This article is a case study about Bucknell University, where they re-designed their site in an “unconventional” way, causing controversy and heartache for many.
Boo fucking hoo.
I like the Nielsen Norman Group, and generally their blog is one of the best sources of solid UX research, but from time to time they just feel… old.
This is one of those times.
There is a glaring problem with this case study: the data is used to show that the design is bad — which it is — but the blame is placed on the fact that it is unconventional.
Unconventional design and bad design are not the same thing!
Controversial design is also not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes people freak out because the changes are big, not because they are bad. They quickly get used to it, and sometimes like it better than before.
In a nutshell, the university chose some bad information architecture and it confused users and made it difficult to find the fundamental information that students and prospective students typically want.
That’s just weak UX work. They prioritized brand over function.
The fact that the design also happened to be unlike a “typical” university website has nothing to do with it.
If unconventional design was always a bad thing, every website would look the same, and new features would almost never appear.
But websites are all different, and different purposes require different designs.
The designers of the site should have consulted users, rather than prioritizing what the university itself wanted, which — based on their choices — is clearly what happened.
Read the article; it’s a good case study, especially for young designers who want to analyze something standard and familiar.
But your take-away from the case should not be about how conventional the design is. Fuck that. Grow some balls, Nielsen. The data shows that the design was ineffective, not that it was too unconventional.