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website redesign; user data; usability testing; user research; web development


Background: One of the most challenging aspects of redesigning an organization's website is balancing the needs of existing users while optimizing the experience for future users. This balance is especially crucial in academia where new users arrive every semester and may remain for anywhere from a year to a decade or more. When faced with the task of redesigning its website, GW's Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library conducted extensive user research in an attempt to design a site that preserved the positive aspects of the experience of existing users while improving their experience and reducing the learning curve for new users.


  • In the late fall 2012, Himmelfarb made enhancements to its existing Google Analytics setup to provide more in-depth information regarding how users interact with its website.
  • The library distributed a 16 question survey asking faculty and students in the Schools of Medicine & Health Sciences, Public Health & Health Services, and Nursing to critique the library's website.
  • Himmelfarb staff administered in-person usability tests of the new website with students and faculty.

Results: The raw data provided by Google Analytics was useful in allowing Himmelfarb Library to determine the most and least used portions of its website and also provided insight into the navigation paths of users. Results of the survey, completed by 150 users, provided additional information that mere numbers could not. Among other things, the survey allowed Himmelfarb to differentiate between portions of the website that were not used because they were hard to find and those found not useful by users, and also to identify content that users desired to be added to the website. Finally, in-person usability tests ensured that existing users still found the website useful and that their positive user experience remained intact and in many cases improved with the new site.

Conclusion: Himmelfarb launched its new website January 2, 2014 so feedback has been sparse but generally positive. Use of key information resources has increased up to 80% since the launch of the new website when compared to the old website over the same length of time. Overall, it seems that library was able to preserve the positive user experience for existing patrons. Further assessment is planned for the fall 2014 semester when a large group of new users will be available.


Presented at: George Washington University Research Days 2014.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License

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