So you already have a Facebook page, and maybe a MySpace page and a Twitter account. Why not make it easy for me to find out about it from your web site? I've noticed it's quite the trend to drop those cute little icons inconspicuously in the footer bar and I think you should hop on the bandwagon.
Sure, some might say they’re “hidden” down there, but since so many sites have them there now, people like me are starting to look there. Also, in the footer, they'll appear on every page of your site, not just on the homepage. Go on, try it out. That’s all I’ve got for today.
As a usability consultant, navigation is really the bread and butter of my work. All the user research, the wireframes, the perfectly architected homepages and site designs – well, they don’t mean nothin’ if the navigation doesn’t work. Unfortunately, there is no quick-fix or band-aid I can prescribe that will make it all better. (you really do need to do the research!) I can give you some tips though that may help identify some problems and some iterative changes you can make along the way.
1. Do you follow the 7 plus or minus 2 rule?
This rule is based on the fact that people can really only absorb about 7 (give or take 2) options in a list before they start forgetting the first options they read. So, for your navigation, you should be sure that each group of navigation hovers around 7. That means you should have around 7 main navigation options and that in each section, you should only have around 7 options also. And, just because you asked, this applies to drop-down, or flyout navigation too. I know that this may come as a shock to many, but because of the psychology behind the 7 plus or minus 2 rule, I’m going to go ahead and say that if your main navigation options are named clearly enough, you should not need to display drop-down options. Now, a lot of sites have more pages than this, right? Well, then you may want to consider a tertiary navigation, but remember that it’s also okay to have some pages on your site that are not represented in the navigation. The navigation below is a good example of one that follows the 7 plus or minus 2 rule.
2. Is your main navigation unambiguous?
Try this – take each of the options in your main navigation and say it out loud alongside each of the other options. Do you get confused at all? Do any of the words mean something similar? If they do, think about how you may be able to rename one to make it clearer. Chances are, if it’s ambiguous for you, your users are totally confused. The navigation below is a good example of an unambiguous navigation since each choice is really distinct.
3. Is your main navigation representative of your entire site?
Identify the key goals that users would have when they visit your site. Maybe they want to learn about your organization, read the latest news about you, take action on an issue, or make a donation. Whatever those key goals are, make sure your navigation provides clear ways for users to access each of those goals. There are two types of navigation below, both from the same site, that provide options that are representative of an entire site. This particular schema uses an informational, or topical navigation along with an action-oriented navigation to provide a wide array of choices.
4. Does your navigation pass the navigation stress test?
The navigation stress test is all about seeing if your navigation does its job of getting users around the site. Your navigation should tell users where they at any point, where they’ve been and where they can go. This test provides an easy way for you to check and see if your navigation is successful in doing these things. You can read all about the navigation stress test here. (Thanks to Keith Instone for the link) The navigation schema below shows how you can provide visual cues to users about where they are on your site through your navigation. First, you'll see the breadcrumb navigation that many sites offer as a way to see the path the user has taken on the site. Then, you'll see the left navigation from the same site that also highlights the section and page the user is on.
Asking yourself these 4 questions is a good starting point to getting your navigation in strong, working order, but remember that it's also important to get feedback from your users when making changes to your site too. It can be as simple as sitting down and having conversations with a few of them or as complex as running a card sort test or a usability process test. Let me know in the comments how you've made changes to your navigation over time and what successes you've seen as a result.
Many non-profits cover up-to-the-minute issues with breaking news articles, press releases, advocacy campaigns, donation campaigns and the like. The problem that often arises is where to fit that kind of content into your existing web site architecture. Sometimes, the issue is too important to just include a new link in the “News” or “Press” section along with a feature call-out on the homepage. The issue may be one where you want to provide users with more ways to engage such as donating or taking action.
In these cases, most non-profits I’ve worked with turn to the trusty microsite. Now, I’m not writing off microsites completely, I’m just saying, “There’s a better way!” It’s called a scalable navigation - one that can grow with you as you need to communicate about new issues and ways to engage.
So, “How do I achieve a scalable navigation?” you may ask. You definitely want to consider what your users may be looking for along with your needs. For example, you shouldn’t just add a section to your navigation called “Campaigns” and expect users to think “Yeah, that’s exactly what I was looking for!”
Conservation International has a “home” for their latest and greatest content. They have the call-outs featured in the Flash section on the homepage, then, on their "Act" page, they provide links to ways users can get involved by “Supporting their campaigns”. This resonates with users much more because it leads them down a pathway where they can make a difference.
The International Rescue Committee has handled this with a “Crisis Watch” section under “News Photos and Videos” that is also accessible from the right column of the site. This section includes special reports on current crises including news and ways for users to help. Of course, depending on your organization, "Crisis Watch" may or may not be an applicable term, but the takeaway here is to create a place for this content with a name and a pathway that has meaning for your users.
