Design Research
Summer 2018

User Research: Westar Institute

I designed and implemented primary and secondary research to better understand how people currently interact with critical religious scholarship online, to better understand how people perceive Westar Institute, and to identify opportunity areas to increase user interaction and audience retention.



The Westar Institute is a non-profit organization focused on making critical religious scholarship, especially critical Christian scholarship, available to the general public. Westar’s website is outdated, and navigating the site can be overwhelming to new and returning visitors alike. Additionally, Westar’s current primary audience is over 40 years old, and the organization wants to better engage new, younger audiences.

As a first step in a larger, long-term UX design process, I worked with Westar Institute to conduct user research with their current and target audiences to better understand the goals, needs, frustrations, and opinions people have in their interactions with Westar Institute’s website.

Project Goals

  1. Conduct primary and secondary research to better understand how people interact with Westar Institute’s website, and to examine how the user experience of Westar Institute’s website compares to those of its competitors.
  2. Develop a research-informed set of recommendations for improving the usability of Westar Institute’s website for current and potential target audiences through surveys, heuristic evaluations, internal stakeholder interviews, and competitive analysis.

Key Findings

  1. People want more clarity on Westar Institute’s website.
  2. New site visitors expressed skepticism about the website.
  3. New site visitors also perceived the site as “exclusive” and “in-group.”
  4. New and current visitors experience site navigation as roundabout and confusing.
  5. First time visitors have a hard time getting a sense of what Westar offers.
  6. Westar Institute’s overall digital engagement strategy, including but not limited to the website, needs to adapt to modern web design.

Recommendations for Next Steps

The user research findings consistently showed that a greater sense of clarity around what Westar Institute does, and what it offers, would be crucial to audience engagement, especially for new visitors. Solidifying the mission, vision, values, and priority programming is a critical factor in designing a digital experience that appropriately meets the needs of current audiences, potential audiences, and internal stakeholders.

Developing a clear direction on the organization's purpose, process, and impacts would, in turn, help guide subsequent design work, including interaction design, content strategy, user interface design, testing, and branding and visual design.

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Whether you want to bounce ideas for a project, want to talk about design and decision-making, or just want to say hi, I'd love to hear from you.

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