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Improve the using experience of Time Away Request through needs assessment and usability evaluation


Jan. - Apr. 2020,

14 weeks


UX Research,

UX Design


School of Dentistry,

University of Michigan


Asma Alhassani

Michelle (Ming-Hsuan) Tao

Nina McDaniel

Yuheng Xie


The system we studied is the MiTools used by School of Dentistry of University of Michigan. We focus on the Time Away Request System in MiTools and work with the developers to conduct needs assessment and usability evaluations in order to improve the interaction of the web.

The Time Away Request System is for staff to request time off, view requests, and edit them. Using Time Away Request, Staff can provide information such as reasons for requesting time off duration, approver, coverage person, and additional notes.


In this project, I take lead in the visual look of documents and diagrams, and visual design for the system improvement. As a team, we share responsibilities, and distribute task equally while emphasizing the importance of communication. I engaged in all seven steps for needs assessment and usability evaluation.



Through systematic user study, we aim to find potential problems and suggest improvment for the system. 

Until now, we have completed the first three steps.

design process.png

Interaction Map






Heuristic Analysis






There are three paths for Time Away Request - view requests, change department, apply new request.

Interaction map analysis


We interviewed four staff members in the School of Dentistry to understand how they utilize Time Away Request and what problems they might meet.

Key Questions


What is the process of reporting time off?

This question is important in understand the communication methods and resources used to report time off. It allows us to explore functions that might be added to Time Away Request, and whether there are any frustrating aspects to users.


What is Time Away Request's role in reporting time off?

When & How is it used?

This question guides us to understanding when and how Time Away Request is used. This is fundamental in understanding at what stage of requesting time off is the system used, and whether staff have positive experiences using it.


Affinity Wall

Each team member highlighted insightful, relevant responses in the transcripts, which were coded into a concise, descriptive statement. Using miro, an online analysis tool, we pasted statements onto post-it notes and clustered them by themes such as “Planning Time Off.” The resulting categories were then clustered under broader themes, such as “communication methods.”


01 Before Submission

The Use of Multiple Calendars

Interviewees usually refer to calendars (staff, personal, or academic) to see the best time for a vacation or to schedule coverage for absent staff members.

Communication is Flexible

Communication styles are often lax; they include text, email, and speaking in person.

02 During Submission

Concise Explanations

Interviewees preferred explanations for taking time off to be information such as the coverage person’s cell phone number, rather than detailed explanations of why a person is missing work.

03 After Submission

No clarification between original and modified requests.

 If staff edit the date of a submitted request and re-submit it, the notification the manager receives would not show that a request has been changed.

Apprved requests needs to manually add to calendars.

The system cannot automatically add the schedule to personal/work calendar.

It is standard process to use Time Away Request.

All interviewees view the use of Time Away Request as standard protocol and the official way to request time off.


The Manager

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The Assistant

assistant persona (Katherine).001.jpeg


In order to understand Time Away Request’s functions in relation to competing products, we compared several platforms, which fell into five categories: direct, partial, impartial, indirect and analogous competitors. 

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Calendar Use

While Google Calendar may be viewed on Time Away Request, requests must be added manually, according to dental staff. Kronos and PurelyHR enable calendar integration with various properties.


Leave Balance / File Iploading

All direct competitors also display leave balances on the request page, and allow for uploading files to request forms. These functions are currently not present on MiTools. 

Interation Style

Mobile Application

MiTools does not have a mobile version, and users can only request time off through their computer. Kronos, Gmail, and Google Calendar are accessible through a mobile application as opposed to solely a mobile browser, providing users with more access.


Information Flow

Ease of use can be determined based on the information flow of a system. MiTools, PurelyHR, Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Forms are navigable through clear, step-by-step procedures. However, Kronos and SuccessFactors’ different headings are closely grouped together, making navigating their interfaces confusing



PurelyHR and SuccessFactors’ interface are spacious and uncluttered. In addition, the background and foreground of Purely HR are easily distinguished. While both are colored in white, users distinguish contents due to the boxes they are placed in.





Multiple Calendar Integration

Allowing users to sync their personal Google or Outlook calendars will streamline their coordination process and ensure their requests are automatically added to their calendars.


Time Away Balance If Needed

Most direct competitors display leave balances, helping users plan their time off. Further study can be done through usability testing to understand whether this feature is necessary for Time Away Request.

Provide users with a few options for time off reasons.

Only having specific options to choose from may negate the need to write personal details in explanations.

Competitive analysis


Eighty-two candidates provided insightful and quantitative data fro us to better understand users' behavior, motivations and frustrations.

The survey had three overarching questions and had 28 questions in total. It underwent several revisions based on feedback from instructors and dental staff members.

The survey was conducted anonymously and analyzed through Qualtrics. Charts and tables were created for each survey section.

Overarching Questions


How does submitting Time Away vary between different departments?


How do you plan for Time Away?


How do you feel about Time Away Requests?

Data Analysis & Findings


a. What communication methods do staff use to ask for approval among 

    different departments?

Question "a" is meant to clarify the broader process of requesting time off; i.e. understanding how staff do so away from MiTools, presumably allowing us to gather a sense of the way in which Time Away Request is used. For example, how do staff inform one another that they will be requesting time off?

