User Testing the Local Council Website

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This week I went along to test the upcoming website for Huntingdonshire District Council. I saw an ad in the local newspaper(yes) asking for testers and thought it would be interesting to experience the user testing process.

I also wanted to see how they handle user testing and get a sneak peak of what I hoped was a well implemented website in development. The UK .Gov sites are held in high regard for their usability and I wanted to see if this had been brought across or emulated by the council.

Site testing

Testing involved running through 6 scenarios, ranging from finding information about organised walks (which I didn’t know the council did), to organising a pest controller to tackle some wasps, to finding the food health standard of a specific restaurant.

I narrated my experience while numerous notes were taken.

Initially I was asked how I would navigate to the site and naturally make my way around. I wondered where that leaves you if every user says ‘search engine’.

There is no point in polishing the wrong approach, so the site was in a complete - but rough around the edges - form. As I understand it, this was last step before offering the site as a beta.

The site has a hint of the .Gov sites with large block colour and big icons. Big task-focused navigation at the top of the homepage, down to a supporting carousel(hmm) of current events, to social accounts and news type information.

Impressions

Considering the expansive range of tasks the council deal with (far more than I was aware) each scenario was simple to focus down to sub-sub-category level with ease.

I came away impressed by the main site navigation. It consisted of a row of 6 icon blocks with titles, clicking each expanded a panel of subcategories with icons and well thought out labels. Previous user testing had apparently revealed that a visually different and separate ‘More’ link was overlooked, and six is more divisible across different screen sizes. I was pleased they took this feedback and refined to a really effective main nav. Its a very task oriented site and they got this part right. User testing works!

Content pages had some niggly issues. Some actions used jump links from previous pages which were great for showing the relevant section immediately, but left side navigation stranded at the top of the page. I suggested a sticky nav to keep it in view when a user starts to seek for the next step to take.

One interesting issue was the phrasing of a title as questions. The title was phrased as ‘Why has my bin not been collected?’ and below were a list of reasons / jump links to jump you to an answer. However, in this scenario you don’t know why your bin was missed, so it put the user in a strange position of choosing their own explanation. A pattern with the intention of brevity, was more confusing than a chewier - but more logical - article list of reasons. I imagine this will be changed.

Many tasks ultimately ended in buttons to a web form. There were odd places where this had been used on non-button links and I pointed out this could be confusing, it breaks the users mental model.

Overall

Overall I came away impressed with the site and the navigation in particular, it was evident it had been refined. It will be interesting to see how much changes as a result of the user testing in between now, its beta debut and its mid-October launch.

It was interesting to sit on the user side of user testing should I ever need to carry it out on the general public myself.

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