A guest blog from Monica Solombrino, Europa WebTeam
In the last few months we have been working at integrating and improving the design of the news and press sections of the EU site (EU press room, EU news, EU calendar and Media centre). All those sites aim to coherently aggregate the news and press material coming from the different institutions and bodies of the EU and to present these in a logical, simple and clear way to users.
Now is the moment to show you some of the results and to start getting some feedback.
But I’ve been taught and learned at my own expense that you do not show design without a good supporting explanation, so you first need to read the why and how.
1. Why a redesign?
“Every time you redesign God kills a kitten!” – Louis Rosenfeld (Redesign must die)
I totally share Louis Rosenfeld’s point of view and I feel really guilty, but before adding some more blaming, let me explain…
User-centred design is the only way to stop consuming redesigns.
Constant refining, tweaking, fine-tuning, small changes with relatively big impact – this is what we should do and what we (try to) do on those sites we have designed with users in mind.
Unfortunately, in the last revamp of the press room site in 2008, for which I’m responsible, I forgot to include the users… Before that revamping, when invited to speak to webmasters at the Commission, Gerry McGovern used the site as an example of what the EU should not be doing on the web. It was not really difficult to put something better online.
If I look at the site now, 3 years and a lot of UX lessons later, the best thing I see is this little form on every page.
The week immediately after the launch and at the 10th request to put the old version back online, I started doubting it was a good idea to let users answer those simple questions. Now, I’m proud. In the last three years the form has been added on all europa.eu pages and on many other Commission sites. The users feedback is invaluable.
This form is the only contact I’ve had with users for a long time. I read, appreciate and act upon (if possible) every single comment that we get. But I needed to know more about users, their information needs and tasks in order for the site to be first of all useful and, after that, usable and accessible.
Designing a site with the users in mind (and also in a usability lab) guarantees them a better experience. Plus, a user-centred design ensures the creation of a site that can stand evolution and avoid revolution.
This time we worked with users on every step of the process and I’m confident that this is the last redesign for press room.
2. The Process in Brief
User research and analysis
- Online survey to know the profile of our users and their main tasks
- 2 focus groups, one with professionals and one with journalists
- Usability test with 5 users, journalists and professionals, and 13 tasks
- Reading existing researches, like the Nielsen Norman Group Report – Designing Websites to Maximize Press Relations: Guidelines from Usability Studies with Journalists
We collected a lot of valuable information and I can no longer even imagine working on a website without knowing all this. Not only is it fundamental for the quality of site, but also this is really the kind of information that you need to speed up every decision, removing basic doubts.
Seeking simplification and rationalisation
- We searched for news and press related material on all europa.eu sites and analysed sites with a similar audience
- We compared their content, procedures, efforts, qualitative and quantitative data (with online surveys and analytics)
- We analysed users’ perception of the different sites (focus groups, usability tests)
We discovered that we have at least four sites serving the same main audience with the same main tasks and expectations. Website rationalisation and simplification would not only help users but also streamline resources.
We did a benchmarking exercise looking at sites dedicated to press and news from other international organisations sites, from our colleagues’ sites in the European Parliament and Council to sites overseen by the UN and NATO., We also looked (not without jealousy) at the most visited news sites.
This type of exercise helps to identify the best and most common practises, allowing us to align to users’ expectations for similar content.
Architecture and prototyping
After becoming more familiar with our users’ needs and their expectations, we now had to work on structure, design and functionalities to make the site suit those needs.
This required a lot of iterations in order to:
- Establish a new structure and navigation
- Finalise wireframes (on paper again and again and again)
- Define functionalities and technical issues
- Create mock-ups for the different pages
- Find the good labels
A full html prototype to test in a lab
A new usability test with:
- 10 users (journalists, civil servants and researchers)
- 20 tasks from general perception of the site and its purpose to finding a specific press release or adding an event in their own calendar
I was in the observation room for two days and tried to convince everybody else working on the project to join. A visit to the observation room is incredibly useful – and not only for the specific site or page you are working on at the moment. Watching users perform a task on your site is like coming back to reality. Tables, paper prototypes, analyses – all this is really important, but nothing is as powerful as a usability test to perceive and understand the users’ experience on a site.
We came out with a lot of recommendations on things to improve: labelling and navigation issues, access to search functionalities, too much content on every page, not enough elements to let users easily scan through pages. But I was not discouraged, we had done some good:
- the users recognised the purpose and the organisation behind the site at first glance.
- most of the users, especially journalists, liked the idea that they would have access to all the info they needed in a single place
- the learning curve on how to use the site and what to expect was very good
- press contacts and facilities were easily found
- the look and feel was perceived as modern and pleasant.
Compared to previous tests, user experience improved quite a bit.
Anyway, back to work to integrate the recommendations! And also for a final accessibility check.
And now we are almost done. Not yet ready to go online, but almost there.
3. Main Features
One site instead of four: A single URL (europa.eu/newsroom – not yet active) to look at news, press related content, events and audiovisual material produced by the different EU institutions; no duplication of content; no scattered information; a single look and feel to improved coherence.
Improved navigation: a horizontal navigation on every page to give direct access to all sections and subsections of the site.
Better labelling: we have discussed and tested all the labels on the site.
Improved readability: bigger font, more white, better hierarchy and division of content, less clutter pages where scanning and reading is simpler.
More accessible: we’ve worked to make every page more accessible from top to bottom and we are proud of the results.
New home page: the importance and frequency of the different tasks is reflected in the home page
New look: better use of audiovisual material, new typography, and soon better coherence with the rest of the europa.eu site
What about content?
Don’t worry, we know that content is king and we continue to work to improve the content that we produce (special coverage on specific issues) The new site’s main role is to aggregate and give background information to news produced by all the EU institutions, so for most of the content we rely on the editorial capacities from other teams.
Well, now you can have a look!
4. What comes next?
I know that frequent users do not like redesigns and I agree. But even if I know that at the beginning it will not be easy and that there will be complaints, I’m looking forward to putting the site online. The simple feedback form will still be there on every page, and we will try to react faster, especially in the time directly after the launch.
We have also planned a new online satisfaction survey after launch, regular usability testing and more user research. But we are still a large, international organisation that must consider the multilingual and multicultural needs of a range of stakeholders and thus not always “agile”… not all improvements and changes can be done quickly.
Getting your feedback now could help us already programme some improvements, so please share you thoughts…
Anyway we are now in a position to prioritise and constantly fine-tune: SO NO MORE REVAMPING!