Monday, June 16, 2008

Redesigning sites to put customers at the centre of the universe

From our latest usability review, my agency's customers are saying that our website is looking a bit old, tired and dated.

They say it is very "about us" focused, covered in agency news items screaming 'look at me!', rather than "about them" - the customers!

Certainly many of our news messages are important (to customers), but news isn't what draws our customers to the website, it is information they become aware of when they go there to use our tools.

In the current design news is positions front and centre - where people look for important content. However the tools and resources important to our customers are pushed to the fringes - the far right or the bottom of the site.

So we're listening to our customers and I've received a go-ahead to make some changes.

The scope is the homepage and overall site template - we're not touching the primary navigation or content throughout the site.

I have set four rules for my team:

  • Put customer needs first
  • Use less words
  • Minimise disruption
  • Lift the look
Just to explain a few of the above.

Use less words:
Our home page is currently text rich - we want to cut down the words to the essential information to help customers move deeper into the site.

Minimise disruption:
We don't want to make regular visitors work harder to find tools. Even if we make tools easier to reach, this can make it harder for regulars who are habitualised to finding specific tools in particular places. This particularly goes for our main navigation, search and secure site login - none of which we want to make harder to find.

We are prepared to cause some disruption - you cannot adjust an interface without affecting some people - but we want to keep it as minimal as possible while achieving the other goals of the work.

Progress so far....
So far our web designer has put a lot of time into understand how people use our site, using all our data sources, and even asking a few real people.

From his preliminary rough design, we've had a very productive collaboration session to develop a wireframe (pic below) of how the homepage should be structured, using input from our customer research and website stats.

I've also conducted some preliminary ad hoc user testing to verify that this is regarded as a better design (it is from my small sample).

We're now fleshing out the wireframe to develop an appropriate interface pallette based on our corporate colours and fit the words we have to have before getting the design into a formal review process.

All opinions welcome!

New homepage initial wireframe

Key features

  • Crest at top left
  • Top menu realigned to left
  • Search untouched
  • Left/bottom menus untouched
  • Secure login unmoved but more visible
  • Important tools centred, in logical groups
  • Frequently used tools buttons at right
  • News items below tools with less text
  • Subscribe options besides news

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