UC Berkeley's Advising Notes Tool

Advising Notes Tool Revision

UC Berkeley's Advising Notes Tool


MY TITLE: Portal UX Designer

DURATION: 12 Business Days of usability testing and design (Aug 25, 2016 - Sep 12, 2016)   

ROLE: Usability Testing, Data Synthesis, Feature Prioritization

TOOLS: Peoplesoft Fluid Interface, Google Calendar (Appointments), Omnigraffle, Invision

TEAM: 2 UX Designers, 1 UX Design Intern, 1 Peoplesoft Developer

STAKEHOLDERS: 2 Academic Advising Functional Owners, 1 Peoplesoft Technical Lead



UC Berkeley's advisors did not adopt a new note keeping tool after finding it more cumbersome to use than their previous notes tool.

The development team was unsure of what development work to prioritize in order to improve advisors' experience with the tool.


Improve the usability of UC Berkeley's academic advising notes tool for advisors to increase its acceptance and adoption rate

Conduct research to compile an informed list of development recommendations.

Redesign the interface to better suit the tool to advisors' most common tasks.


Summary of Results

We identified the most frequent usability complaints and addressed it via interface design revisions and automating certain processes.

The usability of this tool is dependent upon the usability of the connected systems and how the tool fits in context within those systems.

Design Insights


Advisors want to be able to quickly, simply, and efficiently create notes and read over notes of the students who engage with them.

User Insights


We created a more minimal interaction catered to completing the most common tasks within the notes tool which is viewing the note history and creating a new note.

This saves the user 6 actions (2 scrolls and 6 clicks) which enables advisors to more efficiently read and write notes and lessons the health hazards of repetitive movements.

 A diagram illustrating the impact of the interaction revision

A diagram illustrating the impact of the interaction revision


The Process



This study was done as a part of the multi year Student Information Systems Replacement Project at UC Berkeley which consists of many system transitions for the university's staff, faculty, and students. 

A significant volume response of negative feedback followed the notes tool's first release (Aug 16). One update was released to address the high priority issues without the consultation of the User Experience team. In order to prioritize development work to optimally address the needs of advisors, the stakeholders employed the user experience team to assist with usability testing and design recommendations.

 Timeline for testing, design, and development

Timeline for testing, design, and development

Timeline Steps

  1. I arranged the test script and recruited participants. (1 day)
  2. I facilitated 6 usability testing sessions and compiled findings and recommendations. (5 days)
  3. I reviewed the findings with the technical lead and stakeholders. (1.5 hours)
  4. The 2nd designer created iterative mock ups and technical validation. (5 days)
  5. The developer engineered the final design. (10 days)


The advisors tested a beta version of the tool that simulated real student data in a test environment. I created a list of interview questions, a testing script with____ tasks, and reached out to 37 advisors via email. Advisors booked slots using google calendar's appointments feature. Each booking was scheduled for 50 minutes but on average each session lasted 90 minutes due to additional feedback, comments, and discussion.

usability testing notes

We conducted the tests at each advisor's office using their workstation to better understand their work environment. I facilitated the usability testing sessions while the UX Design Intern took notes. The Peoplesoft developer also attended and took notes during the session.

The second UX Designer created the mock ups. accompanied us during the testing sessions and referred to the mock ups for further development.

 Script and Notes kept within Google Docs

Script and Notes kept within Google Docs

The testing script include 7 of the most pertinent tasks done by advisors within the notes tool.

1. Look through the note history to understand the student's background.

2. Create a new note and save it.

3. Search for a previous note written by a particular advisor.

4. Edit the note you created earlier.

5. Copy and paste an example email and attachment into a new note.

6. Create a note template.

7. Create a new note using that template.


Test Results



"I have already too many things to remember in my work. I’m never going to learn that."

"This is the button I notice, it’s distracting. I could maybe get used to that but it seems poorly placed."

"Advisors only have a couple minutes before an appointment, so they generally scan the information and notes, so this is a big improvement”

“Anytime you can remove a click, you’re saving people work.”


Data Gathered

UC Berkeley Notes Data
# Advisors 7
# Students 6
# Departments 14
Monitor Sizes 24" - 27"
Testing Summary
# Testers 8
# Testing Sessions 7
Days of Testing 5
Departments Represented 3
Average Session Duration 90 minutes
Male 2
Female 6
Operating System
Mac 8
Windows 0
Monitor Setup
2 Screens 7
Single Screen 1
Familiarity with the tool
No Experience 3
Previously used 5

The notes tool exists within an environment of a variety of system tools that advisors use, especially during this period of transition to a new system. Advisors would like these systems to be more integrated to better facilitate their common day to day tasks.


Reporting the Findings

I discussed the findings and recommendations within a 1.5 hour long meeting with the technical lead and the functional owner (stakeholder). I used google slides to present these.

Certain requests or recommendations required policy validation and approval rather than design or development decisions. By the end of the meeting, we had policy level decisions made on whether to incorporate certain features. We had a clearer idea of next steps which included creating mock ups.

[ View Findings & Recommendations | Hide Findings & Recommendatinos ]


Critical Issues:

  • The number of actions it takes to view the note history is too high
  • The placement of the save button and store quick notes button is misleading
  • The display of advisors' legal name rather than preferred name
  • The absence of a confirmation for a saved note leaves advisors unable to fully trust the system

Serious Issues:

  • The number of actions it takes to navigate between students in the system overall is to high
  • Inability to see the category and subcategory of the note immediately within the note history section

Minor Issues:

  • Displaying the name of attachments within the note history
  • Date format is difficult to interpret right away
  • The absence of the student's profile photo


Critical Issues:

  • Redesign the taskflow
  • Rearrange the elements within the notes creation flow
  • Gain approval to use preferred name rather than legal name within the notes tool
  • Auto refresh the entire page once a note is saved so it is reflected in the history

Serious Issues:

  • Hold off this issue until we may discuss amongst leadership
  • Incorporate the category and subcategory field within the note history section.

Minor Issues:

  • Depending on the developer's bandwidth, implement as time allows


Knowledge Transfer to Second Designer

Notes Invision Comments

As the usability testing synthesized was wrapped up and the findings and recommendations was finalized, I was starting to do usability testing for another advising tool for appointments. 

In order to have design work started immediately, a second UX Designer took on the task of creating mock ups and undergoing technical validation. 

To quickly transfer knowledge, I, the developer, and the second UX Designer met and included our comments on screenshots in InVision.

Technical Validation

The advising notes tool's interface is built from Oracle Peoplesoft's fluid user interface and employs customized CSS for custom interactive features. Due to limitations of the framework, the developer's feedback was crucial in creating a feasible design.

Beyond Design

Upon finalization of the design, the developer had 2 weeks to implement the changes before it underwent System Integrations Testing (SIT) and User Acceptance Testing (UAT).