A user-centered redesign of the Kent State SLIS site

Note: This was originally created for an information architecture class – the project was to redesign the Kent State School of Library Science web site. You can also see a usability study of the site.

Executive Summary

The current Kent State University School of Library Science (SLIS) does not meet the needs of the department. This project outlines a plan and strategy for designing a new site. The new site will better communicate the department’s image and core attributes to the outside world and better meet the needs of users. This report covers the entire process, from research and project goals, through the development of a new design and how to measure success. Major recommendations include the use of a simple content management system (CMS), a new navigation structure and graphic design, and a few new content elements such as news, video, and podcasts.


This report will cover the overall strategy for the redesign of the Kent State University SLIS web site, including the site’s audiences, the vision for the site, and analysis of the content and maintenance. Finally, recommendation are made for the content, information architecture, and design of the new site. The ultimate goal of this project is to create a coherent analysis and plan for the SLIS department to execute. The result will be a site that better projects the image of the department, better serves the users, and, if possible, makes the staff’s job a little bit easier.

Site content has been updated, but the organization and design of the site has been the same since 2000. The web has changed a great deal in the last 5 years, and the Kent SLIS site look and feel is not exactly cutting edge. The faculty and staff have voiced a desire to update the site, and there is anecdotal evidence that at least some students find the site lacking. Any new design must better address the needs of the site’s audiences and should better project the image of the department to the outside world. Also, the process used to update the current site is slow and unwieldy. The new site will solve three main problems: poor ease of use, an image that does not fit the department, and difficulty updating the site and communicating with users.

The process followed in creating this report has included requirements-gathering meetings with SLIS faculty and staff, content analysis of the current site, analysis of server logs, brainstorming sessions with Information Architecture Knowledge Management (IAKM) students, analysis of similar sites, academic usability research, the creation of persona, card sorting exercises, wireframing, prototyping and other techniques. The report will recommend additional steps such as formal usability testing be taken as well.

Audience and Vision


Information about the site’s major audiences and the vision for the site were gathered through three methods. First the current site was carefully reviewed for content and organization. Second, a requirements meeting was conducted 9/14/04 with members of the department staff, including Rick Rubin, SLIS Director, Cheryl Tennant, Student Services, Anna Gower, Senior Secretary, and Rhonda Filipan, Academic Program Coordinator. In this meeting we discussed both who the site should serve and what the department want the site to convey. Third, a number of brainstorming sessions were conducted with IAKM students in the Foundational Principles of Information Architecture class with professor David Robins. This section presents the findings of these efforts and lays the groundwork for the site as a whole.

Audiences and user groups

This site must address the needs of a number of different user groups, including:

Current Students – This web site is, after all, the first place that many students will look for information about department policies, classes, faculty and staff, and other information. It can serve as an important means of communication between the department and students along with mailings and email.

Possible subgroups include full-time/part-time, new students/returning students, and students attending the various programs or attending at the different campuses. We believe that these distinctions should be addressed, but that often all students will be performing similar tasks and searching for the same kinds of information. New students will be given special attention, since they may have specific information needs. The different campuses (Kent vs. Columbus) will not be as separated as they are in the current site, although it is important that users not need to guess which information is campus-specific.

Prospective Students – Although the department did not identify recruiting as a problem area, the web site is a natural vehicle for prospective students to find information about the program, how to apply, deadlines, and other information. If the site addresses prospective students we can achieve two goals: first, bringing in a larger, more diverse pool of applicants, and second, saving time spent answering common questions and providing a central location to point prospective students to for all their needs.

Possible subgroups include recent graduates/returning professionals, and applicants could be grouped by the program they wish to pursue (for example, the K-12 program vs. the MLIS/MBA degree). We believe these groups will have a number of tasks in common and can be best addressed as lower-level subdivisions of the prospective student area.

Alumni – The department maintains active contact with alumni and there are alumni events, dinners, a newsletter, and an Alumni and Friends Council. None of this is immediately apparent from the current web site, although there is some alumni information under the “People” section. Although not a primary audience like current and prospective students, the Alumni are an important group with very different tasks and information needs that should be addressed.

Faculty and Staff – There is some information on the site that would be of particular use to faculty and staff, for example the “Request Software” form. The most important task that some faculty and staff members have, however relate to adding and updating content on the site. Because we recommend using a content management system (CMS) for the site, it is important to directly the needs of those who will be updating the site and handle issues like access control.

