Slate for UCI: An Easier Graduate Admissions Process

One-stop shop for faculty to manage graduate admissions

See the full report here
See individual research reports:
Interview and contextual inquiry report **Recommended read
Faculty survey report **Recommended read
Competitive analysis report
Heuristic evaluation report
Concept testing report
Usability testing report
Staff survey template
Specifications document **Recommended read
UX Roadmap
(design artifacts also available on request)

Overview

Slate is a software program primarily used for university admissions, provided through a third party company, Technolutions. Each university that uses Slate can partially customize their own implementation. Our client, UC Irvine, had an implementation which was a few years old and replaced homegrown UCI technology. It had received mixed reviews from faculty, both directly and through hearsay. We were brought in as a UX consulting team to assess how Slate was or wasn’t meeting user needs, and how it could better do so in the future.

 

Methods

Bi-phase user-centered design process based on the double diamond

 

Team

4 other teammates split among research and design, roles as follows:

-Project manager and researcher

-Lead researcher (me)

-Researcher and developer

-Lead designer

-Designer

 

My main role was as lead researcher. I worked on research strategy for both phases of the project, overseeing group research activities, collaborating with our designers, and coaching more junior researchers with best practices and feedback sessions.

 

See the table below for my exact role in each of the research and design activities:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our main stakeholders outside the UX team were two administrators who essentially serve as product managers for the UCI implementation of Slate. We also had occasional interactions with UCI Slate IT and development staff, administrators of Slate at other UC system schools, and Technolutions product staff.

 

Timeframe

March - September 2020 (6 months) on a part-time basis (about 10-15 hours per week per teammate)

 

Limitations & Parameters

We set our scope to work with only faculty users for this project, which we felt was feasible given our timeline—staff users of UCI Slate would benefit from another UX project. We also focused only on the graduate admissions process (other areas like undergraduate admissions, grants, and other Slate functionalities were deemed out of scope).

 

Our biggest limitation was the nature of Slate itself, described above. Essentially it made for a 2-tier structure where UCI Slate had limited flexibility to make changes based off the software base, while Technolutions had limited interest in making changes based off the UCI experience we were studying and designing for. We realized this issue and did our best to get involved with other UCI schools using Slate, which is a secondary level of influence, and with Technolutions, a third level.

 

Unforeseen challenges also arose due to COVID-19 pandemic, which was becoming an issue in the US just as our project kicked off in March 2020. It mostly resulted in challenges around university-barred permission to contact research participants for reasons tied pandemic sensitivity, and limited availability of participants due to pandemic disruptions.

 

Resources & Materials

Our tools were Zoom for conducting and recording research sessions, Qualtrics for administering and gathering survey data, Mural for research synthesis, and Figma for wireframing and prototyping.

 

We requested access to UserTesting or UserZoom, but were not approved. Because of fixed time constraints we couldn’t be flexible, and had to move on. There was also no budget provided for research, so honorariums (both direct and through drawings) had to be dropped, likely leading to lower research participation. In spite of the challenges, we were able to execute our research and design plans.

 

See an overview of our research & synthesis, ideation & design, and testing & iteration process in the full report

 

Next Steps

We have provided the design deliverables, research evidence, and a clear path for work beyond our initial recommendations through the roadmap. It’s now up to UCI and Technolutions to execute the UX improvements. We will be on hand to advise around any arising questions during the development process.

Reflection

 

I enjoyed working on a project for a longer duration and building the long-term relationships with my teammates and stakeholders, even though our communication was on a part-time basis. It was edifying working through both parts of the double diamond, as industry projects can be piecemeal. Having the protection of a scholarly program helped maintain the sanctity of the full design thinking process.

 

On a personal level, this was my first experience with research leadership after years of working alone or as part of a team doing UX research, and I enjoyed the challenge and growth.

 

There were definite frustrations stemming from the unexpected resource limitations and delays, and unforeseen challenges posed by the pandemic. These led to the cancellation of usability benchmarking of the live experience, a summative faculty email survey, accessibility analysis, GDPR analysis, and site mapping the new experience.

 

The challenges forced us to pivot as a team a few times, which wasn’t always a bad thing. Particularly since the project was self-led, with minimal input from academic advisors, resolutions as a team brought us closer together.

 

Another point we struggled with is the difficult positioning of the solution between UCI and Technolutions, which means the design may sit in limbo as UCI tries to convince Technolutions to make changes based on our research. Still, overall our UX work was very well-received by both UCI and Technolutions, who are newer to UX and found the insights surprising and full of potential. Even though the implementation situation and timeline are opaque, their reaction is promising.