Web Re-design Project

This term long group re-design project emphasizes individual and collaborative learning to improve website designs.

Goal: To build skills in accomplishing a redesign task, making use of target tasks as well as objective timings to evaluate their improvements. The redesign document could then be handed off to technicians to build.


Before doing the assignment, students read the first 4 chapters of the textbook- Human-Computer Interaction: Developing Effective Organizational Information Systems, as well as an article by me: "Human Factors and E-Commerce," which is a chapter in the handbook Electronic Commerce and the Digital Economy. The instructor views every assignment in the course as an active learning assignment, as learning design is not generally effective using lectures and testing. Students discuss their assignments and choices made throughout the semester. The self-contained syllabus is attached for a complete list of, and description of, the assignments.


Before class.

  • For the onsite class, students complete parts 1 and 2 individually, then break into groups of five for parts 3 and 4. Part 1 involves critiquing a website that is judged to be particularly poor, and Part 2 requires a proposal to fix the site. For Parts 3 and 4, the team decides which of the five sites would be the best candidate for redesign and objective testing.

In class.

  • In Part 1: "Bad Website:", students identify a website that appears to be quite poor in its design. The task is to provide the URL and screen captures to illustrate the problems and explain what is bad about the site, and then reflect and write briefly about why it might have become that way.
  • In Part 2: "Proposal to Fix the Site:" each individual explains (1) the purpose of the site, (2) What would be gained by fixing it, and (3) How much time, effort or money would be required to fix it. Then (4) compare the benefits to the costs in some way, and evaluate whether it would be worthwhile to try and fix it.
  • In Part 3: "Data collection:" students convene in groups of five. They then choose one of the five sites identified by team members as the most promising for redesign. The instructor advises that an important step here is to identify a set of so called "benchmark tasks" that represent important actions for users to accomplish. Groups observe and time users of the site (real users if practicable) in performing those tasks, and also interview them for ideas of what the site should do differently. These ideas are plotted for improvement on axes pitting cost against benefits. Then, the group describes what improvements are most urgent given their feasibility and cost.
  • In Part 4: "The Redesign:" students provide simulated pages using a tool like PowerPoint, Word, or an actual site development. Focusing on overall usability instead of only aesthetics, students then explain the changes/improvements. If the group does not develop an actual site, they can provide simulated menus and time users who would point or type with their fingers (as simulated clicks and keystrokes) to go through their tasks. This is then evaluated and compared to what was found in Part 3.
  • The teams then present their "consulting reports" that show how they applied the material from the two books mentioned above, plus the book "Design of Everyday Things" from Don Norman.
  • Finally, students produce their slide decks, which could be used to make a persuasive case for improving the site they evaluated and redesigned. The timings provide objective information that could be useful for management's decision making.


  • The instructor finds that a key benefit of the activity is the performance of duties that should be done by web designers. Good advice in Part 1 is critical, and making sure that the critiques are substantive and not based only on aesthetics is fundamental.


  • Text materials (seen on handout) and a book entitled Research Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines, available for free on Usability.gov.

Submitted by Dennis Galletta, Harvard Extension School

syllabus_human_factors_in_information_design.pdf807 KB