Other LIS Programs and Professionals – This is in some ways a catch-all category for other users with more general, informational tasks. Individuals in other LIS programs may be interested in the department’s mission statement, contact information for a specific faculty member, etc. Researchers, educators and journalists may also use the site to find description and contact information.


One way to specifically address the needs of users is by developing and applying persona—architypical users that help put a face on who will be visiting the new site. For this report, we give the example of Sally, a member of the prospective student audience.

Persona: Sally 25 years old / female / single / Stow, OH
“I want to do something in science or academia, but I’m sick of short-term jobs and moving around the country.”
Current profession: manager at Wal-Mart
Background: Sally graduated with a BA in Biology in 2002 and has since had a number of short-term positions in and out of her field. She’s worked as a lab tech, as a park guide, and even worked for a large zoo (mostly shoveling manure). In between “real” jobs, she has to do something to pay the bills-hence he current position at Wal-Mart.
Goals: Sally has heard about science librarianship and wants to find out more. She’d like to stay in Ohio but is willing to move. She wants to find a good school that will give her good job prospects.
1) Find out a little more about library science to see if it looks like something she wants to do.
2) Find out about requirements – GPA, GRE, etc.
3) Find out about deadlines for application.
4) Make sure a LIS degree from Kent can get her a job-what’s the placement rate?
5) Look at courses to see if any sound interesting.
6) Find a professor who teaches a science library course and get contact information.
7) Apply for admission.


Now that we have established who will be using the site, it’s important to determine what the department wishes the site to convey. A site can only convey so much information at once, and it is important to pare down the attributes we are trying to communicate so that they are clear and effective.

Most of this section comes from the requirements meeting, where the staff in attendance agreed that the site should convey the following.

Cutting Edge – this is a library and information science program after all, the faculty are conducting research and teaching methods on the cutting edge of the field, and this site should reflect that. Kent’s SLIS program that leans more toward technology than the humanities. This has implications for the site design—the site must be visually modern and striking, and employ an advanced information architecture and standards-based coding. The site should be accessible and printable.

Professional – Kent State’s SLIS program is specifically geared toward training professionals to go out into the world and work, whether it be in a public library, K-12 or even the private sector. Research and grants are not as important as quality teaching and placement. The site should project a very professional image. This should modify the Cutting edge aspect of the site somewhat—that means no fancy, pointless Flash animations—we are not here just to show off.

Caring – The library profession requires constant interpersonal interaction and few librarians get into the field because of money—instead they wish to educate others, spread knowledge, and support the democratic process. Kent State’s program is a nurturing place, a community, and the site should reflect that. An important aspect of this attribute that must be stated is a respect for Diversity. The panel members specifically mentioned their wish to reach out to groups and communities that are not currently well represented in the field.

These three attributes should be supported when making decisions on content and features, information architecture, and graphic design. How do we integrate all three of these attributes? Providing streaming video of professors would be a perfect example. Video is cutting edge, but can be done very professionally, and puts a face, voice and personality to the list of names on the faculty page.

Another example would be sample podcasts of lectures. This would have to be done on a volunteer basis, perhaps with permission of the university, but podcasts are one of the hottest new media on the web, allowing people to download audio programs to their MP3 players and listen at their leisure. Reputable organizations like NPR are making podcasts available and they also give a much more personal introduction to a course than a syllabus.

One more attribute should be mentioned, although this one is directed at specific user groups.

Authoritative – This is the official site of the program, and students should be able to trust the information they find here. That has important implications: content must remain up-to-date, content must be under editorial control, and content should be reasonably complete. It also means that highly interactive features like message boards, student blogs, and chat should probably be avoided if they can’t be kept under strict control.

Content Analysis

Content must be driven by two factors: what do audiences want to know, and what does the organization want to communicate? The SLIS site’s audiences are described in detail above. The new site’s content will be primarily composed of current content, reorganized, with a few new features. We believe that this fits well with the scope of the project.

The findings below are a result of careful analysis of the current content and navigation structure, other SLIS program web sites, and traffic logs.

Current content

Map of current siteThe current content supports many of the user tasks identified and does a fair job of meeting the organization’s goals, if the site design and organization does not. This makes sense because of the organic way in which the site has grown: most content has probably been added as new programs, facilities, faculty, etc. appeared or as staff members noticed users looking for it. Most of the changes we propose involve rearranging, reorganizing, and presenting the content more effectively.

