After spending 22 years in the U.S. Army, including 3 years as a recruiter, Julie Jackson realized that not only was she qualified to work in usability, but had a knack for it—especially because of her ability to strike up a conversation with nearly anyone, anywhere. Julie shares how her training in the Army has helped in her approach to usability testing, and gives a peek inside how usability testing works for USAJOBS.
Many content managers in the digital world understand the irrepressible desire to improve, fix, edit, add, and move things around. Indeed, it’s our job to nurture this ongoing process to create, update, test, update again. And, repeat! But, what about those sites or pages that seem to never crawl up to the ‘high-priority’ list and have been perhaps a little, ehh… neglected. For our Web team, this was our Center’s staff Intranet site.
When you want to do a usability test, sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and get creative to get the job done. That’s just what happened to us. We’re well practiced at usability testing at USAGov—in person, remote, hallway tests, first-click tests—all of these things we manage without blinking an eye. But this spring, we tried something new. Our office was planning to make some changes to our IVR script.
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.
I first came across the redesigned IdentityTheft.gov on Reddit, of all places. Someone had posted a link to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) newly redesigned site and wrote: I hope this never happens to any of you as the entire thing can be really stressful. The identitytheft.gov website is a true breath of fresh air…You can talk to an actual person. They also have this extremely easy wizard to click through your situation and it will auto-generate a “Recovery Plan” including dispute letters, steps to contact law enforcement, putting credit freezes, and basically protecting yourself.
At USAGov, we always put our customers first. In the wake of our rebranding efforts, our desire to create a positive user experience across the organization has pushed us to turn a scrutinous eye toward Kids.gov — a site focused on providing information and resources to parents, teachers, and kids. In a cross-organizational effort, individuals from the marketing, user experience, and performance measurement teams have joined forces to “reenvision” the site’s content and presentation to better suit the public’s needs.
It’s a forgone conclusion that usability studies are effective in identifying weak points within a website, but what about testing people who are visually impaired? How hard is it to accommodate them? There are some additional challenges that you may encounter when conducting testing with people with disabilities; however, these challenges should not be considered overwhelming. I spoke with Peter McNally, a Senior Usability Consultant at the User Experience Center at Bentley University, to get his take on usability testing with users who have visual impairment.
When the Employment and Training Administration’s CareerOneStop team embarked on a redesign of the site’s online career, training, and job resources, they didn’t dive right into the technical work. Instead, they embraced a user-centered approach that focused on the user experience (UX). Focusing on UX means taking a step back to learn about users’ core needs and preferences. The team asked real users several questions about the site.
User Experience (UX) is the comprehensive experience a person has when using a product or application, and usability is the ease of use (or lack thereof) when using it. Many of us have discovered the vast advantages of evaluating usability on our own; however, getting others to jump on board is often a different story. The most difficult part of integrating an effective UX program in your organization is getting the initial buy-in from developers and stakeholders.
Users don’t like surprises. Unexpected or unwanted content undermines the credibility of your agency and frustrates users who come to your website looking for specific information. Using links appropriately in your website content is one way to build trust with users, according to an article by Kara Pernice of the Nielsen Norman Group. Here’s a real life example: If the link above led to an article about 3D printing, you’d probably be pretty annoyed right now.
So, you have some systems or tools your customers or employees access. Maybe you want to put together a robust capability to conduct usability testing. How do you start formalizing user experience (UX) into your organization? Brad Ludlow at GSA tossed this topic out on the User Experience community listserv, and I’ve encapsulated the superb discussion that followed below. Here, then, are four easy steps to building User Experience into your office:
Being able to design a website that users love is not too far away from being able to read their minds. While designers can’t read minds, that doesn’t stop them from using their website’s top tasks to make it seem like they can. A website’s top tasks include 5-10 tasks (depending on the scope of the site) that the majority of the website’s users want or need to do on the site.
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.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. For me, the necessity resulted from long product development cycles paired with short windows for user testing and little room for iteration. The “invention” was the discovery of a powerful set of tools for prototyping that are available on just about every office computer. I found that you can use “Developer Tools” in Microsoft Office’s Excel, Powerpoint and Word to not only draw the basic outlines of a wireframe but also build a functioning prototype that simulates many of the features you want in your final product.
