Category Archives: Usability

Announcement: register now for webinars for NZ NGOs

Group of people in seminar with questioning looks on their faces by Melbourne WSG

For webmasters and other people running NGO websites in Wellington there is an abundance of ways to learn about the craft. As well as fairly regular NGO focused workshops, conferences and networking sessions, there is a whole raft of opportunities for professional website designers, content producers and others.

This is of course fabulous for organisations based here. But if you’re running a website for an NGO in Gisborne, Greymouth or further afield, I’m not aware of there being many opportunities to access training or to connect with peers.

Of course, there is plenty of written material available. This is great, but you can’t really enter into dialogue with a resource manual, nor make connections with others.

If you are really keen there’s nothing to stop people from getting up early to join in online presentations from USA, UK or other far-flung lands. The content may be great but connecting with others across time zones isn’t easy.

In my mind this I adds up to something of a gap, and an opportunity. And to steal a phrase, I’ve been thinking.

So, without further ado, I’m delighted to announce that next month I’m offering two online sessions for NGO website managers working in Aotearoa New Zealand. These two hour long webinars* will deliver some advice on keeping your website up-to-date and accessible to all visitors. You can find out more and register on the webinar series one page.

Webinar 1: Three ways to get insights into what your visitors want. Presenter: Stephen Blyth, Common Knowledge. 2pm Friday 23 March 2012.

Webinar 2: Learn how you can ensure all your visitors can access your website. Presenter: Mike Osborne, AccEase Ltd. 2pm Friday 30 March 2012.

Along the way I would love to hear your feedback. This will help the team running the sessions learn how things went. We want to know everything from time of day, price, content and any technical issues you face.

If there is demand I’ll look into running further sessions later in 2012.

As well as running a series for NGO website managers, I realise many people will want to explore how to use different tools to support the work of their organisation or network.

To help get you started I’m offering monthly drop-in session focused on running effective online meeting and webinars, what tools to use, and so on. You can come along to a casual session for an introduction, with plenty of time for questions.

At this stage, I am using the Citrix GoToMeeting/ GoToWebinar platform which TechSoup New Zealand is distributing to NGOs at a discounted rate for the first years subscription.

Find out more and register for an upcoming drop-in session. The first one is on 2pm Friday 13 April.

Now that the brochures are in the post and adverts online, I’ll have to wait to see if my hunch is right about NGO webmasters wanting to learn how they can improve the quality of their websites. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think.

* A webinar is an online presentation with opportunities for participants to ask questions and make comments. Or according to Webopedia a webinar is “Short for Web-based seminar, a presentation, lecture, workshop or seminar that is transmitted over the Web. A key feature of a Webinar is its interactive elements — the ability to give, receive and discuss information.”

Update (4 April): Recordings, links and other resources are now available now.

Photo credit: Melbourne WSG

Questioning visitors – why are you here?

T-shirt with a bold, pink question mark With the unveiling this month of a new interface and features for the Google Analytics tool for measuring website traffic, the power of numbers is once brought to the forefront of the web analytics world.

There is something seductive about being able to try to understand what visitors to your website are doing just by looking at the stats. I’m not the first to realize this does not give the full picture.

For Avinash Kuashik, author of Web Analytics 2.0, blogger at Occam’s Razor and much more, actively listening to your customer is an imperative: “This way, you stay of top of their expectations, and you also gain the key context you need, the why, for making sense of your what, which is your clickstream data.”

In Web Analytics 2.0 Kuashik lists half a dozen methods for doing this. Some are on the emerging side, such as rapid usability testing (eg fivesecondtest.com), virtual heatmaps and online cardsorting, whereas others are just plain expensive, particularly lab based user testing.

When it came to devising an approach to hear from visitors for one of the websites I’m working we’ve elected to look at another of the approaches described by Kaushik: online surveys.

In my quest to find the best tool to reach users, I’ve set aside one of the ways of prompting visitors for comments which are common now days. You’ll notice “Feedback” or “Comment” badges hovering on the margins of the page on many websites. However, these are easy to miss and passive as no explicit request to participate is made of the visitor. They’re really only good for highly motivated visitors.

More active approaches rely on those dreaded pop-up surveys. There seems to be no way around it if you actually want to directly ask people for feedback, rather than rely on a discrete feedback badge. I reckon if you’re going to use pop-ups it’s best feedback is collected in a way that minimises any pain for visitors.