One final thing to note about both sites is that content is only available for a few (3-5) of these high-priority issues. Limiting the number of issues available on the site provides a greater sense of urgency for users and will encourage them to get involved. This means devising a strategy of retiring this content after a time when it may not be urgent or timely any longer. Do you have any solutions for handling your latest and greatest content that I’ve missed? I’d love to hear your comments if so.
Happy Chinese New Year! As we start the Year of the Ox it is a good time to take a step back and ask yourself, your colleagues and your users, "If our website was an animal what kind of animal would it be?". Lion, Tiger, Liger? Kidding aside, taking a moment to personify your website and determine a few key "personality characteristics" can help you determine how your organization is perceived on the www.
1. Is your website an introvert or an extrovert? Is the focus of the content on the outer world or the inner workings of your organization?
2. How does your website gather information about your cause or your constituency - methodically or randomly?
3. Is your content written in an objective or subjective tone?
4. Is your site orderly or casual?
If you have taken the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator in your personal or professional life you may have been asked similar questions about yourself to determine how you interact with the world around you. And just like taking a test to determine your own personality there are no right or wrong answers. The end goal is to determine how your site is perceived outside of your organization and if that perception calls for a personality adjustment.
Adjusting or changing the personality of your site might be called for if your site is not communicating effectively with all target audiences your cause attracts. For example, if your organization works with doctors, patients and donors these audiences will only respond if your site effectively has a unique personality that speaks to their individual needs. Doctors may want methodical, objective and orderly content whereas donors might want content to be more casual and subjective and patients might want a little of both. Therefore you may need to organize your site with different funnels for each audience type so you can tailor content to match their needs and each audience type will perceive your organization as an effective agent of change for your cause.
Another situation that might call for a change in your website’s personality is a change in the status of your cause or campaign. Perhaps your cause is the defeat of a particular piece of legislation. Before the legislation is voted on you may have a site that would be classified as an extrovert. However, once the legislation is defeated the site’s personality may need to transform into an introspective one.
Revamping the personality type of your website can be time consuming and making drastic changes should not be done lightly (see New Coke). But if your target audiences’ perceptions do not meet their expectations this change might be what is needed to improve the success of your online presence.
Recently, I've been looking apartment hunting - a tedious process at best. I knew this was coming, so I've been looking for a while. I've scoured Craigs List, rental companies, real estate agencies, and even done quite a few neighborhood drivebys. I'm not usually this thorough, but I don't want to have to move again in a year, so I wanted to be sure that my next place was a keeper.
After some preliminary hunting a couple of months ago, I realized that I'd have to sit down and make a list of the things I was looking for in a new place. After that, I created a list of things I don't like in my current place, and was amazed at what I discovered.
The fact is that I love my current place. It's spacious, it has a yard, it's close to work but also not far from downtown. The neighborhood isn't top notch, but it's not the worst, either. With the washer and dryer connections and businesses close by, I really struggled to come up with much that I don't like about it.
Then, I figured it out; the thing I like the least about my place is the management company I deal with. From the beginning, they have fought me on a couple of fairly basic requests. They have been inaccessible when I have had emergencies and curt when I've needed repairs. I'm not a demanding tenant - to be honest I do most of my own repairs - But, time after time, I've felt jilted by them. And because of that, I'm taking my business elsewhere.
This is a classic example of a user experience that completely changed the way that I interpreted a situation. On paper, there's nothing wrong with the apartment. All of the qualifications of what I want in a place were met. They did everything that they said they would do. However, if we look at my level of trust in the company, and the way that our interaction shaped my perception, we'll find that there's a lot more to the way we worked together than is evident on paper.
The reason that I bring this up is that I find it helpful to keep these sorts of interactions in mind when I'm thinking about user experience. There's a tendency to partition the idea of user experience into customer service, website usability, donor relations, and call centers, But in actuality, these are all trying to accomplish the same thing - helping people to trust your organization and to feel valued. Whether or not that trust is gained or that feeling of value is met can be the difference between renewing or rethinking a relationship. That's a pretty important consideration.
Of course I realize that my current management company will go on without me; they'll re-rent the place and keep getting paid. But, they'll never get my business again, and I certainly won't be recommending them any time soon. In economic times like this, that's pretty much not going to cut it if they want to continue to thrive.
So what can we learn from all of this? Sometimes it's important to draw on the experiences you have had, both good and bad, and use those experiences to help you to make decisions about your constituents' experiences with your organization and your website. Introducing those levels of empathy can make a really big difference when it comes to how you and your constituents interact - and hopefully it will keep them coming back to your organization for years to come.
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