Online Application Form Project | User Experience |

Mobile first online application form for Deakin University

Project Overview

This enterprise project had a peak size of 60 team members working across 800 functional requirements. As UX Lead I was responsible for architecting the end-to-end user experience, design of the application form, managing project risks & resources, and providing training to developers & BAs.

Project Preparation

I began the project by evaluating the full student lifecycle. Initially a high level overview:

Starting at "brand, communications & marketing" we look at students who are interested in university study, then those that are choosing where to sudy followed by applying and responding to offers. Once at university they enter a cycle: enrol, study, sit exams, progress.  Within this cycle there is an academic model, fees & finance and compliance & reporting. This is supported by systems and infrastructure. As students finish their final exams they exit the cycle and graduate before becoming alumni. Alumni can both contribute to the brand and marketing as well as go on to further study.

Then a detailed breakdown of the user journey through the various systems involved:
Zoomed out view of full student lifecycle flowchart

User Research

At this stage of the project I leveraged existing user research completed through user interviews and surveys to build personas and user journeys. For later parts of the project view my case study on behavioural personas.

For this first part of the project personas were divided by cohort with one additional persona for a disabled student. These were highly functional personas that provided a method for evaluating the user experience for students with different types of entry paths. The main personas were those applying directly out of high school, from a gap-year, as mature age, and as international.

Competitor Research

After synthesising User Research into personas I began competitor research to evaluate the state of online application forms. By running through the application process of multiple local and international universities I was able to work out some common trends, pitfalls, and opportunities. The key findings:

  • Usability can be improved with redundancy of course selection, namely allowing users to apply for courses directly through the website as well as including a course search in the application form
  • Multi-step forms were very effective so long as it was obvious how far the user had to progress and that there weren’t “steps within steps”
  • Some institutions tried to fit every step onto a single page and this made for clunky forms which seemed to drag on
  • Accessibility was often poor, with unexpected keyboard navigation
  • Clear instructions and descriptions so that every action is predictable would be important


Performing detailed analytics through Google Analytics of the existing application form would provide some insight into user behaviour:

  • The application form took roughly 30mins to complete on average
  • ~50% of users completed the application in a single sitting
  • Of the remaining, another 50% completed in more than one sitting but still within a single day
  • Most users dropped out of the process (or jumped back in) at the document upload stage

Additional insights from analytics performed on raw applicant data:

  • The vast majority of direct applicants were international
  • 3-4x the number of people applied as there were offers
  • Applicants largely avoided deferring – instead declining offers and simply re-applying later (presumably because there was no online process)
  • The number of applicants each year was increasing

Low fidelity sketches

Low fidelity sketching was used to facilitate rapid prototyping, stakeholder & developer engagement, and iteration of multiple concepts. This was done both prior to initial design/development but also throughout the project.

various low-fidelity sketches

Low fidelity sketching was used to facilitate rapid prototyping, stakeholder & developer engagement, and iteration of multiple concepts. This was done both prior to initial design/development but also throughout the project.

more low-fidelity sketches

Desk Research: Form Design

Prior to designing the form I also engaged in desk research to evaluate best practices in form design methodology. This culminated in a presentation given to the wider UX teams at Deakin, available as Designing Usable Forms on Slideshare.

In-browser design, Usability testing, Iteration

In order to reduce impact on the project development time all prototyping was completed in code using the live back-end functionality. After an initial round of rapid prototyping I ran a series of usability tests. These tests revealed key usability issues with dynamic components, instructions, and document uploads. These were quickly fixed and the prototypes were evolved into final designs.

By designing in-browser the timeline could be reduced allowing for quick iteration with the developers. This quick turned around allowed for a further 2 rounds of usability testing and continuous improvement on the design.

To avoid needing to design every component an online styleguide and development guide was created that would allow developers to re-use atomic components in all parts of the application.

Desktop and mobile design screenshot for the application form

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