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GreatSchools - Search Feature 


Project Name: GreatSchools Search Feature

Time Frame: 3 weeks

Team: Drew Allen, Omri Nir, Allison Woo

My Role: UX Researcher and Designer

Tools: Axure, Sketch, InVision

Objective: Improve's search function and feature by making it more intuitive, learnable and consistent across the various pages of the website.

GreatSchools' Story

GreatSchools is a national non-profit organization which provides parents with information regarding PK-12 schools. provides parents with school ratings which are based on a number of criteria such as test scores and teach/student ratios. The site also gives parents the ability to search, evaluate, and compare different schools across all 50 states.


  • Learning curve for search feature is too high.

  • Search feature is inconsistent across multiple pages on the site.

  • Users are struggling with narrowing down their search and with utilizing the compare feature.


  • Making searching, filtering and comparing schools easier and more intuitive for users.

  • Consolidating the search features across multiple pages in order to improve consistency on the site.



Competitive Analysis

In order to gain a better understanding of the ways in which other search features are designed and organized, a business competitive analysis was conducted by looking at three other sites who offer services similar to that of GreatSchools.


  • Offered a very limited number of filter options.

  • High number of sort options.

  • No map view options.

  • Has its own compare feature.


  • Very limited number of filter options.

  • High number of sort options.

  • Map and list are combined on same page.

  • Can use current location for search.


  • Allows users to narrow search before typing into search bar.

  • High number of sort and filter options.

  • Map and list views available.

User Interviews

Once the competitive analysis was complete, user interview questions were crafted and presented to users of both via an online survey and in person. Users were also observed as they interacted with the current search feature in order to evaluate the current search experience. Findings were then organized into a research findings matrix in order to identify, prioritize, and develop solutions for existing pain points.

Major Findings

  • Users had difficulty switching between map and list view

  • Users had difficulty finding the search filter options

  • Users were interested in distance, rating, student-teacher ratios and diversity when choosing schools

User Journey Map

After gathering data from user observations, findings were gathered into user journey map to more clearly illustrate the manner in which users interact with the search feature and where their biggest pain points lie.


  • Users struggled heavily when trying to narrow their search results with filters

  • Users felt unsatisfied with the information presented to them in the search results page

  • Users found the compare feature unintuitive and difficult to use


Empathy Map

Once the research stage was complete, attention was focused towards identifying the users, their needs, goals, and pain points. The first stage in achieving this was to create an empathy map for GreatSchools so as to better understand their environment and motivations.


  • Parents hear, see, and are influenced by other parents

  • Parents want the search experience to be as easy and quick as possible

  • Certain criteria matter more than others when choosing schools

User Personas

Although user personas were provided by the client, these personas were centered around users general interaction with the site, therefore the main persona was identified and adjusted in terms of its interaction with site's search feature.

Main Persona

  • moving or has just moved to a new area

  • Medium to low proficiency with technology

  • Uses both mobile and desktop sites

  • Looking to find and compare schools in the easiest way possible based on the criteria that matters to her


Lo-Fi Wireframes

Once the research and ideation phases were complete, it was time to apply the research towards a redesign of the search feature. The first stage in the design phase, was a design studio in which team members each drew up sketches individually, then reviewed them as a team and consolidated the best designs. Once sketches were drawn up and agreed upon, lo fidelity digital wireframes were created.

Sample Mobile Wireframe

Sample Desktop Wireframe

Lo-Fi Prototype

Low fidelity wireframes were assembled into interactive prototypes using Axure and InVision for usability testing purposes.


Usability Testing

Once the low fidelity prototypes were complete, they were presented to target users in the form of usability tests both online and in person. Users were observed as they attempted to complete a number of relevant tasks within the prototype.

Mobile Usability Test Findings

  • Users were able to toggle from map to list view, filter, and compare results substantially quicker than on the original site

  • Most users experienced some trouble in finding the "Compare now" button

  • Majority of users felt as though the header menu items did not fit together

Desktop Usability Test Findings

  • Users were able to toggle from map to list view, filter, and compare results substantially quicker than on the original site

  • Vast majority of users were confused regarding the meaning of the GreatSchools rating

  • Users had trouble figuring out which schools on the map belonged to which district


Hi-Fi Wireframes

Once usability tests were complete, findings were gathered and analyzed, and later applied to a second iteration of High Fidelity wireframes. These wireframes were then annotated for hand-off to the client.

Hi-Fi Prototypes

Once annotations were completed, the high fidelity wireframes were gathered into an interactive prototype in order to communicate design decisions to the client.



Watch Now

Mobile Hi-Fi Prototype


Takeaways & next steps

Over the course of this project, thorough research and testing were conducted in order to guide a design which will resolve the issues currently associated with the search feature. Upon completion of the project and given client feedback, it can be deduced that this task was achieved successfully. Nevertheless, there are some additional points for improvement that could not be addressed during the scope of this project. It is the design team's recommendation that the client continues to explore some additional issues with the search function such as improving the compare feature on desktop and updating the style guide to improve on the visual design of this feature and the site as a whole.

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