Anglia Ruskin University
8 Weeks
What we did
Design research
Yellow background graphic with web pages displayed in a row.

Anglia Ruskin University is the opposite of the elite boy’s club of Eton. It’s a welcoming place, accessible to everyone.

The university wanted to better understand how potential students were evaluating their options in choosing a university. This sounded like a classic user research project – exactly the kind of project that Clearleft excels at.

The Results

A comprehensive round of interviews

We interviewed 24 prospective students from a range of different backgrounds who had all applied to attend university in September.

In-depth competitor analysis

We didn’t just test the Anglia Ruskin website, we focussed on websites of similar universities too.

Insights into the complete student journey

We found out how important an online presence is beyond the university website.

The Full Story

How do you make sure your research will be effective?

For any research project to have a chance of success, recruiting the right participants is key. This doesn’t mean that all the participants should be alike. Far from it. Having a diverse group of people is essential. But they all need to face the challenge being explored. In this case, we had 24 prospective students from all walks of life, all of whom were planning to attend a university later in the year. How did they go about making that choice?

We interviewed each participant over Zoom. There was always one person from Clearleft running the interview and another taking notes and consolidating research themes.

Two people are in a glass meeting room facing a third person on a screen. They are both smiling.

Each interview started with a discussion about how that person set about choosing a university. Then we did some usability testing. As well as asking each participant to walk us through a task on the Anglia Ruskin website, we also had them do the same on the website of another university. Think of it as competitor analysis.

I like the student life section and having, like, all this is really helpful. You know, support facilities is a really good one. I personally have dyslexia, so, like, kind of to have that support available; that’s really important for me personally.
— User research participant on student life and support

Finally, we had some homework for each participant. We asked them to complete an emotional response test to better understand how Anglia Ruskin University was being perceived. It was like a quick vibe check.

Example of an ERT test. Graph displays varying results between two opposing words.

How do you prioritise your findings?

We kept the team at Anglia Ruskin University in the loop throughout the project. We live streamed the interviews so that they could observe the research in real time. We also recorded them so that they could catch up later if they wanted.

Every couple of weeks we had catch-ups with the team to talk them through our findings so far. But the big playback came at the end of the project.

We played back our findings, together with our corresponding recommendations. There were around 50 recommendations in total, but not all recommendations were equal. That’s why we mapped them out according to impact and effort. That way, they could see the changes that would be quickest to make and have the most impact.

But the decision-making process doesn’t start and finish with the quality of a university’s website. We also handed over a user journey map that covered the whole life cycle of an application.

One of the most important findings was that the perception of Anglia Ruskin University online began even before a student visited the website. We were surprised to find that just about every participant began their search from the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) website. We expected them to visit that portal at the end of their journey to submit their application, but we hadn’t realised how important it was at the outset. We recommended that Anglia Ruskin University should have an up-to-date and inviting profile there. UCAS is like an influencer for students.

That demonstrates the real power of research; uncovering unexpected findings that can be crucial for success.

Clearleft’s in-depth research provided us with valuable insights into the application process. This understanding has helped us identify what prospective students need from our website and other touch-points along their journey. They suggested several changes that we could implement quickly to enhance the user experience of our website. Additionally, they provided strategic recommendations that will shape our plans for the coming year.
— Leon Paternoster, Anglia Ruskin University
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