Designing the Portal is like organizing your junk drawer

Imagine if you had an assistant that supported your life here at the University of Waterloo. What would it look like? Many individuals rely on a human resource; a personal assistant. Unfortunately, this isn’t a practical solution for our campus community. What then is our light at the end of the tunnel? Digital technology. More specifically, a ‘portal’ that provides a gateway to multiple disparate channels of communications and information. The portal will help support you in your journey providing quick, easy access to the organized data you need, when you need it. 

Currently, your view of your life here at Waterloo may look like the junk drawer below. You know there's important information in there, but you’re not exactly sure where it is, or if it’s still relevant. You have to rifle through the drawer and its mess to get what you need.

junk drawer

This is life without a portal.

organized junk drawer     iGoogle portal screen

An organized junk drawer and the iGoogle Portal--twins separated at birth?

Look at the images above. We see 2 large rectangles that represent a window into smaller groups of useful items or information. The contents are better organized, but you still need to know where to look to find what it is you need. Depending on the size and shape of your junk drawer or portal screen (think mobile device), you could be searching for a considerably long time.

The antidote to this problem of cluttering is to leave out information. You'll see this trick used often on mobile phones or labeled baskets. Below we see two such designs.

Carlton University mobile app screenStorage boxes with picture labels of contents

With a quick glance and a physical gesture like a tap or a pull you can access the information within. With this design, you can get to what you want faster. Unfortunately, the information you’d like to glance at is hidden.

Luckily for us, working with a digital device allows us the ability to make our information compartments interactive and immersive, instead of merely pictorial representations. We can use smaller boxes with small snippets of information, as illustrated in Microsoft's Live Tile design below. While Live Tiles offers a cleaner way to display larger quantities of information at one time, you still have to scan through the tiles to get to the one you need.

Microsoft Live Tile screen shot

Below we see a springboard design complimented by search, which comes naturally to users given the prominence of tools like Google.

Kurogo app interface with search feature

Springboard interface with search (Kurogo)

An ideal solution then would be an uncluttered interface that displayed only the information you needed at the moment you needed it. But how would the portal know to display this content?

What if your digital device knew much more about you, including where you were at a particular moment in the day and what role you played at the university? This information, called context, provides an opportunity for designers to curate an experience tailored specifically to you. Accurate and accessible data will play a significant role in the success of such a solution. But, so will the portals interface (how the content will be presented and how the user will interact with it).

What would an interface that took advantage of context look like to you? Visit our collaborative student portal space and explore the project design menu item. Please note, this project is very much ‘in progress’. As such, the resources you see here may change.  

We look forward to hearing from you!

Thank you to our portal team for this week’s guest post.

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