Shop-Community-Ed-Mockup_v2.png
 
 

Project Overview

In 2017, I was interested in taking a calligraphy class. I checked the online non-credit course catalog at the community college where I work to see what they had available.

I was stunned by what I found.

Screenshot from archive.org of the ShopCommunityEd online course catalog from approximately the same time.

Screenshot from archive.org of the ShopCommunityEd online course catalog from approximately the same time.

The user interface of the catalog site was antiquated compared with modern web standards. But worse than that was the aimlessness of the site’s information architecture and the inconsistency and imprecision of the course subject taxonomy.

It wasn’t just ugly; it also wasn’t useful.

I had to know why.


Deliverables:

  • Information Architecture

  • User Experience Research & Design

  • User Interface Design

  • Wireframing & Prototyping

Software & Tools:

  • Adobe Photoshop

  • InVision

  • Google Sheets


Project Note

Parts of this project, including working with the Community Education department to create new content categories for the online catalog and revising them based on relevant feedback, were completed in a professional capacity and environment.

However, because the new information architecture was never formally adopted by the department for use on their online course catalog due to their new catalog software vendor falling through, this case study should be considered a mock project.

Additional elements of this case study, such as the workflow diagramming and UI design, were not originally completed during the course of the original project and were generated after the fact for practice and for demonstration purposes.

Discovery Phase

The shocking state of the online non-credit catalog didn’t make sense to me—I’d seen the Community Education print catalog, and it looked just fine. How could their online catalog be so radically different?

Table of contents from the 2019 Community Education print catalog. Note the many differences between the course categories in the print catalog…

Table of contents from the 2019 Community Education print catalog. Note the many differences between the course categories in the print catalog…

…and the online catalog.

…and the online catalog.

The online non-credit catalog, ShopCommunityEd, is maintained separately from the college website by the Community Education department. I reached out to them for more information.

In a nutshell, their online catalog was built using an aging content management system which offered minimal flexibility for renaming existing course categories once courses had already been uploaded and very limited control over the site’s look and feel.

I asked if they could think of any options or opportunities when it might be possible to update their content categories and, if so, if they would mind terribly if I took a crack at redesigning it. They mentioned they were investigating new software options to manage their online catalog and that they would be delighted if I could help revise the online course categories in advance of the switch.

Challenges & Goals

Given the technical limitations of the CMS and not knowing what system might eventually replace it, the core issue and problem to solve was that the current online course categories were poorly designed for user browsing.

Specific Issues:

  • Repetitive category names (ex: Garden, Home, Horticulture, & House and Garden, etc.)

  • Unclear or non-specific category names (ex: Quality & Process Improvement, etc.)

  • Typographical or display errors (ex: Fitness, Health, Sports Recrea, etc.)

  • Inconsistent category formatting (ex: “&” vs. “and”, etc.)

  • Inconsistent category function (ex: Academic Skills = general subject heading, Real Estate = highly specific subject heading, etc.)

Other issues, such as the outdated user interface, were not initially considered to be within the scope of the project because there were too many unknown factors.

Content Analysis & Strategy

In order to improve the browsability of the website, the new categories would need to be clear, concise, descriptive, and purpose-driven.

While the print catalog course categories were a significant improvement from the online course categories, I elected to approach the project without any pre-existing assumptions about which categories to include or what they should be called.

There were multiple things to consider.

  1. What types of classes were being offered?

  2. What were the primary functions of the classes?

  3. Who were our users and what were their needs?

    • Working adults in need of CEUs or other certification credentials

    • Parents of children or disabled adults

    • Seniors and retirees

    • Lifelong learners

With these questions top of mind, my approach was to review the current course offerings in the online catalog as of Fall 2017, which was agreed upon by the Community Education department to be a good representative sample.

Screenshot from my initial spreadsheet listing out the existing course categories and all of the courses currently available in each.

Screenshot from my initial spreadsheet listing out the existing course categories and all of the courses currently available in each.

Once I had done this, I used affinity mapping techniques to determine not only what types of courses might naturally be grouped together, but what purpose or audience that group might serve.

In my first draft, I had condensed the original 27 separate course categories down to just 9.

 
Original course categories from 2017 online catalog.

Original course categories from 2017 online catalog.

New Course Categories:

  • Arts, Music & Writing

  • Business & Personal Finance

  • Career Skills & Exploration

  • Food, Home & Garden

  • Fitness & Recreation

  • Personal Enrichment & Languages

  • Professional Certification

  • Test Preparation

  • Youth Programs

 

Once I had my categories in place, I sorted the existing courses into their new content categories. To track the changes visually, I added the original course category in parenthesis next to the name of each class and used spreadsheet formulas to color code them.

Screenshot from my first draft of the new course category taxonomy with the classes tagged to their original content categories by color.

Screenshot from my first draft of the new course category taxonomy with the classes tagged to their original content categories by color.

Feedback

Upon finishing my first draft, I met with two members of the Community Education team to discuss the proposed changes and get their feedback on the new schema.

The biggest change to the first draft of the new taxonomy was for Online Classes. I had initially eliminated the category completely in favor of sorting the individual classes into more appropriate subject categories, but because their online classes were handled by a third-party vendor, they wanted to keep them in their own category.

The second biggest change was their plan to incorporate more of the workforce training and professional development courses into the Shop Community Ed site—some of these had required separate application processes up to this point.

With the new course additions, it made sense to revisit the Professional Certification category and consider breaking some groups out into their own categories.

Finally, we decided both Computers and Languages were in high enough demand and had enough course offerings that they each warranted their own categories.

In the end, the new course categories taxonomy contained 14 entries.

New Course Categories:

  • Academic & Test Preparation

  • Arts, Music & Writing

  • Career & Business

  • Community Training & Development

  • Computers & Technology

  • Continuing Education

  • Food, Home & Garden

  • Fitness & Recreation

  • Languages

  • Online Education

  • Personal Enrichment

  • Professional Development & Certification

  • Public Safety & Health

  • Youth Programs

Workflows & Prototypes

Although the formal adoption of the new course categories never came to pass, this project gave me the opportunity to work with a new department on something near and dear to my heart—effective information architecture and content strategy.

With the information architecture finished, it seemed a shame not to put it to use. The gallery below represents a high-fidelity UI mockup of one possible option for the ShopCommunityEd online course catalog website.

The workflow represented is Home > Arts, Music & Writing landing page > Basic Acting course description page > Shopping Cart page.

 


 
 

Next Steps

Were this project to continue, it would be worth investigating content management systems made specifically for classes and course management. Such programs might have database functionality options that would allow users to filter by location, date/time, and other useful metrics to further improve search options and browsability.