incorporate separately maintained UMAA community sites based in various cities.
Diamond Bullet Tasks
The UMAA contracted Diamond Bullet to perform the following tasks:
Audience and Goal Assessment
First, Diamond Bullet met with UMAA team leaders to determine the various components and products that comprise the UMAA. These meetings helped us determine the various audiences for the site and understand the goals of department heads and other project stakeholders. After determining the base set of components that defined the UMAA for site visitors, we worked to organize these elements into an effective navigation system.
After initially considering a breakdown of navigation based on user role (student, family member, alumnus, etc.), we determined that destination overlap was high, as different types of users would often be going to the same place. The "Events and Athletics" page would be of interest to all audiences, for example. We therefore determined that a goal-oriented navigation would be most effective, with each main heading representing a major user task or goal.Visual Design
To determine the final look and feel for the site, we went through multiple rounds of mockup development for each set of templates. After a preliminary look, or visual design, was approved, we refined it by creating a variety of alternatives until arriving at the site's current visual design. We completed this work in collaboration with UMAA graphic designers and the organization's head of marketing.User Testing and Card Sorting
We performed multiple rounds of user testing throughout the project, concentrating specifically on the redesigned information architecture, or deep structure, of the site. We identified common user tasks, then observed users as they performed these tasks in order to study the impact of our work. Testing a wide range of users in a one-on-one setting enabled us to continuously improve both the navigation and Career/Exchange Center portions of the site based on user feedback.
In addition to user testing, we performed a variety of "card sorting" exercises to improve the effectiveness of site structure and terminology. A card sorting exercise is a usability test that assesses how individuals cognitively group concepts. When conducted across a group of users, patterns surface regarding the logical grouping of information and any problematic concepts or labels. By showing us where representative groups of users expect to find different page destinations and which labels make sense to them, card sorting helps us to generate a highly effective and intuitive information architecture for a site.Long-Term Maintenance Capabilities
With the continuing evolution of the UMAA website in mind, we designed and implemented a deluxe administration system that would allow UMAA staff members to access, manipulate, and delete information from website databases. This enables the organization to keep site content fresh and up to date, while holding maintenance costs to a minimum.
Based on a clear profile of the needs of the UMAA and its website visitors, we created and deployed a complex, multi-task site that is easy to navigate and easy to use. In user testing and surveys, our work received high marks for attractiveness, responsiveness, focus, and ease of navigation.
A project of this scope required strict attention to the budget and schedule needs of the UMAA. Diamond Bullet was successful in delivering the completed product, with all its component parts, on time and on budget.
Through a focus on usability, we created an appealing, easy-to-use system that fosters a continuing relationship with the University of Michigan and its alumni organization, as well as encouraging dialogue and interaction among alumni. We developed a versatile system capable of evolving with the changing needs of an important and vibrant institution.