Designing the Alumni User Experience

Two and a half years ago, Brian Solis stated, "With the explosion of social media and smart devices, customers are becoming incredibly sophisticated, elusive, and empowered. As a result, the dynamics that govern the relationship between brands and customers is evolving."

Drop the word "brand" and replace it with "institutions." Replace "customers" with "alumni." That's the world we're in.

Today our alumni expect nuanced suggestions a la Flipboard and Pandora. They think things should be simple and powerful like Google search. Our graduates believe experiences should be desirable and credible. And they expect it of their alma maters as much as they do from their iPhones.

How, then, do we design a powerful Alumni User Experience? And how do we know we've designed something great for our alumni?

While we all love to look at an iPhone and marvel at its beauty and revere it as a work of art, the artistry is a result of science. Data tells us how and if we're delivering a great user experience. What kinds of data might tell us that?

We'll dig into using data to drive UX design more deeply in a future post, but there are some basic tenets of data-driven design (and all good design is data-driven):

  1. Know what your firm goals are - "Increase Facebook likes" is not a goal. A goal is, say, to increase the number of gifts to a particular campaign. Do not design for something you think will help support a goal. The goal is the goal. Make that the end point.
  2. What you think doesn't really matter - A/B testing is the holy grail of this space. I know I have some strong opinions, but it doesn't really matter what I think when we're designing to reach millions of alumni through our platform. What matters is what alumni will and will not do when they visit you. A/B testing, for the uninitiated, says to take two (or more) versions of your website/app/whatever and expose equally sized groups of visitors to each version. Then, watch to see what happens. If you have two different giving form pages and each is visited by 100 potential donors, but one version nets 35 gifts as opposed to the other netting 25, GO WITH THE ONE THAT GOT YOU 35! Pretty obvious, but it's amazing how powerful, though under utilized A/B testing is. It's important, though, to note that you just need to get something out there first. Don't kill yourself (re)designing all day based on your opinions. Let your alumni tell you what works.
  3. "Say" and "do" are totally different things - I love this basic premise of data-driven design. It's certainly a good idea to ask your constituents what they would like to see. This is market research. Surveys and feedback during donor visits can give you great guidance on what they might like to see. But once you've started to build, don't show someone an image and ask them what they think they'd do. Simply let them do it. The "do" is what will tell you that your design is working (or not).

To sum up all the above, it's really important when designing the alumni user experience - whether on our websites, at alumni events, or in the way we move a donor through the pipeline - that we constantly review our approach and review prior-defined metrics of success to figure out what we're doing and how we can do it better. We do that every day with our software, but there's not one element of alumni engagement that cannot be more powerful designed.

More to come in this series, but let us know how you apply UX design thinking to your alumni engagement efforts!

Nick Zeckets