Looking back, it’s clear that 2012 was a big year for the First Fridays Usability Testing Program. Improving the user experience is our game, and that’s what we spent the bulk of the year doing.
Besides celebrating our second birthday (huzzah!), we conducted 26 tests on federal websites, mobile sites, intranets and much more. A special shout-out to the superstars – USA.gov’s search engine, FedRAMP, NASA (mobile), Regulations.gov, OMB Max and SAM.gov – for making usability improvements in 30 days or less!
When immersed in usability testing, you’ll begin to notice the same problems over and over again. In 2012, we saw these:
1. Unclear purpose of homepage – If visitors can’t tell within five seconds what your website is all about and what they can do there, you’ve got a problem.
2. Poor navigation labels – Keep the jargon in your staff meetings, but when you’re communicating externally, do whatever you can to make menu items in plain language.
3. No idea who is running the show - People should be able to find an “About” or “Contact us” link almost instantly. At the very least, a visual indication of what agency is responsible for the site. If visitors have to think about it, you’ve already failed them
4. Most important content at the top – Go to any decent banking site and you should see the space where you can log in at the top right or left. Why? Because logging in is the most common thing, or top task, that people want to do there, so you make it very easy to spot. If your “top tasks” are hard to find, people won’t do them.
Here’s a rundown of agencies that did usability testing with us this year:
Medline Plus (NIH)
USA.gov’s Search Engine
Comprehensive Human Resources Integrated System – CHRIS (GSA)
Dept. of Transportation
Howto.gov (GSA, 2 tests)
FedRAMP (GSA, 2 tests)
OMB MAX (OMB)
GSA Insite/retirement (Internal only)
U.S. Census prototype (In development)
NASA Mobile Site
Saferbus Mobile App (DOT)
Federal Service Desk (GSA)
FAS Navigator (GSA, in Development)
You can see more dramatic before and after results on Howto.gov. The program saves an estimated $1.4 million by providing educational and usability services and teaching agencies how to conduct their own testing. And that figure doesn’t take into account the significant savings usability tests provide by avoiding expensive redesigns or other development costs.
More than 450 observers from 20+ agencies observed tests this year. Three graduates from the usability training program went back to their home agencies and created their own usability testing programs. We also started testing iPhone apps, Card Sorts, Expert Evaluations, Hallway tests and lots more.
Since agencies are taking usability testing and user experience seriously, this results in a broader impact, including media mentions: “Small changes, big impact” style in the Washington Post and the Huffington Post. And the results were shared at government and private-sector conferences, specifically, the Web & New Media Conference, Usability Professionals Association International Conference, the Center for Health Literacy Conference, and the User Focus 2012 Conference.
If you’re interesting in having the usability team take a look at your federal product, simply fill out the application form.
Thank you for a great year. We’re looking forward to to working with many of you to make government sites even easier to use in 2013!