User experience: all things, great and small

I’ve been on the job in Web Services for a few weeks now, and delving into usability on a several projects. One of the things I’m enjoying is the opportunity to examine projects from a big picture level down to minor details, and to extrapolate from details back up to the view from 10,000 feet.

For example, the University Police Department is about to start selling temporary parking permits online. At first, I was thinking about the project on a detail level - two headings, two paragraphs, two links for on a webpage for people to buy either a visitors permit or a staff/faculty permit.

With that destination in mind, I started thinking about how people might wind up on this webpage. Perhaps they are local community members visiting campus for an event at the World Theater or a basketball game. Perhaps they are the parents of an incoming freshman, up for the weekend to get them moved into their residence hall. Maybe they are an adjunct faculty member on campus just two afternoons per week to teach.

These user stories helped me generate a list of information pathways across the CSUMB.EDU website that we would need to create to help users find this new page and purchase their temporary parking permits. I also thought about non-digital pathways, such as signs or stickers on the existing parking permit dispensers in the lots.

As I traced these info pathways back to the parking permit page, I started to wonder how that page fit within the existing parking site. A survey of the site content revealed several other possible tasks a user might might want to complete on the site, such as pay for a parking citation or request a review of a disputed citation. These actions were buried among a plethora of other information about parking regulations and policies.

I decided to conduct a quick card sort to see if I could reorganize the content in a way that highlighted these tasks, while still keeping the regulation and policy information visible. Based on the card sort, I threw together some wireframe mockups of a new site structure for the police department to consider.

The next step would be to test the new organization and feature with actual users, either on the site or using the wireframes and see if they can complete tasks such as purchase a temporary permit, find how much a motorcycle permit would cost, or determine if they can leave their car in the library parking lot overnight.

To echo a point made by Tim R. Todish in his post UX Is Not A Verb, user experience is a holistic process. We need to look at both the big picture and the details, and the process that brings the user from one to the other.  


  1. A link to the parking permit page needs to be on every event page (sports, Panetta lecture, etc.) or other reason (move my student in) page so that it is convenient for the visitor to purchase the parking pass and avoid getting a $45 ticket.


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