Institute of Palestinian Research
Website re-design for an academic non-profit organization
The Institute of Palestinian Research was a website re-design project for an academic non-profit organization completed in Designlab’s UX Academy. The organization has been anonymized for privacy. IPR’s site is currently under development.
Institute of Palestinian Research (IPR) Overview
Role: User Research, Information Architecture, Design, Prototyping, Usability Testing, Design Handoff
Tools: Sketch, Invision, Audio Recorder, Optimal Sort, Zoom, LookBack.com, Zeplin
Duration: 8 weeks
The Institute of Palestinian Research (IPR) is a DC-based academic nonprofit that connects American/Palestinian scholars to research grants while sponsoring university faculty on trips to Palestine.
Overhauling IPR's legacy website and designing a responsive website that would solve current IPR user pain points.
Designing a site that solved the pain points of users located in America, Palestine, and the wider diaspora.
I had worked at IPR when I first moved from Morocco to DC as their Office Manager. My primary role working at IPR was managing the fellowship/seminar application cycle. Knowing that a site redesign was much needed, I reached out to the Director of IPR and pitched her on my design plan and ideas for a new IPR site. We set up our first meeting shortly after this.
The meeting with IPR's Director started with a basic rundown of a user experience designer's role. I walked her through my proposed timeline of the project and the potential impact of a newly designed site.
Given the sensitive nature of the organization’s work regarding research on Palestine, we agreed to anonymize the organization's name.
Broadening my knowledge of IPR users
I began my research analyzing other non-profits that focused on research fellowships and seminars for my competitive analysis. I wanted to see how similar research non-profits visually displayed their organization's mission, how they conveyed applicant information, and how they connected alumni.
Next, I proceeded to set up my user interviews. I wanted to dive into IPR pain points and what informational gaps users were experiencing with IPR’s current website. I as well wanted to explore possible divergent or similar pain points between the American and Palestinian users. The critical problem statements I investigated included the following:
1. How do users access information about IPR’s fellowships/seminars online?
2. How do users find out more about IPR’s mission?
3. How do users become members or donate money on IPR’’s site?
4. How do users access resources on IPR’s site to aid their research?
5. How do users read more about/connect to past IPR fellows?
My user interviews ranged from IPR Board Members, American fellowship/seminar alumni, and Palestinian fellowship awardees. I compiled my findings to make a user journey of a user’s current experience with the IPR website.
1. Lack of understanding about what IPR does and the impact their programs have. Users often circumnavigated the site completely.
2. Lack of encouraging connection between American and Palestinian scholars
3. Lack of voice and presence of IPR alumni
4. Lack of usable resources for IPR scholar and proposal writing
5. General confusion around the application process
“You don’t learn about what IPR does [from the site]. You can go there and there is a silo effect where you are not forced to learn about the site. This knowledge gap was reflected in the IPR applications.”
Honing in on key personas
From my research, four distinct user personas emerged:
Greg Meiton - Doctoral student, writing his Ph.D. on environmental issues in Palestine
Basma Mansour - Business owner of Palestinian descent interested in organizations supporting research on Palestine
Moriah Williams - Assistant professor interested in learning more about Palestinian issues and connecting her students to college students in the global south
Ibrahim Aburabia - Palestinian researcher interested in finding funding for his research project
One of the issues with so many user personas is that I needed to pick two primary user personas I was designing for given the project timeline. In the end, I chose both Moriah Williams and Greg Meiton as my primary user personas while addressing the pain points of Ibrahim and Basma that overlapped with Moriah and Greg's needs.
Navigation bar growing pains
One critical area that the Director and I discussed was the development of an organized navigation bar. The navigation bar was a central user pain point that had come up repeatedly during the user interviews. At the time, IPR's current website was missing a navigation bar and instead had all the menu options laid out in no particular order.
After my user interviews, I had users complete an open card sorting test with IPR's proposed menu items using Optimal Sort. From these results, I constructed the information architecture to create IPR's site map.
Getting down to the details
I wanted to ensure I acted strategically to avoid feature creep during the project and stay within the project timeline. I chose four main user tasks and listed out features from here, bringing it back to the core needs of my two primary user personas Greg and Mariah.
