With the number of ministerial departments, public bodies and agencies on Inside Government increasing each month and features being released or adjusted daily, it is important to gauge the success of each iteration. That way, we can make sure that it continues to support existing and new users’ needs.
At the end of December, I wrote about the usability research we have been conducting on Inside Government since its launch. Here’s an update on our latest round of lab-based testing.
Our lab-based testing provides qualitative data. The testing combines 11 moderated lab-based and 14 unmoderated ‘in-home’ sessions conducted by an independent research agency.
Participants in the January sessions had a professional interest in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and were long-standing, frequent users of those departmental sites. They were, therefore, well-placed to give us honest, informed appraisals of what was now working better since transition and what wasn't.
Awareness of GOV.UK was very strong, with many participants mentioning it even before they had been told it was the site they would be testing. They reacted positively to the new departmental sections, especially the consistent look and feel, which they felt was appropriate for a range of audiences
Participants felt that the department homepages looked good, and provided access to useful information, while the inline links offered useful cues for further journeys through the site.
After previous rounds of testing, we'd tweaked and repositioned the filters on index pages. Participants now found it easier to locate detailed policy information.
As soon as they landed on a policy page, participants were keen to find the latest information. Following on from that feedback we've ensured that this content is far more visible.
Topic pages also performed well, bringing together content on a particular subject from a number of departments. Providing this ‘horizontal’ browsing route across multiple organisations can be tricky but we were heartened to find out that users really appreciated this approach.
Positive feedback is great but we're more interested in finding out if and at what point, the site falls short of users’ expectations. These sessions showed us which sections of GOV.UK needed more work.
We know that search is the main method for navigating around GOV.UK, but these sessions demonstrated that the search functionality available within the site did not perform as well as expected. This caused some frustration among our participants.
This is now a priority for us and we're working on it. There’s a multidisciplinary group tasked with rapidly improving the search. Immediately after the lab testing, the Inside Government team used the information from the sessions to improve the relevance and timeliness of results in the site's internal search.
The top navigation menu was less used than we thought. Once users did see it, some expected that it would only apply to specific departments rather than the whole of government. We are addressing this and we'll retest soon.
Navigating back to departmental pages also proved challenging for participants when they found themselves within the main GOV.UK site. This ‘cross-product’ proposition will form the basis of a much larger piece of research, but right now we're looking at highlighting the ‘route home’ for those who want to base their use of Inside Government around a departmental homepage.
Large ‘advert-like’ images on department pages fared less well with participants, who criticised the use of these sites as ‘marketing vehicles’. We know from our research that users like appropriate imagery on the department sites, and we want to encourage departments to make choices that will enhance, engage and add value to their pages. With editorial guidelines already in place, these user insights will help to guide publishers on what works best.
Where do we go from here?
It may be uncomfortable to hear and see people critique the site, yet without this insight we wouldn't know what to improve. That is why we take these findings seriously and iterate the designs and functions. We then re-test.
We have another round of qualitative testing scheduled for April. We'll look at the issues we've discussed in this post and we'll test new features including topical events and location-based sites.
Before then we will have the results from another round of testing and data analysis on how Inside Government is being used. We’ll keep you posted.