colburn school Website Redesign

ux research / product management

The Colburn School in Los Angeles is a leader in performing arts education, with programs ranging from early childhood to a degree-granting conservatory often called the “Juilliard of the West.”

Colburn needed a website that accurately reflected its wide range of programming and audiences served, while being easy to navigate.

As the project lead and UX researcher, I conducted foundational and iterative user research; collaborated on iterative design; and managed QA and the website launch throughout the yearlong project.

The results of my work exceeded both user and stakeholder expectations, in addition to elevating Colburn’s branding in the broader classical music community.

Mockup of Colburn School homepage on laptop


foundational research

competitive analysis & heuristic evaluation, usability testing, card sort, stakeholder interviews, analytics review, survey

problem definition

personas, user journeys, information architecture

iterative design & launch

tree testing, prototypes, usability testing, build & quality assurance


survey, analytics, reflection

Foundational Research

Foundational research happened in two phases. During the first, I designed and conducted quantitative and qualitative studies to figure out the main areas for improvement on the previous site and how to prioritize them.

After presenting research findings to leadership, we narrowed our focus to brand recognition, navigation, and information architecture.

In the second phase of foundational research, I worked with an agency to dive deeper into each area of focus and gain a broader understanding of how current users had been using and experiencing the website.


My biggest challenges were Colburn’s many distinct audiences and politics surrounding internal stakeholders. To address the first issue, I advocated to expand user research. Involving stakeholders early on and throughout the process was crucial to solving the second; historically, they did not feel heard or represented by my department.

Animated gif showing old homepage design with open menu
The previous site design had too many menus with vague descriptions, confusing users
"In general, it was very hard to find anything on the website. I really had to dig deep and click on everything in hope of finding something."
- user feedback from qualitative testing

Research Methods

2 direct competitors, 2 indirect competitors, 2 influencers

To determine the most important event calendar features to improve to drive ticket sales

  • The highest priority features are search and filter, featured events, and event previews

30 users

To gather statistics about the priority of usability issues

  • Poor mobile responsiveness
  • Complex and confusing user flows

8 users

To gather data to influence stakeholders to change information architecture

  • Most users chose academic units as first-level categories, instead of previous categories of Music and Dance

8 stakeholders

To involve stakeholders in process early on to gain buy-in; to gather insights from subject matter experts

  • Hard to use navigation: many different methods have been developed for navigating the website since menus are unusable, including use of search bar, use of external Google search, and bookmarks and direct links
  • Ineffective homepage design: people generally do not start using the website from the homepage, but if they do, they do not scroll below the fold
  • Ineffective use of space on page templates
  • Key information is hard to find: contact information, student services information i.e. forms

September 1, 2017 – September 1, 2019 (2 years)

To gather data on site trends and usage

  • Top landing pages from Direct traffic include the Homepage, Calendar, Colburn Cafe, and Music page
  • 50% mobile visitors: more mobile sessions than desktop is an anomaly for education, though desktop users were more engaged

413 respondents

To understand current website users’ experiences and expectations

  • Most survey respondents visit the site for performance and event information, followed by program offerings and student resources.
  • The event calendar was ranked as the site’s most important feature, in addition to course offerings, class registration, and financial aid.

Problem Definition

Personas & User Journeys

After combining existing market research with insights from foundational research, I collaborated with the agency to create user journeys for each of the 8 personas that mapped out navigation flows based on their objectives for visiting the site. 

It was important for us to capture the wide breadth of audiences that Colburn serves, but time and budget limited us from fully expanding on current students and parents.

  1. Prospective Community School family
  2. Prospective Conservatory student
  3. Prospective Music Academy student
  4. Prospective Dance student (youth)
  5. Current parents
  6. Current student
  7. Visitors and event attendees
  8. Donors

information architecture

I worked with the agency and internal stakeholders to define the site map (right) based on research findings from stakeholder interviews, usability testing, card sorts, and user journeys.

The main updates included new first-level categories using the four main academic units, and new second-level categories under the Community School that sorted their wide range of programs by age, by instrument, and by program.

Iterative Design & Launch

tree testing

Tree testing helped to refine the information architecture and answer specific questions about where to place certain key pages.

  • Prioritize key information in second-level of IA

  • Clarity of labels and descriptive is important for users

  • Use common labels for general information like parking, maps, etc.

Prototypes & Usability Testing

I built interactivity into prototypes designed by the agency and conducted remote, unmoderated testing to validate and recommend design and IA changes.

  • Effective homepage design
  • Descriptive labels for academic units are effective, although not necessarily findable

Build & Quality Assurance

I worked with each department to write updated web copy, built out the new website page structure, and designed new pages in WordPress. Before launch, I also led QA testing and synthesized detailed feedback from our team of mobile, tablet, and desktop testers to ensure that as many errors and inconsistencies were solved with the agency before launch.
Mockup of homepage design with menu dropdown
The descriptive label for the academic unit (yellow) was helpful if users found it
"It sounds like a really good performing arts school that is for training at all different levels on dance and music."
- user feedback from qualitative testing



  • Branding effectiveness improved: 85% of survey participants found it very easy or moderately easy to understand Colburn’s program offerings from the homepage.
  • Navigation improved: 72% of participants found it very easy or moderately easy to navigate the website.
  • Findability improved, but still has potential to grow: 58% of participants found it very easy or moderately easy to find what they are looking for on the website.


Engagement increased: website visitors visited more pages and spent longer on the site.

  • 10% increase in pages/session
  • 10% increase in average session duration
Screenshot of bar graph: how easy or difficult is it to understand the kinds of programs that Colburn offers from the homepage?
85% of survey participants found it very easy or moderately easy to understand Colburn’s program offerings from the homepage.
"This website is amazing! SO much better than the old one which was hard to navigate and find things."
- survey participant


Stakeholder relationships were key to gaining buy-in and managing change. Listening to them and involving them helped me repair relationships that had been previously damaged so they could trust me with authentic feedback.

Time, budget, and scope are important to manage early on. Although I always want to dive deeper into research, sometimes business constraints influence process (:

Next time, I will create more cohesive benchmarking plan to measure impact.