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.
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.
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
To gather statistics about the priority of usability issues
- Poor mobile responsiveness
- Complex and confusing user flows
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
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
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.
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.
- Prospective Community School family
- Prospective Conservatory student
- Prospective Music Academy student
- Prospective Dance student (youth)
- Current parents
- Current student
- Visitors and event attendees
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 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
- 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