The other day I was trying to find a one of those care information aggregator websites for a particular borough. I knew it existed because I had been there before, I just couldn’t remember what it was called. After five minutes of fruitless searching I just couldn’t find it.
With my frustration piqued I decided to search for another such council run one-stop-shop-for-care-information website, again without actually using the name of the site (this one I could remember mind you). Alas, finding this website also proved less than easy. Having reached the website I then set myself the challenge of finding relevant information within it. I put in the obvious search terms and again I got a page full of unhelpful results. Had I actually been looking for the information I would have given up long before and simply picked up the phone.
The clear message I took away from my little experiment is that public sector developers need to get a lot better at user testing, particularly where information provision is concerned. User testing shouldn’t be seen a stamp of approval at the end of a process but rather as the very core of how the design process works. The user testing also needs to be conducted in the right way: if I want to see whether a website is going to successfully ‘channel shift’ I don’t start by sitting a user down in front of the website and asking them what they think. You will learn far more by watching how people actually solve their information problems rather than asking them what they think of the particular solution you have in mind. Finally, it is important to remember that the process of finding the information starts before someone sits down at a computer, and well before they actually get to the website in question.