Brown Courses Tool


During my internship with Brown University's Computer and Information Services Department, I was asked to redesign a course search tool, which allowed students and those unaffiliated with the university to find information about classes and syllabi. Initial research revealed that the tool was fraught with usability issues –– there was too much information distributed across too many different websites, many users reported trouble navigating the layout when accessing course information, and others did not understand the tool's purpose. I sought to design a website that resolved these problems.


Target users were students (undergraduate, graduate) who wanted to find information about classes. Faculty imported information into the system, but they rarely used it to search and find information.


I created a survey to gauge awareness and adoption of various course tools. The objective was to identify pain points, areas for improvement, and features that were currently successful. I polled about 20 students and held a number of informal interviews to understand key issues:

  • There was a lack of awareness of this particular course search tool ––  most students relied on another tool
  • Students avoided this particular tool due to a poorly-designed search and navigation system
  • They frequently used the syllabus feature, which was unavailable in other tools

Some of this project was motivated by initial research I did for a human factors class: I learned that a successful user experience emphasis visual and functional "hygiene" (i.e. functional links, clear navigation), which I sought to emphasize.


Initial view of the tool. There is too much copy clutter, content is extremely dense, and course codes are not surfaced alongside the course names, so at first it's not clear that the search turned up the right results (assuming users are searching with departmental codes –– as my research suggested).

Key issues:

  • Too many fields for searching, including some that the average student does not use ("attribute")
  • No clear hierarchy for searching
  • Visual clutter and alignment issues
  • Registered courses' titles are not surfaced -- in most departments, courses are referred to by name, rather than number. This has potential to be confusing when students are registered for multiple courses in the same department.


My revision attempted to address issues of clutter, emphasizing hygiene. I removed excess fields from the search and put deprioritized them to checkboxes at the bottom of the screen. Next, I added course titles to registered courses for clarity and consistency. I also made visual tweaks, such as separating out courses, retaining key information and removing what was unnecessary. 

Clicking on a course link would reveal more information about a class, as well as its syllabus.