Public service announcement

I have an idea for colleges and universities looking to do a
quick-and-dirty website usability check: Recruit every newly hired
employee to provide feedback on their experience using your site. Hand them a questionnaire, convene them
in focus groups with food as a bribe for participation,* whatever — I bet you’ll garner a ton of suggestions for
making your site easier to use.

If you really want constructive
criticism, ask them to comment on your institution’s
Human Resources website. It may be a little disconcerting when your new
hires start saying things like "My former
job title wouldn’t fit in the tiny little box in the online form your
HR site insisted I fill out!" and "It took me five minutes to find the
listing for the job I wanted to apply for!" and "Where’s your information about living in the local area? I couldn’t find any", but it’ll certainly be instructive.

I’m in the middle of another job search, and by
this point I could probably write an entire book on Usability for Campus Websites. The jobs I’m applying for all look really good. So
do the institutions. But I’ll be a happy camper if I never have to deal
with another HR site with a one-size-fits-all online submission form or a clunkily complicated database of job listings.

I’m not pointing fingers at particular schools, I hasten to add. And I’m not complaining about going through the usual channels. But I bet a lot of newly hired people would be in a great position to point out exactly where they thought they’d find a specific piece of information but instead had to click futilely or pore over the site map. And it would be an inexpensive way to incorporate a little user-centered design for schools that couldn’t afford to hire a full-time usability person (or even a usability consultant). Seriously, why not?

[Footnote: More on the "why research is hard" series tomorrow. Tonight, I’ve just had a lovely dinner with these folks, and am now full of good food and wine and gelato, and I’m going to go mellow out for the rest of the evening.]

* I can nearly always be bribed with food, and I know I’m not the only one.

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