Summary: Clinicians using electronic health record (EHR) systems to make requests for patients need an intuitive, but safe, method of confirming that they want to cancel a started function or form. Recently, Veterans Health Administration (VHA) developers asked Human Factors Engineering (HFE) to assess a concern that a confirmation dialog in the EHR contained unclear button labeling that might easily confuse or slow down clinicians who encountered it, and created inconsistent messaging across the application.
Usability Case Study
Smartphones make up 75% of the mobile market—which makes mobile-friendliness a must for government agencies. With the recent update to Google’s search algorithm, or what some are calling Mobilegeddon, the case for building a mobile-friendly site becomes even stronger. For many government organizations, responsive Web design (RWD) has been the answer to their mobile question. While RWD is by no means a panacea, it can provide agencies with a way to reach their customers on many devices with one site.
Your audience is not homogenous. No matter the agency, target audiences are not only diverse, they are diverse on a multitude of factors. Recently, evolving trends in multicultural marketing have gained attention as organizations adjust their marketing and outreach strategies to meet 21st century realities. Marketers who recognize the need for a coherent, effective multicultural strategy have turned to the Total Market Approach (TMA). A coalition of marketing agencies, clients and associations led by AHAA: The Voice of Hispanic Marketing released an industry-sanctioned definition of TMA in September.
Usability testing has provided our organization many important insights to improve our Web presence. Since the early 2000s, the National Library of Medicine (NLM)’s Web teams have actively sought and used usability testing tools; we have run “full service” usability testing almost yearly for various Web properties for sites such as NIHSeniorHealth.gov and MedlinePlus.gov. In recent years we gained new insights about mobile device usability through GSA’s First Fridays usability testing program (now called the DigitalGov User Experience Program), and through testing responsive Web designs with the help of a usability firm.
In one sense, almost any type of user research is crowdsourced—you’re talking to people and using that information to improve your system. But in a true sense, crowdsourcing is more than just collecting information, it’s collaborating on it. We want to have real conversations, not one-time emailed suggestions without followups. So here’s a few tidbits on crowdsourcing User Experience (UX) for your site, mobile app, API or whatever else you’ve got cooking:
After struggling with jargon-filled solicitations and a confusing website, some applicants were ready to give up on seeking grants from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Their complaints prompted a Plain Language makeover for the Institute’s funding materials. As the research arm of the U.S. Education Department, IES’s mission is to provide rigorous and relevant evidence on which to ground education practice and policy. Beginning in 2012, the project applied a Plain Language best practices to both their Funding Opportunities page and the grant solicitations themselves.
While many people tout the death of the home page, it’s still an important piece of the user experience on USA.gov. In 2013, 30% of all sessions on USA.gov included the home page—that’s 8.67 million sessions. The numbers for GobiernoUSA.gov are even higher—79% of all sessions included the home page. According to Jakob Nielsen, “A homepage has two main goals: to give users information, and to provide top-level navigation to additional information inside the site.
The annual Consumer Action Handbook, from GSA, is a guide to making smarter decisions with your money. In both its print and online formats, it includes a compilation of buying tips from across government agencies, updates on the latest scams, and a robust consumer contact directory. But the most popular part of the book is the sample consumer complaint letter. The letter template is printed in every edition of the Handbook.
Incorporating usability testing throughout the entire design process, especially before launch, allows you catch glitches and/or make design changes prior to anyone seeing it live. When more than minor adjustments need to be made to your site, it’s much better to have completed them before the public sees it. For Christina Mullins, a Contracting Officer at the Public Building Service in the General Services Administration (GSA)’s Region 3 based in Philadelphia, usability testing was a new frontier, and one that quickly proved valuable.
For a small shop with a small staff, limited time, and a small budget, redesigning a website (and testing that redesign for usability) can be daunting. At least it seemed so to us when we redesigned the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s National Ocean Service website in November of 2013. We met the challenge by keeping things simple. One solution was to adopt the popular, open-source Twitter Bootstrapframework, which is very flexible and well documented.
User testing isn’t just for websites—it’s for any product that has an audience. Which is everything, really. And that includes print materials, signage and infographics as well. Focusing on the User Experience is especially vital for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is committed to effectively communicating about products that affect the public on a daily basis. Brian Lappin works for the Risk Communication Staff at FDA. His team supports the agency in making sure that all types of communications—video, graphic and Web—are easily understood.
For a children’s site, Kids.gov is pretty old—it was launched back in 2001. And it has the unenviable task of trying to keep pace with the rapidly changing online habits of youngsters. So in 2012, Kids.gov Director Arlene Hernandez thought her site was due a usability test with its two main audiences: kids and their parents. Hernandez already had a good deal of data on the current design based on Web traffic and emailed feedback.
We all know listening to your customers is important. Not just reading their comments, but talking to them, actually getting in a room with them, and having them test your product. But if basing a whole-scale redesign around one series of user conversations makes you nervous – it should. That’s because sometimes when we listen, we only see a bit of the bigger picture. It’s only when we get customer feedback, tweak the design, and THEN ask customers a second time that we really validate what customers want.
