Students making Bellevue a little more livable

Enzhou Wang with UW Bothell students
Bellevue’s IT manager Enzhou Wang with IMD students. Teri Thomson Randall

Many visitors to the city of Bellevue’s website search for jobs or business licenses. Website users also frequently look for information about activities, utilities and police. Few click on routine news stories.

Those are a few findings from student researchers in University of Washington Bothell’s Interactive Media Design (IMD) program. Although the students found the Bellevue website reasonably organized and functional, their research led them to propose a redesign.

Their work was part of just one Livable City Year (LCY) projects at the UW. This year, students from the Bothell and Seattle campuses are offering data analysis and advice to various partners in Bellevue city government on more than 30 projects.

IMD seniors in a class taught by Mark Chen undertook the website redesign. Students in a business consulting class taught by Michael Ervick tackled three other projects in fall quarter. This winter, students in classes led by Annie Bruck in the School of Nursing & Health Studies and Charlie Collins in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences are working on even more Bellevue LCY projects.

How to redesign a website

For the website redesign Angela Birchman, Rutuja Nehra, Jeff Oh and Yin Yin started by looking at the Google search analytics and demographics for the city of 140,000 on Seattle’s eastside. The web work flowed from data to interpretation to generalization to interviews, noted Chen, who is a lecturer in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences.

Informed by their research and analysis, the students imagined how target groups might use the Bellevue website. The students also conducted interviews with actual website users chosen based on the research.

According to Birchman, the research they did drove their redesign suggestions. “Being able to look at the data and see these target groups appear was really great,” she said.

Both Oh and Yin said that focusing on the users gave them confidence in their redesign. For her part, Nehra learned that researching demographics and the user experience are more important than she had imagined. “You can know what looks good, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to cater to everyone.”

To deliver something of value to their client, Chen said, the students were professional, responsible, mindful and ultimately successful.

Enzhou Wang discusses project with students.
Enzhou Wang discusses project with students. Teri Thomas Randall

The team presented their redesign recommendations Dec. 5 to Enzhou Wang, Bellevue IT manager. He said the analysis and the process used by the students would be useful to the digital government team working on website redesign. It could incorporate some of the student suggestions in late 2019 and more in 2020, he said.

“The work they have done is way beyond my expectations,” said Wang. “I’m looking forward to more opportunity to work with talented students.”

Benefits for Bellevue

Students in Ervick’s business consulting class presented projects Dec. 11 to Bellevue city officials who had asked them to help solve some challenging problems they faced. “These students were able to rise to the occasion because it was real and they could make a difference,” said Ervick, a lecturer in the School of Business.

One group recommended cloud-based software to help the Parks and Community Services department improve the online registration process.

“This is a project I have wanted to do for a long time,” said Colin Walker, marketing administrator for the department. “They have laid that foundational work that will help us carry this project across the finish line. Ideally, I’d love to be able to take their research and have some marked improvement in our registration experience within the first half of 2019.”

Another student team suggested how applied technology startups could be incubated in the Richards Valley, a light industrial area. “They delivered something we can actually take and use in that area,” said Nicholas Matz, a long-range planner for the city.

The third group suggested a public-private reorganization for Startup 425, a partnership of Bellevue, Kirkland, Issaquah, Redmond, Renton and the Port of Seattle that supports entrepreneurship. The partners want to turn Startup 425 into an independent, self-sustaining program.

The students had “lots of great ideas” that will go to an advisory committee, said Jesse Canedo, acting director for economic development for Bellevue.

“The students were extremely motivated. They were very open to feedback and making changes, as we needed to adjust strategy. Absolutely impressed with the students here at UW Bothell.”

Impressive presentation

Issaquah Economic Development Manager Tim Dutter said the Startup 425 presentation gave the partnership a framework for next steps. He was impressed at how well students answered questions.

“They weren’t just going off what they had written down,” Dutter said. “They expanded on their presentations. You could tell they had really done a lot of research. It was impressive.”

Presentation for Bellevue officials
Presentation for Bellevue officials. UW Bothell

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