A Catalogue Subscription Engine

Our Part-time Studies (PTS) staff wanted to market new course offerings directly to prospects, and our Marketing Communications department wanted to eliminate printing/postal costs with full-time program info package mailouts.

What I did:

  • business analysis & requirements
  • IA, wireframes & prototypes
  • project lead & testing lead

Analysis & Research

This began its life as a request for CRM-like features that would help schools market courses. As I collaborated with my team to lead requirements gathering, we undertook substantial environmental research to see what other institutions were doing in this area, and favoured more of a subscription-based notification system for new offerings and a newsletter feature for program email marketing.


  • Separate course and program catalogue front-end subscription form modules.
  • Email notification and subscription confirmation engine.
  • Back-end administration application.
  • End-user subscription management panel.
  • Long overdue PTS catalogue UI/visual design updates, including:
    • consistency with our program catalogue
    • improved calls-to-action and messaging
    • display of new textbook/seats remaining data in course sections

Interaction Design

The admin application had only a few internal staff users, so we purposely kept design and testing cycles simple. The flow and wireframes below represent the first concept of this application, which included the aforementioned CRM features. In particular, the initial request was for something with waiting list and customer communication features. As we began developing that, the subscription notification idea gained more prominence in part because we were getting institutional push back on anything of a CRM nature, and in part because of continuing competitive research.

Early admin application flow and wireframes

Process Overview

  • Several brainstorm/sketch sessions were held with the clients and key internal stakeholders.
  • I developed a high level flow with click-through wireframes in Omnigraffle for mapping key user interfaces and interactions.

After the Omnigraffle flow and wireframes above, based on stakeholder feedback I sketched the addition of a bounce management screen (left top below) for invalid email addresses and moved to a tabbed interface to improve usability. We also finally killed the CRM-like features and streamlined it down to a subscription-based notification system. You can also see the bounce management panel and admin dashboard below.

Bounce management screen sketch, and final admin UIs

Note: The interaction design above is focused primarily on the backend mailing list administration application, whereas iteration, testing and final outcome below are more focused on the front-end catalogue user experience.

Iteration, Testing & Feedback

I built some quick front-end Omnigraffle wireframes, followed by a medium fidelity Axure prototype, pictured below. In addition to accommodating the new subscription form page, we decided to add a number of long-requested enhancements, including an optional contact us page, a list of programs the course fed into and more detailed textbook data. The prototype simply showed roughly how we would accommodate the new data.

  • I regularly presented design iterations to key stakeholders, incorporating feedback.
  • I alpha-tested prototype subscription forms with internal and external (student) users.
  • On our development server, I ran full beta end-to-end system tests, including all email messaging/notifications and subscription management panels.
Early front-end course catalogue subscription wireframes
Axure front-end prototype screens

After prototype testing was finished, I moved entirely into project management mode, as development was handled by our front-end and back-end developers.


Final front-end course catalogue & subscription UIs

We solved the key project design challenge by adding new subscription functionality to both our program and course catalogues. Thousands in direct mail costs have been eliminated from our marketing budget. Additionally we now have much cleaner and vastly improved layouts for our course sections, including tabbed semesters, clearer messaging and calls to action, and textbook data in context from our bookstore for the first time. Uptake on both course and program subscriptions have been good, with thousands of course and program subscriptions (see below for spring 2015 snapshot).

Spring 2015 Notification Metrics

  • 7,907 notifications sent, driving 1,271 site visits for a 16% response rate.
  • 15 course registrations
  • 77 new course notification subscriptions
  • 6 new program newsletter subscriptions
  • 3 contact forms submitted
  • 1 infosession registration
  • 1 spend-a-day registration

Go ahead, find a course you like and test it out.

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