Giving visitors the maximum amount of control over their web experience is critical. The key with pop-up surveys is offering people a clear choice of whether they participate, and exactly when (now, later or never). I also think it’s important to be able to link to privacy policies, and to display contact information of the organisation running the survey. As the survey appears magically, from thin air, people need to know the survey is legit.

When looking at whole range of the tools on offer I found they are not all equal. There are those that offer the world works, including a full survey solution and customized support, but as they don’t list prices I figure are in the high price category. These don’t meet the DIY and affordability criteria I’m currently working within.

Another option I’m not pursuing is building a collector from scratch as this is time consuming and development hours would likely add up. A user-friendly interface to manage feedback would take extra effort. For those this with in-house development skills and not requiring a polished interface to review and sort results, this is definitely an option.

Of the commercial options I’ve looked at there are some which are DIY and affordable. Typically you pay on a monthly basis, and can cancel without giving notice. The code for the pop-up needs to be embedded on all the pages you want it to appear, so some technical input is required. All the options described below have a dashboard of some sort for viewing responses.

The big online survey companies and wannabes are now offering the option of running pop-up surveys as a part of their standard packages. You can run a multi-question survey, using a full range of question types, using both SurveyMonkey and FluidSurveys. As these are add-ons to already comprehensive online survey tools, the appearance of the pop-up windows is simpler and less customizable than those offered by specialist pop-up providers. To get full control of pop-ups with FluidSurveys means you have to sign-up to the US$59 per month plan (which lets you also run an unlimited number of other surveys).

Kampyle and SimpleFeedback offer survey tools that give visitors a choice of categories for their feedback. To seek feedback or questions about products, technical support and general, each could be displayed on a tab, with a further subset of questions available on each tab. You can not run standard questionnaires. Kampyle offer a 50% discount off the monthly plan fees for not-for-profits, and have plugins for both Drupal and WordPress to simplify the implementation process.

I’ve been using SimpleFeedback on my blog and it’s definitely easy to use and implement (via a WordPress plugin). It’s cheap too – with prices staring at US$9 per month for 20 items of feedback.

The 4Q online survey tool offered by iPercpeptions also restricts the questions that can be asked. The underpinning logic for the questionnaire design is based on Kaushik’s experience – ask the three greatest questions ever!! These are: what is the purpose of your visit, were you able to complete your task, and if not, why not? At this stage you can’t customise the design of the pop-up window or add additional questions – perhaps a drawback of using a free tool. An expanded range of options is coming soon as part of a new 4Q suite being offered at relatively low prices.

Having looked in depth at all these tools, I’d have to say none are perfect. By that I mean, they are not a good match for my particular needs. They may well suit other situations and audiences.

This seems to be the key to it: determining exactly type of feedback is needed, the extras you need (eg displaying visual identity) then weighing up the options. Once again I turn to Kaushik, who shares some good tips when considering the best way to run a survey (see “Eight Tips For Choosing An Online Survey Provider”)

I suspect that you need a fair few visitors to generate feedback in any appreciable quantity. I haven’t seen anything about a rule of thumb, but I suspect the ratio of all visitors to those that give feedback is quite high.

Of course, the whole point of doing this is getting qualitative feedback rather than generating statistically significant amounts of feedback. Insight gained from visitors is about tuning yourself into the most important areas for improvement on your website. What incremental tweaks and additions can I make to the website to improve the visitor experience? The feedback can also be used as a new jumping off point for fresh analysis of the statistics. Which in turn leads to more questions and a need for refined testing.

So far I’ve just been setting things up and have yet to generate feedback, but I’m looking forward to seeing what people say.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaysha/

Under a new blog design

A detail of my new blog theme

When I started thinking about printing some new business cards last September, it also seemed a good time to refresh the design and structure of my blog.

Coming up with business cards proved quite easy. Getting original designs created for me by freelance Wellington graphic designer Luke Kelly, and taking a file to the printers couldn’t have been simpler or more rewarding. Luke’s work has attracted a lot of clucks and gabbles of content since I’ve been handing out my new cards.

Updating my blog has taken a while longer. Mostly this is because I’ve been busy so squeezed testing, tweaking and rewriting around my paid work. It’s also because of planned and unplanned interruptions, including a holiday in December and January, and then, a second big earthquake striking in Christchurch on 22 February 2011.