Screen Shot 2020-03-24 at 3.42.50 PM.png
Across the remaining departments, face to face informing and email were also the main methods, with 45 in person informers and 34 email users.


a. What do you refer to when choosing dates for time off?

b. When I am requesting, the calendar on Time Away Request is helpful.

pasted image 0 (2).png
79% of responses come from users who use an online calendar to plan their time off, and users who use the calendar on Time Away Request feel that it is helpful.


a. How would you rate your experience when you request time away?

Four respondents from the Patient Services and POM departments selected neutral for their satisfaction level.

b. What is the satisfaction of experience with the time away system?

Overall, respondents are satisfied with the request process, but there seems to be some dissatisfaction with editing requests that can be further explored.

c. What other problems or inconveniences do you find when conducting time

    away requests?

“It is a pain to have to edit it and then my supervisor doesn't even know when I delete a request.”
hard to view time away requests for the department.”
“I would rather the date be empty than to auto populate to the day's date. I often send in a request for the date I'm filling it out if I forget to change it.”


“The list of requests should be sortable based on date


“I wish we didn't have to reset to pending in order to delete a request.”



Interfaces for three main sections of Time Away Request  were evaluated against a set of criteria that identify usability problems

 The set of criteria we used were taken from Jakob Nielsen’s 10 principles (heuristics) of interaction design with an addition principle of personalization.

Detailed questions were generated in each heuristic principle to guide us conduct the evaluation.


Heuristic Principles
  1. Match between system and the real world
  2. User control and freedom
  3. Consistency and standards
  4. Error prevention
  5. Recognition rather than recall
  6. Flexibility and efficiency
  7. Aesthetic and minimalist design
  8. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
  9. Help and documentation
  10. Visibility
  11. Personalization
"View My Request" Page
change my department 1.png
  • List for departments is too long. A search bar or filter should be included on the top of the list.
  • Bad mapping:No indication of which section users are in.
change my department 2.png
"New Time Away" Request Page
New Time Away Request 1.png
  • No back button to go back to the home page.
  • Required fields are not indicated.
  • Date already filled, users may forget to change.
  • Unable to change the Google calendar account.
  • No consistent use of font, color, spacing, and size for each section.
  • "+" is confused, cannot accomplish this function
New Time Away Request 2.png
New Time Away Request 3.png
  • Not able to save the draft.
Heuristic evaluation


By conducting usability tests for four users with two supervisors and two staff memebers, how they interact with the time away system was observed and analyzed.

For this study, we wanted to understand how users add, view, and modify their requests, as well as how they change their departments. Additionally, our questions accounted for two types of users: those who can only submit requests and those who are able to approve requests.

The usability test was conducted through Google Meeting and was fully online.



Changing departments

1.The department list is extremely long with no search function

2.Navigating to the “Change My Department” tab from the MiTools home page is difficult

3.There is no way to indicate that an unit was already selected within the lists.


1.Approver cannot identify a deleted request

2.Approver finds the approve/deny notes section confusing

3.Approver does not use the notification bell

4.Approver cannot see what was changed in the edited request

Coverage person

1.Cannot know detail of the coverage info through email notification

2.Cannot know the situation if the original request is deleted

Navigating the system

1.No indication for what fields are required

2.Issues with clarity of terminology

3.No automatic exclusion of weekends when inputting time off dates


1.Bold/unbold differentiation between approved or pending requests for both the approver and employee.

2.A notification page to provide a larger and clear interface for showing information / a red dot beside the section button to inform users about the notification.

Usability test

07 \ Improvement

We summarized 10 main findings and recommendations for the time away system in MiTools.

Part 1: Needs Assessment (Interviews, Comparative Analysis, Survey)


No clear clarification between original and modified requests for approvers.


Modified requests include original and modified information (e.g. date)

Screen Shot 2020-02-25 at 5.40.33 PM.png
Purelyhr provides original and modified information.


Edit time away process is not straightforward.

(Users need to unapprove - reset to pending [new page] - reedit requests)


Change terminology"unapprove" to "re-edit";

After users edit and submit the request, a pop-up shows up to confirm the change: "Are you sure you want to change this approved request?"

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"Reset to pending" page after users click unapprove button.


Approved requests are not automatically added to calendars.


Auto-added approved requests to time away calendar and personal calendar.



Mixed opinions using the MiTools calendar to plan time away; Users use multiple calendars when planning time away


Have functions to look at multiople calendars on Mitools.

New Time Away Request 1.png
In MiTools, users can only view one google calendar (03). Date is automatically filled and usually is wrong (04).


Provacy violations for concise explanations in the notes section;

Users forget to change the date when requesting time away.


Make the notes section to the bottom in time away requests;

The date selection should not be filled in the current date

Part 2: Usability Evaluation (Heuristic Evaluation, Usability Testing)


List of departments is too long in Change My Department


Add a search bar or filtering system that categorizes the departments alphabetically.



No asterisks for required fields in New Time Away Request


Add asterisks to required fields.

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 8.42.58 PM.png
Screen Shot 2020-04-26 at 12.01.48
Recommendation of asterisks
No indication of required fields in MiTools


Approvers do not use the notification bell;

Notifications are difficult to follow.


Add floating/pop-up notifications;

Pending requests could be bolded.



Difficulty navigating through Time Away Requests


Add a menu bar to each page of Time Away Request that has the back button as well as the Home button.



Confusion over when the approve/deny notes section should be filled.


The notes section can either be removed, or its purpose can be further evaluated and modified.

unnamed (1).png
Screen Shot 2020-04-26 at 12.15.40
Note section is not useful.
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