UW Research Commons

Website Redesign

Quick Facts

Role: UX designer, PM

My Tasks: Interaction design, visual design, prototyping, IA, research, usability testing, content writing

Timeframe: 10 weeks

Team: 2 researchers, designer, developer


Restructure the Research Commons (RC) site to make it easy for students to find:

  1. The primary things they're coming to the site for
  2. And discover additional services


A functional prototype in InVision, mockups for the entire site, and approval by Research Commons for the next redesign.


I conducted research and worked with our team to understand how students currently use the site and what they would like to accomplish.

“Lots of cool events, but people don’t know about them.”

—Help Desk attendent 2

Usability tests revealed that UW students did not know much about the library and struggled to navigate the site.

Doing well in school & working quickly were most students' end goals of using the library, with ~70% using the RC for group work.

Information Architecture

We found organizing the IA challenging because of so many great but unrelated services. The site required many clicks, and even experienced users had a difficult time finding things.

We ran a card sort and a navigation test, and grouped features to better facilitate specific tasks.

Two Key changes

  • Split up research collaboration and personalized help
  • Gave graduate funding and events a bigger voice.

Navigation Testing

We stressed about getting the navigation right to help students find things faster, and better promote the library’s services. I researched other UW and external sites, and I tested designs with students in the RC.

Key findings

  • Changing "Services" to "one-on-one help" led to increased understanding and interest
  • Flyout menu led to better mental groupings for users, and made it easier to travel between diverse content
  • Workspaces was of primary importance, but other services were more discoverable in the navigation

Concept Testing

Five layouts and flows were tested to (1) optimize the primary task of reserving spaces and equipment while (2) encouraging exploration of other services.

We broke away from the minimalist layout of the site because it was making it difficult to find and complete tasks, and instead grouped similar content that would be used together.

Key findings

  • Medium-length pages with complete informationworked better than content spread across multiple, minimalist pages
  • Our current home page had too much info, and needed to be more targeted
  • Most users wanted to see “reserve a space” right away

High-Fidelity Prototype

We wanted to convey how unique the RC is, but still feel part of the UW brand. We used an Invision prototype to see if students could find and accomplish their work faster with our new layouts.

I also did content strategy for all the pages and simplified the formatting and phrases to resonate with busy students.

Learnings & challenges

  • We first used a bright green, but it drew too much attention and didn’t feel like UW at all.
  • Copy should be cohesive and speak in the user’s language

Final Mockups

(Click images to view in new tab)

Along with the navigation, I designed the About and Research Events sections.

About Page: I simplified 5 "About" pages into one comprehensive page.

Research Events: I simplified 11 disparate pages into 5 cohesive pages with a clear workflow. I used visuals and language to help explain the complex academic events, and appeal to a wider range of students.

Old About Pages (2 of 5 pages)

New About Page

Final Navigation

I designed the final navigation based on all stages of our testing. Even though it has more headings and includes dropdowns, students were able to find pages more quickly and accurately.

Next Steps

The RC loved our ideas, but sadly, they had much less developer time than they had originally hoped. Next time, I would spend more time talking with the client about the implementation so we can deliver something better within their resources.

What I Learned

  • A clean, simple page is not always the best. Finding the happy point for information between overwhelming and not enough is challenging but worthwhile.
  • Test often! It catches mistakes early, and reduces the stress of getting it perfect the first time.
  • Meet with developers earlier so I can make better recommendations.