The current content is divided into seven major categories. A sitemap diagram shows the first two levels of organization (Attachment 1). Other, similar SLIS programs have similar content. (See attachment 2). ….

New content

We recommend five major pieces of new content for the site:

1) News – The current site has a small news page, but it is not very visible, not regularly updated, and primarily consists of press releases. Creating a more visible and interesting news section can serve a number of site goals and a number of user groups. Regular notices about faculty publications and scholarships will look attractive to prospective students. Current student and other users that repeatedly visit the site, will notice the regular updates—credibility is enhanced by timeliness. Also, this will help serve the departments communications needs, working along side mailings, emails, and other methods of contact. It is important to note that this requires an additional commitment for the department.

Since this is not a portal, there is no need to update daily or on-the hour. The department should try to update the news section at least once a week, either with a press release-type item, important dates and deadlines on the academic calendar, new content available on the site, or even links to interesting library and information science articles in magazines or journals. If the CMS ultimately used for the site supports it, RSS feeds should be made available to highlight the department’s awareness of new and interesting technologies.

2) About library and information science – This content would be targeted specifically at prospective students. Although a large number of incoming students are already in the field, many come from different undergrad backgrounds or are looking for a later career change. The department has expressed a desire to attract a wider and more diverse field of applicants, and information about the field—what is studied, what careers in library and information science look like, descriptions of different programs—would help a great deal.

Unlike news content, this section would require a bit of work up front but could be useful without frequent updates. The new content would need to be written by someone in the department with an understanding of the different programs and the field. It’s possible the department already has flyers or mailings that could be used here. It is important to consider the main attributes listed above when creating this content—writing should be professional but personal. We are not selling library science, we are describing and explaining it.

3) Video – We highly recommend adding appropriate video to the site because it helps support the sites’ core attributes and goals. This idea was brought up during the requirements meeting. Right now each faculty member has the standard C.V. and list of interests. Adding a video clip where the faculty member introduces themselves and talks a little bit about their interests and classes would add a much more personal touch. In addition to pointing out the technological savvy of the department a simple, polished video presentation with decent lighting and sound would look very professional. Other areas that could benefit from a video introduction would be the distributed learning classroom, the Reinberger Children’s Library Center, and other facilities. It is important to constrain video to only subjects interesting to users, specifically prospective students.

Creating of this content would require further investigation, but it is very likely the department already has the resources to do this (or if not, can access resources elsewhere in the university). Faculty videos should be fairly simple to produce, but other videos might require a little more work to script and edit. Technical issues regarding video format and bandwidth should be left up to the web developers with the guideline that the end result be as easy to use as possible.

4) Existing documents not currently on the site – One measure of a site’s credibility is breadth in coverage. It is hard to convince current students that the web site is a “one-stop shop” for information if they find items missing. This includes additional forms, pamphlets, mailers, etc. produced by the department. At the very least, PDF copies of other publications should be made available on the web site. Anything produced for public release should be on the site, with exceptions made for documents that are confidential, must be placed elsewhere (on the university home page, Vista, etc.), or are otherwise inappropriate.

5) Podcasts – Although audio on the web is nothing new, podcasting has grown quickly since it’s start in 2003 and Apple’s addition of podcasts to iTunes in June. “Podcasting” is a misleading term, since they are not limited to iPods and do not employ traditional broadcasting. In essence audio is recorded and then published online where users are able to subscribe, download, and listen at their leisure. We believe podcasting a few lectures each semester would give a big boost to the department’s cutting-edge image and might create interest in the department and classes in new ways. Faculty members would be encouraged to take a look at their lesson plans and pick a class they wouldn’t mind having recorded and made available—the first day of class, for example, or a lecture on a subject they’ve done research on.

This content presents a few challenges that would have to be overcome. Any participants being recorded would need to know ahead of time about the recording and volunteer. The university’s legal department should be consulted. Recording should not be too difficult, with computers available in almost every classroom, although a microphone and software might need to be purchased (or borrowed). The web developers will need to make sure that uploading and publishing of podcasts is possible through the site’s CMS.

Publishing Content

The current method of publishing content on the site must be improved in order to support the goals of the department and reduce workload. Currently different sections of the site are the responsibility of different staff members. When an update needs to be made to an existing page, the staff member in charge prints out the page, makes the changes, then hands it to the network administrator. New content is sent to the network administrator as well. This results in a time lag to get any changes on the site and some duplication of efforts.