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:
This past year DigitalGov University has hosted at least one Usability event per month and we thought we’d give you a round-up of those events. After all, November 13th was World Usability Day. Since this year’s theme of World Usability Day is Engagement it would be great to take a look at the event recap article, Improving the User Experience with Usability.gov. The folks at Usability.gov took a user-centered approach to refresh their site and make the design more engaging.
How do you find participants for your usability studies? I spoke recently with the User Experience Community of Practice about how we recruit participants for usability and cognitive studies at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Hopefully I can give you some new ideas about recruiting volunteers to fuel your user research. At BLS, we need different types of participants for different studies. Very often, we are looking for members of the general public.
Why does a Cancer institute need a User Experience lab? Simply put: To learn about their customers—people living with cancer and those who care about them—and build the best possible products with them in mind. “Cancer has a journey and we wanted to create a lab to capture the substance of that journey, understand what is needed and help design technologies to support people affected by cancer,” said Silvia Inéz Salazar, an Informatics Research Laboratory Manager at the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
Trying to measure usability can be a head scratcher. How easy something is to use depends on where you are, who you are, and a number of other factors. Luckily in the world of usability, there exists a post-test survey known as the System Usability Scale, introduced in 1986 by an engineer named John Brooke, who was trying to solve this very dilemma. The SUS is no stranger to federal agencies.
Last March, the openFDA team shared their still-in-progress API to potential users as part of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)’s API Usability Program. FDA created openFDA to allow researchers and developers to search their vast trove of public data, including information about adverse events (reports of undesirable experiences associated with the use of a medical product in a patient) submitted to the agency. The API Usability Program brings together developers from agency APIs and the private sector to evaluate how the API can be improved to be more user friendly.
The good news: Your boss is interested in User Experience! The news: She wants you to do something about it… NOW. Well, don’t be alarmed; you can start by figuring out two simple things: Identify the Stage you’re in in the development cycle. Write it down. Choose a User Experience (UX) Technique that makes sense in your development stage. While choosing the technique you should first know what the technique offers and how long it takes, so you can make an informed decision.
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.
The road to more user-friendly government websites does not have to be long and scary. In fact, there is a growing network of people and resources to guide you along the way. My office in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been fortunate enough to benefit from some of this support, most recently in the form of a “usability walkthrough.” Where the Road Begins We were coming off the heels of having completely redesigned and relaunched our website, response.
Over the past year, a GSA collaboration has seen a project that offers API Usability Testing to federal agencies go from the pilot stage to a regular, robust series. Already, 13 agencies and programs have participated, and several more participate with every monthly session that passes. The best examples from across the government have made clear that one of the most important tasks of API producers is to regularly engage their developer community and listen to what they have to say.
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.
With a calculated process, the right tools, and a staff willing to make it work, you can measure user experience (UX) on your websites and implement usability changes that show results. In a recent DigitalGov University webinar entitled “Measuring User Experience”, UX supporters and practitioners heard from Achaia Walton, Senior Digital Analyst at the Department of Health and Human Services, about finding what critical things to measure to make websites more user-friendly.
We have long believed that “governments learn best from other governments” and encourage far-ranging discussions with experts from other countries, as well as state and local governments. An example of this came to fruition when Michael Bracken, creator and director of the United Kingdom’s Government Digital Service, spoke to a cadre of Presidential Innovation Fellows and others in the GSA auditorium. Bracken is in charge of using the new and ground-breaking gov.
Accessibility testing is a subset of usability testing and is the inclusive practice of making websites and mobile applications usable by people of all abilities and disabilities. You do this by testing mobile websites and/or applications on all leading browsers, mobile devices and screen readers. This article was developed as part of the Mobile Application Development Program. See our general guidelines to testing article for more resources on mobile product testing.
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.
What do kids know about Web design? As we found out, quite a lot. Recently our DigitalGov User Experience Program teamed up with the Kids.gov team to get some big time feedback from some pint-sized testers in a hallway test. We tested with almost 20 kids ages 6 to 14 at our GSA office, made possible by “Take Your Child to Work Day.” We also tweeted some results under the hashtag #kidsgovtest
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.
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”.
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.