Our best decision - what the Alumni team learned from user research

Posted in: Design, Development, User research

A pre-occupation of the Alumni Relations team in 2014 (beyond being nice to our graduates) has been a thing called Bath Connection. It’s a bespoke online portal which allows students or graduates needing careers advice, support or mentoring, to search for and connect directly with ‘Alumni Experts’ who have voluntarily uploaded a career profile and offered their help.

The damned thing

We were due to launch in October. However, as the summer break sped by, and the speed of development slowed to an infuriating crawl, it would have been tempting to skip what is the subject of this blog post, and just get the thing (which was rapidly being referred to as “the damned thing”) out there.

In retrospect, I’m glad we took the Digital team’s advice to squeeze in some user testing. It was probably the best decision we made over the course of the project.

Testing in twos

We organised the sessions ourselves and wrote a script based on a template provided by Digital. We tested in two stages – our alumni first, followed by our students – inviting individuals into the office, setting them up on a laptop and observing what they did.

We wanted to see if our testers understood what Bath Connection was all about (the ‘proposition’) and if they could perform the basic tasks required to create a profile, search for an Expert and make a connection request.

We found it useful to conduct testing in pairs – one member of staff asking the questions, the other silently taking notes – and follow the same procedure every time. We also felt relieved that we had only arranged a few testers for the first testing round – the first two or three people all spotted the same problem, which would have been soul-destroying to have heard a dozen times more!

After collating findings from a few tests, we went back to the developers to make changes, before resuming testing with an improved system and a new batch of enthusiastic participants. Around 15 people tested Bath Connection in total – each brought a different approach to the tasks we set and gave us some sound advice.

Seeing what we could not

Testing brought two big benefits. First, it was reassuring for us to see that the system we had created actually worked. Second, it was great to have so many fresh eyes on it – there were probably a dozen issues identified over the course of user testing that we wouldn’t have spotted ourselves.

The lesson learned? Possibly that we conducted testing rather too close to our launch date than was comfortable, which meant that a handful of non-critical issues had to be set aside for future development.

We no longer refer to Bath Connection as “the damned thing” – now it’s launched (with more than 500 Experts signed up) we’re very proud of it. Creating a bespoke system like this from scratch, using an external developer, was a leap in the dark for a small team like ours. Doing some robust user testing helped illuminate some of that darkness and, if we ever undertake this kind of project again, it will be top of our to-do list.

So, in short, the proof of the pudding really is in the testing.

Find out more about Bath Connection at https://alumni.bath.ac.uk/netcommunity/bath-connection/home

Posted in: Design, Development, User research