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UX Research, Web Design

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Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center —

During 2013 – 2014, I was in charge of redesigning the Office of Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC) website in order to improve the user experience. Head Start is part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

The Challenges

#1: “What is UX?”
People at the Office of Head Start (OHS) did not understand the concept of UX. Their philosophy was the more resources, the better, but no one asked, “How do the users get to those resources”? So it was a challenge to get the higher-ups in the government to buy into the “user first” approach.

#2: “Can’t touch this”
Another challenge was the limited real estate within the OHS site itself. The ECLKC portion accounted for only part of the pages with multiple-level navigation (3 locations just for navigation menus alone). And I was not allowed to touch anything outside the designated area.

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The Challenges

#3: “2005 technology”
The back-end content management system (CMS) of OHS at the time was based on proprietary software which was not user-friendly – there no breakpoint, no mobile query, and no plan to fix it in the foreseeable future.

#4: “You can’t talk to the users”
Due to the government red tape, I could not conduct an official focus group or reach out to users for insight. The only way for that to happen was to get 4 higher-up officials to agree and order their sub contractors to reach out to the users on our behalf, which was practically impossible.

The Solutions

#1: Understand limitations
Without the proper CSS breaking point, I had to make sure the design would work on mobile devices and that the widget and elements could flow based on the screen size. The design was based on a modular approach, so the overflow would go down to the lower portion. I also implemented accessibility best practices to the site, so people with disabilities could easily navigate through the site using screen readers and touch devices.

#2: Talk to the users anyway
To access the users, I attended many Head Start conferences and talked to the actual users face-to-face without breaking the rules set by the OHS red tape. Everyone was so cooperative and very happy because no one thought of asking them before.

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The Discovery

Organized info based on roles
I received many insights that helped me improve navigation of the ECLKC site. The main one was that users accessed information based on their roles within the organization. The holistic solution was to give information to meet the needs of each role and to make sure to overlap the info only where there was any touch point to other roles (e.g. Teachers to Caregivers).

The Framework

Start with the role
Before the redesign, we went to the users to see what information was relevant to their roles and built the navigation from there. Each role was to have the most-used information right in the beginning, based on the analytics and user flow. All new materials were to be in the top section for promotional purposes.

Sketch it up!
Since my time with users was limited, I chose to use pen and paper to record instant changes based on users’ feedback and then do testing during the conferences.

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The Design

Work with Touch Screen
In previous designs, all the important links were text only, which made the navigation on mobile devices very difficult. I solved this problem by increasing the touch area for navigation. The high-fidelity PhotoShop mock-ups and CSS were sent to ECLKC sub contractors to implement and track with Google Analytics.

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The Impact

After implementing the new design, the quarter results comparison showed the page views increased 52.04%, users increased by 50.86%, bounce rates reduced by 0.51%, and overall sessions went up by 48.60%. Additionally, OHS and ECLKC now understand the effect of good UX design approaches. The new mobile-ready CMS was implemented, and the design was adopted by the main ECLKC OHS website and new grants. Based on comments from the administrators in Washington, DC, the redesign helped improved the lives of 31 million children in the U.S.

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