York College Case Study


Co-Lead Designer & Researcher


Anik Ahmed
Venisha Henry


  • For our final project me and my colleague - both aspiring UXers, wanted to make a difference in our school, in our senior year.

  • This led us to dissect what exactly could we use as a case study but making a difference that would impact the students in our school. 


  • Project Start: September 2019

  • Preliminary Research: September to December

  • Advanced Research: January to May  

  • Project End: June 2020


As I and my colleague were looking to improve our school's email system there was a number of concerns we were worried about prior to our research starting:

  • Whether or not the different user bases will have conflicting goals regarding the school’s email system & if that will hinder the overall process.

  • The present biases of our demographic will affect their outlook on the development of our internal process.

  • The creation of personas may take too much of our time/resources. 

  • Consistent availability of students and staff.

The Problem

So to define the problem that I and my colleague to tackle we decided we wanted to improve the college's way of communicating with its students and faculty, but we were limited in scope as we were trying to do a realistic approach to this. 

Therefore we had consulted our faculty advisor, interviewed 2 different students in order pinpoint the main focus/scope of our project.  

With this in mind, we decided that our problem should be "How to Improve our School's Email System" 


This led me and my colleague to break down our entire process into three different goals: 

  1. Understand which messages are important to our students.

  2. Develop a new tool and pathways for messages to be received by the stakeholders that value them.” of sending emails to students. based on our end-results.

  3. Test the success of our new method via user testing.



Preliminary Insights


Male, early 40s/ Tenured

  • Compare to slack to see where the strengths

  • Consider how you could get people to download app

  • What does the user want and need

  • Make usability test and screen shots 

  • Would you check the email if it was on your phone

  • Survey people to see how they feel about the amount of emails they receive

  • Speak to registrar

  • May lead to simple pamphlet to students that help to set up the email on different phones

  • Make usability test and screen shots 

  • Notifications on registration

  • Would students check if they can control

  • Printing email titles - card sorting

  • Checks Yorkmail daily for information concerning financial aid,

  • Has Yorkmail connected to their phone to avoid having classes dropped

  • Classes were once dropped due to nonpayment, the student was notified through Yorkmail

  • At the time the student did not use Yorkmail, they didn't see as an important source of information.

  • This student doesn't rely on the York academic calendar and prefers to learn information through word of mouth. No google calendar/ No computers/ They prefer to use their minds to keep dates in order

Student One

Male, 25 years old, Junior/ graduating Fall 2020

  • Apparently you have to register for next years classes one semester before. So for fall of senior year, I have to register in junior year

  • The registration period is short and inconvenient. When they open up registration, the whole school is on the site which causes it to clash. If your site clashes and you log back in, chances are the the class you wanted is full, bc other people registered for it.

  • She details that her credit requirements are not clear. Starting that her summer classes are mandatory for completing credits for graduation, but a lot of time you don’t need the extra classes and your credits are fine

  • From sophomore - senior year, advertising and design majors are required to hand in a final portfolio to pass the year.. the deadline for the portfolio is BEFORE classes and final projects are due.

Student Two

Female, 20 years old, Senior/ Graduating Spring 2020

  • 2 Student Interviewees

  • 1 staff Advisor

  • Allowed us to contextualize specific painpoints 

  • Understanding people's problem with their college communication system


Research Methods

Online Surveys

  • 3 Iterations of the Survey

  • 1st one was acting as a screener

  • Surveys focused upon school's email system

One on One Interviews

So I had previously mentioned that we had interviewed 2 students in order to gauge interest and figure out what exactly are the pain points to the project. Well, this led us to interview even more students just to get an unfiltered/honest response as to what kind of emails are important to them, how their viewing practices are like, and what their view is on our current email system.


Card Sorting was a huge boon to our research as it allowed us to not only conduct similar research with the interviews, with our participants in an honest way but it allowed participants to real email topics in order from most important to least important and asking them why.


Survey Questions

Critical Questions that Participants Answered in our Survey

Most Received Emails

Most Received Emails

Least Wanted Emails

Least Wanted Emails

What Platform do they Use to Check Email

What Platform do they Use to Check Email

Opt In for Interviews

Opt In for Interviews



Our students are checking their mail via multiple platforms but the most common is Web browser. 

More people have said they always use their phone app and web browser versus using a desktop application. What conveniences are being offered via these methods? 

Survey Conclusions



Student -Insights

  • Card-sorting allowed us to ask participants on a personal level what they think is important within their emails and why.

  • In order to achieve this, we printed out subject topics and real emails that the schools send to the students/staff, cut them out, & used those as 'cards'. 

  • Participants were randomly selected around our school's campus in which we asked them to sort the cards from the most important to the least.

  • We had 7 participants in our card-sorting which gave us a good amount of feedback about what specifically is important to them(the user). 

What we Learned

  • Students feel as though they already have so much going on in their lives that they should only have to spend time on emails that directly affect their academic career.

Staff Insights

We had asked about 3 different faculty members in order to understand their perspective on York's Email system. This will be crucial to understand how both sides(students/staff) 

What We Learned

  • On average York College hosts over 30 events per month and releases 5-7 announcements and news articles.

  • Staff have also complained about low attendance due to the disconnect between students and the faculty/staff.

  • Staff have also stated that when receiving emails, they get cc'd/forwarded email chains that do not pertain to their department or are uninterested.

  • one staff member stated "it's so hard to get things done here"

Student/Staff Quotes

Through our research, via card-sorting/interviews, it seems as though a common theme was that there were just too much unrelated/unimportant messages being sent to the students & staff

“I have so many things to focus on already”


How Do We Solve the Problem with Limited Resources?

My colleague and I wanted to make a impact on our school using our research. That being said we wanted to be realistic in our goals, so we had to ask ourselves; 

what can we achieve that the administration can implement realistically.

Option 1: Create a Application 

We decided that while creating a separate application would be great, we just do not have the bandwidth to do so, so that's not a real option.

Option 2: Mock-up a Redesign of the current email application.

This option may have been feasible except for one problem; Our college utilizes Microsoft's Outlook email system & unless we could convince Microsoft, to implement our redesign, it's not going to work-out.

Option 3: Create a Newsletter

So our original goal was to help students/staff quickly get the information they need whilst filtering out the information they do not need. This brought us to the newsletter option. We decided that the newsletter would include things such as school events, announcements, and news related to the administration that students can quickly glance at, receive fewer emails regarding these events and make their lives a little bit easier when scrolling down their inbox.

Thus we settled on creating a newsletter that would put out the 'unwanted' information for both the students and staff.  


Results & Conclusion


Our first digest received an open rate of 16%

This rate has been steady for the majority of the time since it’s creation.

There was a spike of 25% on March 13th due to COVID-19 concerns.

 One Student states: “Thank you, you’ve prevented me from receiving  30 separate emails”


Overall our research and impact regarding the school's communication system is something that we're happy to work on. 


The fact that we were able to make a difference no matter how small or large it is, is something that we're extremely proud of.  This case study helped develop the research skills that will inevitably help us in the future, and although we would've liked a better design of the newsletter (we did not design it), it does it's a job well & that's all you can ask for in UX. 

©2020 by Anik Ahmed. 

  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram