MCN Collaborates with UX-focused Graduate Students from Pratt Institute

By Prachi Chhajed, John Decker, Ian Gregory, Sarah Tsao, and Zhichun Zhao; Pratt Institute, 2021 students

As part of ongoing efforts to improve the user experience across the MCN website, Executive Director Eric Longo and Senior Digital Strategist Anna Chiaretta Lavatelli recently paired with a group of UX-focused graduate students from Pratt Institute’s School of Information to conduct testing of the existing online resources. Under the guidance of Professor Madhav Tankha, the new Co-Chair of MCN’s Human-Centered Design SIG, the student team of Prachi Chhajed, John Decker, Ian Gregory, Sarah Tsao, and Zhichun Zhao began their work in April of 2021 as part of Madhav’s Usability Theory & Practice course, collaborating with Eric and Anna to define appropriate user personas and ascertain the best pool of participants for moderated task-testing.

Deciding on a blend of existing MCN members and students from the Pratt Museums & Digital Culture program who held an interest in joining the Network, the team was able to remotely lead a total of 10 participants through 8 various tasks across the website in real time, via Zoom. The activities were accompanied by feedback assessments along the way, with an additional questionnaire at the end to receive some cumulative reactions to the MCN site as a whole. After the responses were aggregated and analyzed, the team identified several trends in the data and reported their findings to Eric and Anna as Pratt’s academic year wound down in early May.

During the final class of their semester, each team of students presented the results of their user research to their respective organizations along with a full written report to document their testing and outcomes. As part of the presentation to MCN, the Pratt team briefed Eric and Anna on the methodologies employed, and shared their recommendations, addressing three key issues identified as potential areas for improvement on the MCN website: Research, Conferences, and Involvement. Based on participant feedback, Research data were generally found to be a bit nebulous and not immediately evident in the navigation menus, Conference materials were described as inconsistent and difficult to search or playback in some instances, while Involvement was considered troublesome by a number of testers who were unfamiliar with MCN’s vernacular and became discouraged by outdated or limited information regarding volunteer and mentorship opportunities. 

To improve the experiences for users in these areas, the Pratt team offered several ideas as potential actions they believed might be worthwhile. An audit and overhaul of past conference archives was considered by the team as a general benefit to all members through preserving MCN’s long-running social functions in an easily searchable way. The Pratt team also proposed more discoverability and refined navigation menus in order to make the site more approachable to potential members and those who had recently joined MCN. Additional suggestions included greater prominence for the newsletter and higher visibility of calls to action for volunteering and mentorship programs, with the consensus among the student team that such changes could increase involvement within the MCN community. 

While these findings and recommendations were part of an assignment that was entirely independent of the newly launched MCN Member Portal, some of the Pratt students’ insights are already reflected in the recently-revised site navigation. Increased focus on membership in the top-level menu, easier access to Special Interest Groups once in the portal, more stream-lined grouping of community resources—the Slack channel link and new MCN Forum now located on the member account home screen—all relate to elements discussed between the Pratt team and MCN.

It should be no real surprise that the Pratt School of Information students were on the right track in their assessment of the existing website, and they were certainly encouraged to see some suggestions made reality, even if only by happy coincidence. Utilizing the UX lessons of Professor Tankha’s teachings, they were able to recommend realistic and viable solutions to user-reported pain points, while participating in a productive and positive collaboration with the MCN digital strategists. The partnership was so constructive for all involved that it serves as a strong example of what’s possible when such student/professional pairings are executed successfully.