You really can learn a lot just by sitting down with a few users, and watching them use the software. And the Portal team did learn a lot. From the article:
There are often insights uncovered in usability testing that designers wouldn’t think of, especially when tailoring each experience to different audiences. When one faculty member took a look at the list of courses she taught, something was off. The list was sorted by title, but “faculty look at the course designator, not the title,” she explained. An easy fix, but one the designer might not have noticed. Getting these small details right can mean the difference between a good experience and a frustrating one.I'm really glad to see usability in action during this important upgrade!