When redesigning a site, it’s easy to place menu items, text and other content wherever you can make them fit. It’s harder to take a step back and ask the strategic question: Is this the best place for this? A good rule of thumb is to never make any changes randomly—base your decisions on user data. The DigitalGov User Experience Program team evaluated Business.USA.gov on June 1, 2012, and their usability recommendations were adopted by the Business.
Many technical websites have a hard time explaining information to the general public. This happens because users don’t understand the industry-specific or scientific terms. Fortunately, solutions to these problems are fairly easy—changing menu and navigation item text, or adding a line of explanatory text on key pages or complex graphics. The DigitalGov User Experience Program helped conduct a usability test on the Department of Energy’s fueleconomy.gov mobile site in February 2013 that resulted in three top usability problems and solutions.
If you want to make a website more efficient and user friendly, then it’s not enough just to have your most valuable information on the site. People are busy—they want to find what they’re looking for, and they want it fast. You don’t always need to redesign an entire site to make things easier to find. Sometimes, a few small changes can do the trick. The DigitalGov User Experience team looked at Army.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has some really valuable information for the public that a lot of people search for on ATF.gov. It’s important that the information is easily and quickly accessible. Government agencies reach a wide audience with their information, so making sure everyone can understand your content is important. The DigitalGov User Experience Program performed an expert usability evaluation of ATF.gov in December 2012. The team identified the following three major issues that could quickly be fixed to make the site more usable.
More and more people use search as their primary means of finding what they are looking for. When users get confused by the search results, or can’t immediately find what they are looking for, they’re going to get frustrated. They may even leave the site for good. The DigitalGov User Experience Program helped test Regulations.gov on October 5, 2012, to find three high–priority, fixable problems that could make the user experience much easier and more pleasant.
When designing a site, remember that your terms and icons are like signposts that show people where your links and pages lead. Make sure that you use words and pictures that are easily understood or people will have trouble using your site. Small changes like underlining links or adding arrows to indicate expandable information can vastly improve the usability of your site. The DigitalGov User Experience Program helped test SaferBus, the U.
When users interact with a website to find information, it is important that we help them find their way by using plain language, clear terminology and visible help text. On December 7, 2012, the DigitalGov User Experience Program helped test the U.S. General Services Administration’s Contract Vehicle Navigator website. This Navigator site helps contracting officers find contracts that best meet their needs. Through usability testing, three key problems were identified.
A website with too much information on the homepage, or any page, will overwhelm users in less than a second. They will be unable to find a starting point to accomplish what they came there to do. If users are not able to locate the information they need and/or are unable to get past the homepage, they will go to another website to look for the information they are seeking.
One of the most vital parts of any website is its starting point. When a visitor arrives on the main page of your site, they should be able to quickly tell what the main tasks are and how to perform them. Visual cues and plain language are the best ways to accomplish this. The SAM.gov site was created to consolidate several acquisition and bidding systems in one central location. It’s a large site, and with so many potential tasks available, it’s important that visitors are able to quickly figure out where they need to go.
Acronyms and jargon are fine when you want to communicate quickly to an internal audiences or to like-minded readers. Once the scope of your audience widens, however, these elements can make your pages harder to understand. The IRS recognized that its pages about tax planning for retirement were reaching an audience beyond tax professionals, and asked the DigitalGov User Experience Program to help test for usability and user experience.
After conducting a usability test and listening to customer feedback, the Weather.gov team and the DigitalGov User Experience Program identified these three issues as both important and quickly solvable. Problem 1: Terminology and Labels Confusing The terminology and labels used were either too technical or too abstract for users to understand—a far cry from the plain language style required in government. On the homepage, users encountered map tabs for “Graphical Forecasts” and “National Maps”.
Many government websites are informational in nature – you don’t sign up for things or buy anything. Instead, you look for something – a name, a ruling, some contact information. Informational sites – and scientific sites in particular – can be a challenge to design. With so much information, how do you make the important content stand out? The National Science Foundation’s NSF.gov site conducted a usability test with some help from the DigitalGov User Experience Program.
Not all usability changes are dramatic. Sometimes a few small tweaks can make a site significantly easier to navigate, or make important but hidden content pop off the page. The DigitalGov User Experience Program helped test Insite, GSA’s intranet, on September 21, 2011. GSA took the feedback from their usability test and made some changes to the existing design. While seemingly small, the changes made a huge difference in the usability of the site for GSA employees.
Websites allow newer government programs to establish a visual identity that introduces them to users and conveys the importance of their work. On April 18, 2012, the DigitalGov User Experience Program helped test GSA’s Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) site, which at that point was less than six months old. Three immediate needs were identified. Problem 1: Purpose of Program Not Clear The homepage text was filled with jargon and acronyms, and provided no clear guidance for the user to understand why they should engage with FedRAMP.
Any government product – whether used by millions or a very specific audience group – need to be as easy to use as possible. The Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) collects and dispenses revenue related to energy production on leased federal and American Indian lands. As a result, their audience has very definite information needs that need to be met quickly. The DigitalGov User Experience Program tested the ONRR site in August 2011.