Case Study

Walden University
Online Application Redesign


Walden University is an online collegiate institution that provides higher education for career professionals, allowing them to effect positive social change. However, if prospective students cannot complete the application process, then enrollment is unattainable. Below you will see how this application was transformed, increasing application initiation by 24%, and application completion by 66%.


Audience: Working Professionals

My Role: Art Director, Front-End Development and Digital Strategist

99 Problems...

Completed Applications Being One

Due to the existing multi-step enrollment interface (student account creation) - which included a seven-step process to reach completion, a non-linear application, unclear error handling and extremely long load times - student application completion was floundering.

Among the many issues we faced were:

  • Applicants were confused as to why an account creation was necessary when they had just clicked "Apply Now."
  • The application was poorly organized in a non-linear fashion, with a mobile experience that was almost impossible to navigate.
  • Error handling was vague at best. Applicants received error message notifications that items in the application were completed incorrectly and or missing. However, they were not directed how to fix issues.
  • Load time was incredibly slow, sometimes taking up to 32 seconds to load pages.

Methods to my Madness...

Research & Analysis

As we began the exploration phase of our online application redesign and re-architecture, we analyzed three areas:

  1. First, we analyzed our current obsolete application. We needed to discover the key sticking points for applicants. Where were they getting caught in the process? How could we handle this better?
  2. Second, we looked at competitors to see what they might be doing correctly and incorrectly. How could we improve upon these findings to create an application experience that would help applicants better than our competitors?
  3. Lastly, we looked at market and design trends in other industries. How were other industries handling multi-step applications in a seamless, user-friendly way? What elements could we see transitioning into the educational space?

Design & Build

Photoshop mockups (while they do have a place) are not the most efficient way to design an application that functions through human interaction. Therefore I believe in designing with HTML, CSS and javascript whenever possible. This method worked very effectively for this transformation, as it allowed us to rapidly prototype and pass off a working front-end application experience to the backend development team upon completion.

Test & Optimize

Testing and optimization are key to any redesign. In our process, testing helped us determine a few important successes almost immediately. These included combining a multi-step account creation process into a one-step application initiation process. This, along with implementing a progress bar showing how many steps are required to complete the application, resulted in an immediate large increase in new applications initiated. As this test progressed, we have seen uplift consistently in application initiaton by 10% year over year. With significant improvements such as this, we were able to formulate a calculated approach to re-architecting the online application experience.

Launch (& Repeat Step 3)

After optimizing the design, we are planning a phased rollout of the application beginning on April 23, 2018. However, we know that we can always improve the user experience. Once we gather data from the live environment, we will continually test new ideas and possibilities. Conversion rate optimization is never finished! We now have a framework from which to continually improve the applicant experience.

Results

A Fully Responsive Experience

With the rollout of the new application experience, we are presenting the prospective student with a fully responsive experience that is user friendly and easy to navigate.

Streamlined Application Initiation

We moved away from a confusing, two-step process to a simple, clear one-step application initiation. The number of accounts created increased immediately!

Old Application

New Application

Fewer Steps. More Help.

As we analyzed user data and researched trends in complex form design, we saw one common thread: the fewer steps the better. We were able to combine what was once a seven-step process into a simpler four-step application. Couple this with a constant enrollment assistance presence throughout, and we present a recipe for successful application submission.

Errors that can be fixed

The previous error handling involved a generic message that appeared often out of the view window of the users screen. Our new process validates in real time, with clear error messages that are visible when the user clicks to proceeed to the next section.

Conclusion

Through research, analysis of user data, testing, and thorough understanding of our end user, we were able to effectively create a streamlined application experience for potential Walden University students. The newly launched application can be found here.