In order to keep the site up-to-date, support new content mentioned above, and cut down on the amount of work, we highly recommend the new site use a CMS instead of static web pages. The network administrator’s time is often limited (and upcoming organizational changes may leave the department without their own administrator). Training a staff member to update and manage a static HTML web site would take time and none of those present at the requirements meeting expressed real interest.

We believe one staff member should be designated as the main contact for web site updates with others serving as backups. The main contact would be in charge of the news section and most updating, although different staff members may still be in charge of their own section.

The CMS must meet the following requirements:

1) Stable – once the web developers have set it up, it must require minimum maintenance work. That means we should limit our search to well-regarded commercial software or mature open-source applications.

2) Affordable – some commercial CMS’s cost tens of thousands of dollars. This system must fit well within the department’s budget.

3) Simple – This site does not require many of the features and functionality that some CMS’s provide. For example we have no need for message boards, live chat, student logins, and blogs. It should be as easy as possible for the staff to update the site.

4) Functional – the CMS must support the site’s requirements, meaning we must be able to update a front-page news section, post files such as PDFs and Word documents, link to video and audio, and support the desired information architecture.

Site Redesign


We have three overarching requirements. First, the department’s web site must support the tasks of user groups we have identified:

  • Current students
  • Prospective students
  • Alumni
  • Faculty and staff
  • Other programs and professionals

The five groups have one thing in common: their task sets are by and large limited to information-seeking. Some times this is part of a larger task, such as prospective students wishing to apply of admission or current students wishing to select classes. The SLIS website, however, is used in information gathering stages of these tasks rather than final execution.

Second, the site must actively project the key attributes of the department:

  • Cutting Edge
  • Professional
  • Caring

Finally, the site must support the department’s need to communicate effectively. This includes different kinds of communication to different user groups. For example the department may wish to use the website to both answer current student’s questions about graduation while also attracting prospective students doing general web searches.

Functional Requirements

We believe the requirements listed above imply that the new site:

  • Contain a user and task-driven primary navigation structure, with other parallel navigation structures a possibility.
  • Contain content to address those users’ needs, including the current content and new content identified above.
  • Be designed to express the department’s attributed visually.
  • Have a CMS so that updating and managing content is much easier.
  • Support serving and organizing PDF documents, audio, video, and other files.
  • Support modern, accessible, standards-based markup that is search-engine friendly.

Goals and Measurement

Without measurement we cannot be certain that the new site has met our goals. Three key areas of interest brought up during the requirements gathering meeting included:

1) Ease of use – Users must be able to find what they are looking for easily. This was phrased mostly in terms of task completion, although other measures (such as time to complete or steps to complete) may be useful as well. We recommend running a formal, but small usability test with the current site and then with the new design, comparing results. For the test, four or five members of each group should run through a small number of representative tasks. If it is necessary to cut corners due to time constraints we would recommend running the test with the current student user group, since they would be the easiest to recruit and work with. For each task we will record and compare the completion rate, the average time per user, and the average path length (number of clicks) to completion. It would be nice to run a usability test with content creators (staff members) as well, but we would have no earlier system to compare to and (depending on the CMS chosen) less flexibility to make changes in the future. One other measure might be the number of calls and emails sent to staff about information already available on the site. Staff members could be asked to keep a count of such contacts for a few months while the current site is in operation, then keep a count after the new site has come online to compare.

2) User opinion – Users should be polled about the old site and the new site to determine two things: do they like it, and what does it say to them? The former can be measured with a Likert-type scale and the latter by word association. Users could be asked to simply list words to describe the site, or pick words from a list, and the results matched against the site’s attributes. This could be folded in as part of the usability study.

3) Comparison to other SLIS sites – this is a broader area but could be measured in several ways. The first would be a survey asking appropriate user groups (prospective students for example) to look at and then rate the Kent State SLIS site versus several others. Another measure could be search engine ranking—target search phrases would be run on a popular search engine like Google and the site’s page rank recorded. This last method would be easier to do and could measure the new site versus the old, but would be a less direct measurement. Another measure might be an increase or increase in diversity of the applicant pool, although it is hard to eliminate external variables from that measurement.

