Web-based Guide for REU PIs

Create a database to keep documents, examples, and overviews of the different aspects of running an REU site.

Active Website


User Researcher, UX Designer, Co-Organizer


NSF Grant — HCI Department


User Interviews
Competitive Analysis
Journey Map
Task Analysis
Information Architecture
Website creation and design
Create downloadable resources
Content creation


A website dedicated to orient and direct any new or ongoing professionals involved in running a CISE REU site. The guide provides information about the different components of running an effective site. Each available topic contains helpful tips, advice, and resources for users to use according to their needs.

Tests and feedback indicated that the first release of the guide was positive — 78% on the Likert scale.

Users continue to use the Guide, and stakeholders can now refer and successfully guide new professionals through the process

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Due to federal budget delays, some REU PIs receive their award on short notice, which leads to an unprepared organization of the new. While REU program structure can vary, there’s still a need for some consistent guidance on the administrative side, which typical PIs have minimal experience with. There’s a need for an organized database to keep helpful information and documents accessible.

  • MVP of an accessible and sharable database of relevant resources and guidance for PIs to reference while preparing their site.
  • Lower uncertainty, increase confidence, and successfully guide PIs through the process.
  • User satisfaction.
  • Limited budget and resources.
  • Lack of documents.
  • Hosting through WordPress.
  • Limited flexibility in design decisions.


Our main users are faculty from CISE who are new to running a summer research program (REU) and understanding the requirements, structure, and guidance to administer a successful REU.

Survey results revealed there was a lack of a common, centralized, source of information where PIs can go to and search for guidance and resources to use when planning of running their site. Based on the different users and stakeholders we came up with 2 representative personas.

Principal Invertigator Persona
Program Coordinator Persona

According to the research and the site structure, REUs will vary. We created a Journey map timeline to help us highlight some important aspects that can affect the success of an REU site.

Timeline of running and planning for an REU site

To understand how our users naturally grouped information, we had the PIs do an open and collaborative card sorting activity by different topics, which allows us to identify the different tasks, questions, and sub-topics that needed to be addressed under a parent category.

After analyzing our data — I came up with the following design requirements for the content of the REU PI Guide:

1. Information should be presented by topic
2. Downloadable templates and resources for PIs to refer to or customize
3. Identified best practices within larger topics.

Card Sorting activity


  • Accessible database
  • ​Identify best practices within larger topics
  • Information organized by topic and bigger goals
  • Include downloadable templates and resources for PIs to refer or customize

I considered modeling the REU Guide after sites the PIs visited often or hosted similar information. This would give me a start in structuring a website that felt familiar.

Competitive Analysis Websites
Wordpress template

Although this limits the ability to develop a brand, new stylesheets, and make major visual decisions, it provides the opportunity to focus more on the content and provided resources. On a brighter note, the template allowed the design to be responsive.

Showing the website’s template responsiveness
Information Architecture of the website

With that in mind, we kept the structure and design close to what our users are used to interacting with — academic websites. These are mainly simple and kept on-brand with their school.

Quick website sketches


We decided to keep it simple, which is achieved at the expense of flexibility, lack of media, and unique or new visual styles. However, this deemed appropriate for an MVP and ease of transferability off WordPress website (if desired).


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Style Guide


Due to the lack of responses from our main users we had to open it up to a wider audience. We invited over 200 participants, recruited from the online NSF list of REU sites (including CISE and non-CISE PIs).

​Each participant browsed the REU PI Guide website and attempted to complete 3 tasks, followed by a USE (Usefulness, Satisfaction, and Ease of Use) survey evaluation.

Task 1: Find information about accepting/rejecting applications.

Task 2: Find information about what you need to do after accepting your students and preparing your REU site before your students’ arrival (e.g., getting them to the REU site, accommodations, etc.).

Task 3: Find information about student tracking after the program.

Results indicated a successful MVP

Results were very positive, with an average of 78% of all Likert responses being “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree.”

​Based on the evaluation’s data, the first iteration of the CISE REU PI Guide was satisfactory, useful, and welcomed by the participants. The provided information matched their expectations and left them requesting more materials or specific guidance.

Evaluation feedback


There are some discrepancies between users about the amount of desired information, with some wanting more and others claiming there was too much already. Addressing this issue would require further investigation via interviews with our target audience.

We can also see some concerns around the website’s template (static), heavy text, and information architecture — which can be fixed by leveraging other implementation approaches and resources.

We saw how opening up the user testing session to a large subset helped us gather more data, it didn’t necessarily match-up with our core users. Next time, gathering a smaller and more focused group of participants (our main users) and do smaller and supervised sessions, which would allow asking follow up questions and fully understand what needs to be changed, how, and the reason why.

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