The quake didn’t affect me directly, but it affected my web designer Michelle Sullivan from Web Matters Ltd. She had no power, water and faced general havoc at her home. Rather than dwelling on the destruction, Michelle borrowed a workspace elsewhere and dived back into things: she was back on board for her clients on 28 February.

Even though I’m reasonably familiar with WordPress plugins, widgets and so on, I needed Michelle’s help with coding page layouts and translating scribbled notes about structure into a working website.

One of my final touches was incorporating something so visitors could get a sense of who I am (for those of you who haven’t met me in person). I opted for a caricature, produced by Nathan at CaricatureKing. My partner Roz laughed loudly when she saw the caricature. “Perhaps it might be good if you join the spy trade and would like to disguise your identity”, she jested. I prodded her back and we had an argument about artistic interpretation.

You’ll find all my existing posts and resources on the blog but with the old clutter gone, and some new ways of staying touch added. As well as standard RSS, you can now be notified of every new update by email, and you can subscribe to an email newsletter I’ll (irregularly) send out. This volume will be slight and quarterly.

I’ve done a fair amount of testing on different browsers, operating systems, etc. A few helpers have reviewed the website too. However, try as I might, I probably haven’t found every gremlin. If the website doesn’t work for you in some way, I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch using Contact form, or the Feedback button on the right.

With my update blog now live, I’m not short of things to do: like writing new content, monitoring visitor use patterns, trialling new or updated plugins, and more promotion. For now, I’ll pause for a moment to celebrate. A big thanks to everyone who helped with this iteration of my blog. I’m looking forward to many, many blog fueled years under my new theme.

PS You’re really welcome to comment anything I write, tell a friend about my blog, help yourself to resources, suggest an idea for topics I could cover, or get in touch about my services.


No excuses – budget usability testing

Ignore website visitors at your peril. That was the message Natasha Lampard gave participants at the Engage your community conference last week.

Nathasha, former head of user experience at TradeMe and web usability advocate, says if your website isn’t designed with your users in mind it’s simple: they’ll leave.

Ostentatious descriptions of usability are common, but don’t be put off. The idea at the heart of usability is removing friction visitors encounter when they’re trying to achieve something on your website. Whether it is donating money, signing up to a newsletter, comparing prices or any other task, Natasha says people should not be made to feel stupid or fail.

It’s a mindset as much as a technical challenge. Natasha likened it to inviting people over to your place. As host you proffer tea, solicit conversation and show people where the bathroom is. Online it is curiously similar where website owners or custodians want you to come to their place. Regard for others by displaying courtesy and manners is crucial.

Building usability into a website development process isn’t just about talking to users when you’ve almost finished building your website. It can be included along the way, as the step-by-step usability guide produced by usability.gov shows.

When it comes to usability testing Natasha suggested a guerilla approach. Even simple, DIY testing with 4-6 people can bring dramatic improvements to your website.

This idea is not a new one. Web writing sage Rachel McAlpine shared her thoughts on DIY usability testing in about 2002 (see The Hey, You! user-test in action, Web site usability testing: recommended procedures and Rough and ready website usability testing).

I’ve used this guidance, which includes coaching on how to set up sessions, elicit feedback with prompts and decide on priorities. It works. As a result of testing I’ve addressed problems with terminology, the location on a page of key tasks and a lack of contextual information.

An added cheap tool in the usability toolkit was introduced by Nathan Donaldson, who was a guest speaker in my “Getting the quality website your organisation deserves” workshop.

Boost New Media, which Nathan runs, wanted a way to simplify the collection of user feedback on websites as works in progress. IntuitionHQ provides a tool to track where users actually click on a pages in response to instructions to complete key tasks (eg click where you think you sign up for the e-newsletter).

Whether the tasks are completed by 10 or 200 people, the results show where clicks cluster and the outliers. The heat maps, which are like abstract splatter art, can then be analysed to identify improvements.

Anyone can trial IntuitionHQ for free, with each test costing just US $5.

Regardless of the methods you use to garner feedback, it’s important to plan usability in from the start. Some of the testing you may do yourself, other parts may be included in the brief for your paid or volunteer website designer, or you may contract a specialist service. Just remember, as Natasha says “lets give people a break and give them what they want”.

