Thursday, 30 November 2017

"Mind the gap"-style simple information

Mind the gap - on London Tube logo
If there's one thing I've learnt about content and navigation in 2 years of user testing, it's:

Keep content and design simple if you want as many people as possible to understand your stuff.

Let's be clear: the kind of content I'm talking about is not novels, not newspaper articles, not gaming or funky stuff. I'm talking about practical content that gives customers answers to questions or helps them do things like find a place to study or find out their rights.

Can your customers find answers first go?

Working recently for a government agency, our mission was to redesign information so the public can:
  • find the right information easily
  • understand information first go, so they don't need to phone the helpline to double check
That way, we can keep the helpline free for people with complex queries and people who need emotional support.

People want Yes/No answers

When user testing legal advice that we thought we'd simplified, we realised it still wasn't clear. The public wanted black and white, Yes or No answers. Not the shades of grey we'd accidentally presented them with. 

And if there isn't a proper Yes or No answer because the law is vague, then it's best to say so rather than leave people wondering.

'Mind the gap' style information

Our favourite moment of user testing was when one person said:

"I want information like 'Mind the gap' when you get on the Tube. It's short. It's factual. And it does the job. It's all you need at the time."
Another person said:
"I like it to be just 2 or 3 lines, which is less daunting. If there's lots of writing, I struggle to keep my attention long enough".

Not everybody scrolls

Government agencies need to be as inclusive as possible so we recruited people who:
  • were not tech savvy 
  • had problems reading and writing
  • had problems concentrating for long periods of time
We found that people who are not tech savvy didn't scroll or explore for answers. They just gave up. They may never work out the structure of your website - they may not realise there are other sections to look through.

Big text is good

"I like big headings, big buttons"
"At home, my friend helped me set up big text and big icons"

Hover-over menus can confuse

On desktop, we found that hover-over menus are learnable by some people but hard to get right for all users. Several people found the menus unpredictable:

"It's doing that thing again. It keeps popping up and I haven't done anything."

"Here we go again." 

Back button as comfort blanket

The browser's Back button seemed to be a comfort blanket for many people.

"I don't want an app"

Several people were pleased that we offered a responsive website - a site that adapts to the smartphone screen:

"I can't be bothered to download an app. It makes you download one and then you never use it again."

How to user test content

Rather than simply showing people some content and asking them what they think, it's better to get people using the content as if they were looking something up at home or at work.

We found the best way to test content was to give people a scenario and questions, and see if they could find the right answers using our prototype.

Need more advice on how to user test content?

Article: Practical advice for testing content on websites by Nielsen Norman Group

Podcast: Designing with a content first approach by Steph Hay (on Jared Spool's User Interface Engineering site,

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