1. Find information about the mission of the Institute of Palestinian Research
2. Find information about the U.S. Research Fellowship
3. Connect to alumni matching specific criteria
4. Find information about the Faculty Development Seminar
From here, I listed the pages I needed to design, high-level requirements, and then expanding into more detailed requirements.
Building the foundation
I built my UI Kit first, starting with the brown/beige IPR brand color while picking complementary accent colors. One most repeated user interview critiques of the current site were the brown and beige colors made the site visually unappealing. I picked accent colors that lightened the site visually and were more aesthetically engaging. After this, I then worked my way to the UI components. I knew that I wanted to include icons for the application requirements and an alumni search feature from my UI Requirements document. In the end, a lot of my original UI components ended up changing after I iterated on the wireframes, but this gave me an excellent foundation to start conceptualizing my design.
Sketching it out
Next, I drew out design sketches in multiple crazy eight exercises of the different standard pages of IPR. To hone in on my designs, I went back to my competitive analysis, user interviews, and UI Requirements artifacts. In the end, I had a solid wireframe sketch of a group of pages meeting all the core requirements that I had laid out. After this, I transferred my drawings to low fidelity and then to high fidelity wireframes on Sketch.
At this point, I had a check-in meeting with the Director. During the meeting, I walked through the design artifacts explaining my decisions and thought processes for each stage along the way.
04. Testing & Iteration
Designing a workable prototype
I uploaded my designs in Invision to create a workable prototype. I then wrote a usability plan that instructed users to complete four main user tasks. Compared to the current IPR site, I wanted to explore how well the users understood IPR's mission, how they understood research grant application criteria, how users connected to alumni, and how users understood the IPR's faculty seminar objectives and application criteria.
I conducted a total of around ten usability tests. Since some of my users lived abroad, I wanted to try out a remote unmoderated usability test to add convenience. I initially tested this out through Lookback.com. When I rewatched a remote usability test videos, I discovered that I was missing critical data as users were not walking through their thought process as they completed the tasks. From here, I conducted remote moderated usability tests via Zoom and received much better data.
Analyzing the data
I collected the user comments from my ten usability tests to construct my affinity map. I then synthesized four primary pain points from user comments to focus my design iterations
Pain Point 1: While what IPR worked on was clear, the full impact of what IPR was not translating to the users.
Solution: Changed this section to an IPR Impact section stating three high impact facts about IPR's work.
Pain Point 2: Confusion around applicant/application requirements. Users could not discern the exact requirements or what would disqualify their application.
Solution: Reformatted this section numbering the requirements applicants needed to apply. The new section demonstrated the exact requirements more concisely.
Pain Point 3: The research grant and seminar application process was hard to follow. Users could not get a clear picture of what an applicant went through from the timeline.
Solution: Redesigned the application process into a six-step process stepper design. The applicant could now see the different steps overtime of the work needed to write a robust application.
Pain Point 4: Fellowship page contained a lot of content. Users wanted to know immediately what was on the page displayed more visually. The voice of the scholars was missing.
Solution: Added a secondary navigation bar to the page. Users could now toggle to different sections on the U.S. Research Fellowship page. These sections included application requirements, alumni stories, FAQ, and IPR Resources. I also added more visual content with alumni videos, U.S. Fellow researchers in the news section, and quotes from fellows.
The final look
From my findings, I was able to iterate to fix users' four major pain points to design the final high fidelity designs. I then tested the new designs on several new users. From the second round of usability tests, I achieved a 100% completion rate with a 0% error rate.
The next steps include making additional minor adjustments to the design, expanding my template screens to include all the fellowships and seminars, and organizing the design files on Sketch. After this, I will hand off my work using Zeplin with a front end developer in Washington, DC.
Trying to address both the Palestinian and American user pain points was more difficult than I had initially thought. To stay on track with the project timeline, I had to focus on the American users' needs. One key lesson for the future is to allow more time in the discoverability phase to investigate my English/Arabic speaking users' different mental models via open/closed card sorting, tree jacking tests, and co-design participatory sessions with American and Palestinian users.