PS: I will be running the “Getting the quality website your organisation deserves” workshop in 2010. Watch this space.

PPS: Natasha is Senior VP of Webstock, two days of standards based web design, good coffee, conversation and trends 18-19 February 2010 in Wellington. Early bird registration ends 4 December.

My upcoming workshop on quality websites

Not all the resources I’ll be taking along to share at the workshop I’m leading at the Engage your community conference on Friday 13 November are actually finished.

My copy of a “Website owner’s manual: the secret to successful websites” by Paul Boag is available online as an unedited draft. It comes as an e-book from Manning Publications who specialise in a book publication process which engages a book’s audience in the creation process.

Through the early access program new chapters are made available as they are being written. I can interact with the author to ask questions and provide feedback which will actually feed into the final manuscript. Once finished I will receive the completed book in electronic format (with hardcopy also available). Somewhat ignominiously I printed out the 280 page ebook (on OfficeMax 100% post consumer recycled) as I was struggling to read it on screen.

Many of the topics I’m covering in my workshop are touched on the book by Boag, an experienced web designer, consultant and podcaster. Those that are particularly pertinent include: defining roles, setting objectives, planning and measuring, commissioning websites, working with designers and accessibility.

Rather than trying to teach people how to actually design a website, my workshop is for managers, coordinators and others with responsibility. We’ll take a helicopter view of the whole shebang then focus on a few critical areas in more depth. I’ll also be sharing a simple self-guided health check so participants can assess and improve their  website’s performance.

At the main EYC event conference there’s a presentation on “Putting your users first – ways to improve your website”, which looks to be a great overview of usability. Presenter Natasha Lambard is a founder of the Webstock conferences and was Head of User Experience at Trade Me, so she has lots insights into how you let ‘users’ needs drive development of your website.

I admit I’m biased as I’ve been involved on the organising team, but she’s just one of many top notch presenters on day one. Fundraising, community building, Second Life and communications strategies are some of the other topics being covered.

I look forward to sharing a few battered copies of some of the resources I have if you come to my workshop, along with enthusiasm for high quality websites. See you there.

In big letters: Places are still available to both the full-day EYC conference on Thursday 12 November (register here), and six half day workshops offered on Friday 13 November. The event is being in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Open co-design process – ruralnet|uk

Setting out to build a new website or set of online tools can be pretty nerve wracking. No matter what research and insights have been captured, how many people have been surveyed, and advisors consulted it’s hard to know if anyone will actually find what you’ve done as useful and exciting.

The syndrome of “build it and they will come” is prevalent in the online world. This has typically meant websites built from an organisational structure point of view rather than based around the audience’s needs. Many new social networking sites in the world of web 2.0 are no exception.

ruralnet|uk is turning the standard development process upside down. They’ve just embarked on a project “to help create the next generation of web services” with input from anyone that’s interested. ruralnet|uk run confernces, share information and provide support offline and on in their quest to promote a living and working countryside.

Here’s how David Wilcox has described ruralnet|uk’s approach in his post “Re-inventing your online business in public”:

For nearly 10 years Ruralnet has been running an online system linked to their work on rural community development and social enterprise. It has some core services, originally run on FirstClass, with a facility to customise for different organisations or networks, but has been very much “come to our place”. Over the past couple of years they have been experimenting with Web 2.0 tools, and moving some services across. Just before Christmas chief executive Simon Berry sought agreement from his colleagues to re-launch everything on their 10th anniversary in March.

What!!??? How do you do that and hope to get it right? Well, don’t hope to get it right yourself – invite your customers in to help you re-invent your business.

Make them co-creators instead of just “users”.

And there it is on the web for all to see at ruralnet|online – “welcome to this open co-design exercise”. The focus is a multi-authored blog with posts about philosophy, focus groups, techy stuff and much more. There is a lot of activity on the website.

ruralnet|uk generate income running online services and the “next generation” of tools is expected to contribute to this too. In terms of what we’re doing with the collaborative information project, there are lots of similarities. We’ve been talking about user-centred design, and asking our target audience what they want. I’m hoping we can be brave enough to open things up to co-design when the right time comes.

BTW: Simon Berry, who runs ruralnet||uk, rode the length of UK last year, see “Participation ride 2007 – day 3“.