The Problem

KumAJET, the Kumamoto prefecture branch of the Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching, had a messy website. It was unclear what the purpose of the site was or what kind of information users should expect to find. And the information that was on the site was buried behind a labyrinth of headings, sub-headings, and even sub-sub headings.

The Solution

  • Stakeholder interview to discover the goals of the organization and how the website fit into them
  • Competitive analysis to see what KumAJET could learn from the successes and failures of other prefectures’ AJET sites
  • Benchmark user testing to see how easy or difficult a time users had completing tasks under the current setup. This testing allowed us to know if our eventual changes improved or worsened the site.
  • Card sorting with the stakeholder to redesign the navigation
  • Content inventory and audit to get a handle on our existing content and then decide what to “keep, change, or delete”
  • Redesigned navigation based on the insights gained from our previous steps
  • Content overhaul, in which we moved, changed, or deleted content to better fit the goals of the site and the freshly redesigned information architecture
  • Follow-up user testing to ensure our redesign improved on the user experience

The Result

Users were able to complete tasks and find information 67% faster on average. The site has a more useful navigation, more relevant content, and furthermore, stakeholders now have a clearer idea of the site’s purpose.


Now to walk you through the details of the project…

The KumAJET website faced a bit of an identity crisis. Another website—the too-similarly titled “Kumamotojet”—is an official site run by the Kumamoto JET program prefectural advisors. Among other things, it offers tips for handling taxes, drivers licenses, and insurance while living and working as a JET Program participant in Kumamoto.

The KumAJET website touched on a few of those topics as well, but not quite as thoroughly as the other site. After some discussion, the stakeholder and I decided that the KumAJET site would be better off if it focused on primarily on the events that the KumAJET team put on every few months. We wanted users to be able to find information about upcoming events and pictures from past events. Additionally, we thought it would be worthwhile to list volunteer opportunities and other “things to do” around the prefecture.

KumAJET was a seldom-trafficked website, but this didn’t bother us. It’s inevitable that a site with such a niche focus would receive few hits. What was more important to the stakeholder and myself was that users were able to smoothly accomplish tasks when they did visit the site. For this reason, we focused our redesign efforts on UX as opposed to marketing.

We conducted a competitive analysis in order to see how other prefectures’ AJET sites handled things. Analyzing the sites of all of Japan’s 48 prefectures wouldn’t be worth the time, we decided, so instead we only evaluated the other prefectures in Kyushu, the island on which Kumamoto resides.

We conducted a competitive analysis to compare our site to those of nearby prefectures.

The competitive analysis was a surprisingly heartening experience. We had assumed the KumAJET site was a in a state of disrepair (and it was), but compared to the other Kyushu AJET sites, it was one of the best. No site stood out as a clear example to emulate, but we did pick up a few ideas, including organizing our “Things to Do” content on an interactive Google Map.

Next, my stakeholder and I came up with tasks we wanted to test users on. These tasks were things that we imagined our users would come to the site to do. These tasks included scenarios like:

  • You went to the Myoukensai [a famous festival in Kumamoto] and you’re trying to show your friend how cool it was. Find the pictures on the website of the event.
  • In a couple of months, KumaJET is going to recruit its new team for the next year. You’re interested in joining KumaJET, so where would you go to learn how to apply for the job?
  • You have an event of your own that you want to share with AJET. How would you tell them about that?

We timed how long each user took to complete each task, and took careful notes along the way. From these observations, we were able to glean which parts of our navigation were missing or misleading.

This influenced our next activity, card sorting. The stakeholder and I filled out sticky notes with potential navigation labels and rearranged them as we debated what should go where. Eventually we decided on a navigation that satisfied us, but before implementing it on the site, we decided to take an inventory of all the content present on the site. Each page of content was noted on a spreadsheet by title, URL, and navigation path. We then used a column titled “Keep/Change/Delete” to decide how to adapt the content to the new design, if we would even bring it over at all.

With all of the content safely documented, we began dismantling the site and rebuilding it in the new image we had decided on. One big change was our cleaning up of the old navigation:

The old navigation was a mess of sub-menus.

In fact, we eliminated sub-menus entirely. This drastically simplified users’ search for content.

The new navigation did away with sub-menus.

With our redesign in place, we found new users to test. (We avoided testing the same users as before in case they remembered where the answers could be found.) The new users were given the same tasks as the previous users in our first tests.

After comparing the new results to the old, we found that the average time it took to complete tasks dropped 67%.

Our redesign improved average findability by 67%.

One of the site’s goals was to make users’ finding of information as smooth as possible, and on that front, our redesign was a proven success.

Of course, UX is a never-ending quest. Here are just a couple of the next steps future KumAJET webmasters could take if they want to continue improving the site:

  • Create a style guide for voice and tone. The KumAJET site is a product of several webmasters, who have passed it down year by year. With all those different writers contributing content, the voice is inconsistent. We would research to see what voice our competitors use and what users expect, and then audit our content to see what we’d have to change to conform to our new style.
  • SEO strategy. A key way to improving search engine rankings is to convince other sites to link to you, so we would reach out to other prefectures’ AJET groups (especially those in the Kyushu area) and work to build links to each other’s sites. We would also promote each other’s events.
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