Creating a Usable Site for Citizens

Upon launching their new website, Aberdeen City Council identified they had problems with their user experience. They called in User Vision to identify the main usability issues and help improve their site.

ACC launched their public web site (www.aberdeencity.gov.uk) in early 2000, with the aim of providing core A-Z services and simple information for the citizens of Aberdeen City. The team managing the site recognised soon after that it presented obstacles to users seeking information, in particular that the information was not structured intuitively and there was too much reliance on searching, thus preventing users quick and easy access to the information they wanted. ACC sought to restructure the site by working on the information architecture, modifying the site structure to reflect how citizens thought information should be organised, but they acknowledged they did not have the skills in-house to take on this task.

User Vision were engaged to assist in this undertaking, having a wealth of experience in this area in both the private and public sector, recommending improvements to the usability of sites for organisations such as Leeds City Council, The Department of Trade & Industry, Health Education Board of Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Aberdeenshire Council, Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Office of the e-Envoy.

User Vision conducted rigorous usability testing of the site with citizens of Aberdeen to identify where usability issues lay, and reported on a number of areas where improvements could be made to great effect, particularly in the navigation and page layout. ACC undertook a programme of improvement based on the recommendations from User Vision, and received tremendous positive feedback from citizens and staff when the site was re-launched in May 2002. Particular praise was aimed at the new tabbed structure which enabled a clear sense of where the visitor is on the site at any time.

Usable site for citizens chart

After re-launch, improvements were noted immediately and there was a marked rise in site visitors. This has continued over the past year, with the site now attracting over 160% more actual site visitors since launch. Ian Watt, the Website Technical Development Manager in charge of the website project, notes that people are viewing more sections of the site than previously, accounting for a 190% increase in monthly page views, and has received feedback from Aberdeen citizens that they are finding information more easily. ACC have endeavoured to create stickier parts of the site to both attract visitors and ensure repeat visits are made. New and popular areas of the site are a web cam of the city centre, weather information and an area for citizens to send e-cards.

Using the User Vision report as the basis from which all future design will iteratively improve upon, ACC have subsequently followed up the redesign with a number of new developments, moving towards fully integrating the website and intranet. ACC have also been focusing on accessibility issues – a key requirement to ensure people with disabilities can access the website. Ian Watt clarified that ACC’s aim “…has always been to allow the citizen to self-serve as much as possible and by making the site as usable as possible we make that easier for the visitor.” Additionally, ACC have even found the site is creating efficiencies for its staff, especially those in the Customer Service Centre who work at times when the bulk of council employees are absent, (e.g. weekends and evenings) who use the site as a source of information and also to report faults or problems with Street Lighting, Litter, Noise etc.

What Can you do next?

Read some more usability and accessibility articles.
Find out how usability testing can improve your online offering.
Attend one of our usability training courses and learn the tricks of the trade for yourself.

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This article was written by Chris Rourke. Chris is the Managing Director of User Vision, a usability and accessibility consultancy that helps clients gain a competitive advantage through improved ease of use.

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