This is Aaron Rester's blog:

Field Notes from the Digital Prairie

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Website! Or, I Am My Worst Client

Today I officially announce the launch of my new-and-improved, new-look-same-great-taste, satisfaction-guaranteed-or-your-money-back personal website. There are a few more things to do (updating my email signature and Twitter avatar, perhaps business cards) to make the rest of my online presence consistent with the new site, but I feel comfortable enough with it to release it into the wild (comments and feedback are, as always, welcome and appreciated).

Before


The old site, which launched in late 2007, was showing its age, and badly, with some of the web 2.0 cliches of its era (I'm looking at you, orange.) The new one cleans up the information architecture and rolls out a new look that I think fits better with my "personal brand" (or, as they used to call it, my "personality"). In some ways, the new look harkens back to my very first freelance website from 10 years ago... but no Papyrus on this one, thank you very much.

I had actually been working on this relaunch for quite some time. It's a common lament among designers that creating one's own identity pieces is surprisingly hard; after all, how do you visually communicate your ability to create visual communications? And while they say you are your own worst critic, I've decided that I am also my own worst client. Consider the following list of sins that every designer dreads encountering in a client:
  • I changed my mind on designs that I had already signed off on, for reasons that were largely arbitrary.
  • I ignored deadlines that I had set for myself.
  • I flaked out and abandoned the project for months at a time.
I'm sure that if I had been charging myself, I probably would have been late with payment, as well. But this self-branding exercise is helpful for all designers to go through. The skill at the core of good design, I believe, is empathy -- the ability to put oneself in the shoes of, say, a website's users or a customer's clients. I think we've all had clients where we just don't understand why it's so damn hard for them to make a decision, or to provide content they promised by the date they themselves suggested, or whatever. Being our own client, however, reminds us that these things are not always as easy as we might think.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What Do Mobile Users Want?

(cross-posted at the University of Chicago Law School Electronic Projects Blog)

Optimizing the Law School’s website for mobile devices is one of those things that has been on my to-do list since just about the day I started here. But it is, alas, one of those long-term projects that continually gets pushed to the bottom of the list due to more immediate, deadline-driven concerns. The new website we launched last summer -- built, as it is, in a generally web-standards-compliant fashion -- is somewhat more mobile-friendly then the previous version, but we did not have the budget or time to build in a mobile-specific site to that project.

This summer, however, I am determined to make some headway in this area, particularly after catching Justin Gatewood’s very helpful presentation on using CSS for this purpose at the 2010 eduWeb conference. Before I dive into the CSS, however, I need to figure out what it is that UChicagoLaw’s mobile are (or would like to be) using our site for.

Enter Google Analytics. We’ve had Analytics installed on the Law School’s website for a while now, and I browse our stats periodically, especially looking for broken links) but digging deeper into all of the tools that Analytics has to offer has been yet another one of those projects that winds up tabled in favor of dealing with more immediate concerns. However, after a little stumbling blindly around the site, I was able to create an “Advanced Segment” that would separate mobile users out from the rest of the site’s users.

Here is what I was able to discover about our mobile users over the time period roughly corresponding with the 2009-2010 academic year:
  • Visits by mobile device users comprised just over 1% of total visits.
  • Pageviews by mobile devices comprised less than 1% of total pageviews.
  • iPhone, iPad, and iPod users were by far the most frequent viewers of the site, making close to 80% of all visits. Android users were a distant second, at just over 10% of visits.
  • To my surprise, over a third of our mobile pageviews appeared to have been by prospective students (i.e., within the prospective students section of our site), with the page containing the link to allow them to check their application status being accessed even more often than the site’s home page.
  • By contrast, pageviews of pages clearly identifiable as being of interest primarily to students made up just 10% of the total.
  • Internal search resulted in almost exactly 1% of pageviews, with course-related information being the most commonly sought data.
  • Most external searches (i.e. via Google) were for some variation of the school’s name, followed by the status checker and assorted other admissions-related items.
  • There were few visits to our contact/directory page and very few searches (internal or external) for the terms “directory” or “contact”  This was also suprising, as I would expect that users on their mobile devices might frequently be looking for phone numbers or email addresses.
What does all this mean? To my mind, it indicates that prospective students should be the primary audience toward whom the mobile version of our site is aimed. Of course, current students and staff use the site via mobile devices as well, but not nearly as much as I might have expected.The information geared towards those internal audiences should, it appears, be primarily related to courses.