Site Functions


There are a number of ways that a web site can be organized, but the most important concern for an informational site such as this is that users are able to find what they are looking for. This means that a generic, org-chart navigation will probably not be very successful—most users will not know or care how the department is organized. Many department web sites a hierarchical navigation structure using common subject areas such as “programs,” “courses,” and “people.” Three schools identified by the department as similar or competing institutions, organize their sites into major sections this way:

University of Kentucky School of Library and Information Science: University of Pittsburgh Department of Library and Information Science Wayne State University Library and Information Science Program:
Main Navigation Links:
General Info Academics About Us
Academics Degrees Degrees & Certificates
Admissions People Admission & Fin. Aid
Courses About DLIS Courses & Schedules
People Services & Policies
Facilities People & Groups
News Calendar & Events
Jobs & Resources
Student Handbook
LISAA (alumni association)
Sidebar Links:
Mission Prospective Students
Newsletter Current Students
Our College Faculty & Staff
UK Libraries Alumni & Visitors
Student Info Update Research Projects
Contact Us The Fine Institute

From these examples two things are clear: first, it is common to include more than one method of navigation (with both a main navigation bar and a sidebar of links on the homepage), and second, that these departments tend to be organized into sections (by subject) similar to the current Kent SLIS site.

New navigation structure diagram

Since we have such well-defined user groups, however, we do not believe that is the best structure for the primary navigation scheme. Instead, we will use a faceted organizational scheme with the primary facet addressing each user group individually and a secondary navigation structure by subject.

Primary Navigation: User groups and tasks

Wireframe mockup of site designThe first four user groups are easiest to address directly, with Prospective Students and Current Students the primary and Alumni and Faculty and Staff as secondary target audiences. The more nebulous Other Programs and Professionals group is probably least important and is probably least likely to self-identify. The home page and user-group based navigation should reflect the relative importance of the different audiences, with the first two at the top of the list, taking up more screen real estate. The second level navigation will be by task. So, for example, the user might go to the home page, identify themselves as a current student, and from there choose a link labeled “find courses” in the second level. (See attachment)

Wireframe mockup of site designOn the homepage we will have a navigation area with a section for each of the user groups. Within each section will be a few top likely tasks with direct links. Clicking on the sections takes users to a landing page directed specifically at them, with the full task list, and each task-level link will either hit a further landing page or go direct to the resource that fulfills the task.

Secondary Navigation: By Subject

Wireframe mockup of site designThere will be a secondary navigation area or sidebar with the traditional subject-category scheme, similar to the current navigation structure. The subjects will include:

  • About SLIS (includes current About Us section)
  • Library Science (includes new content about the field)
  • Programs and Degrees (includes current Programs section)
  • Courses (includes current Courses section with any new content)
  • People (includes current People section)
  • Resources (includes current Facilities and Links sections)


Wireframe mockup of site designIt is extremely important that labeling follows or accommodates user language as opposed to unfamiliar department or specialist language. Each of the user groups should be addressed directly. So it is less appropriate to use jargon with prospective students than current students. The page for the “12-12-12 Distance Degree Program” is a good example: a link for prospective students should identify it is “Distance Degree Program,” “Distance Learning,” “Off-campus Master’s Degree,” or something similar, since “12-12-12” will not mean anything to most incoming students. Links to the same page from the current student pages could use the “12-12-12” label, so long as it is what students use to refer to it.

We will also strive for clarity in labeling. The site’s graphic design must be able to accommodate longer labels and link titles where appropriate.

Design Ideas

Design mockup

Design mockup


Search is extremely important in any site with sizable content. Although we take great pains to organize the site so that users can find what they are looking for quickly and easily, many will prefer to simply type in keywords rather than navigate.

Further, a large number of the prospective student group will come to the site by search engine rather than through the university, or department home page. Making it easier to find the department, or department pages, from the outside world can only help. That means that it is imperative that:

  1. The CMS chosen or developed for the site must create standards-complaint, readily-indexable web pages
  2. The CMS must create search-engine friendly URLs
  3. The site’s navigation must make it clear the context of the each page within the site, in case a user comes to that page directly (this also rules out the use of frames).

We do not recommend creating a search engine from the ground up for this site. That would be a large scale project in and of itself, and the return would probably not be worth the investment. Instead we recommend using either the CMS’s built-in search capabilities or a popular engine like Google, or perhaps both (on an “Advanced search” page).

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