University websites fail to click with prospective students

By Simon Norris

With competition for university places higher than ever and imminent changes to the UCAS admissions process, universities should take a more intuitive online approach online or lose valuable applicants.

This topic has been discussed by a Nomensa’s new Whitepaper, ‘Enhancing the university submission experience’, based on a review of current university websites and market intelligence, and a rigorous user centred design process across 88 students to test redesigned prototype screen blueprints against both existing university websites and the UCAS site.

The Whitepaper highlights key information gaps and support failings in university website design recommendations for improved user experience, information content and design, setting out precise and field tested recommendations for the improved design of these sites. The findings showed an overwhelming preference for the screen blueprints including e-commerce/consumer elements such as expand/collapse panels, comparison tools, student reviews, links to other relevant sites and recently reviewed sections.

Since the increase in tuition fees, choosing a university has become the second biggest purchasing decision most people will make after buying a house. In response, universities should be providing an optimum online experience for those browsing their institutions and courses.

Our research has found that despite the gravitas of the decision, universities are sadly lacking in their provision of online support to students at key points in their decision making, which would help them to find the right course and location, and effectively market the institutions.

It is clear from the success of sites like Amazon, M&S and Zappos that users value design which is attractive, clear, concise and easy to use, and most importantly which enables them to make a well informed decision with properly linked information. If universities incorporated some of the popular techniques used by online retailers to reduce confusion and improve the process, they would undoubtedly boost student numbers and funding. Having to search multiple sources of information is time consuming, and contributes to ineffective decision making. This is when a university’s information experience becomes an attribute, and a determinant of that university’s suitability for selection.

The Whitepaper also highlights how potential applicants are being subjected to frustrating ‘digital ping-pong’; being directed back and forth between several sites during their online search, and how universities are failing to optimise multi-channel user experiences or effectively link into social media.

‘Optimising the online university application process’ is available for download at

About the author

Simon Norris founded Nomensa in 2001 with the mission of improving the experience of digital technologies. His creative approach to interaction is fuelled by his degrees in Human Psychology and Human Biology together with his Masters in Cognitive Science. This detailed understanding of how we make choices and the factors that influence us are fundamental to the way he and Nomensa create digital experiences. His slogan is humanising technology and where others might pay lip service to the concept, Nomensa practice it. That is why national and international companies ask him not to just design or improve an online experience, but transform it, improving accessibility and usability for a complete customer experience.

About Nomensa

Established in 2001, Nomensa has worked with an extensive range of high profile clients across the UK to humanise technology, bringing together the principles of psychology and design to help them achieve meaningful digital interaction. The Nomensa team comprises 40 experts with world class talent covering all aspects of user-experience design and its solutions blend state-of-the-art thinking, innovation and creativity to meet the needs of the 21st Century customer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s