Our Work


Listen to Your Users!

By Dennis Rios on June 10, 2015

Birthdays are serious business, especially if (like me) you take pride in the art of gift-giving. Before buying a gift, you need to know what the birthday boy/girl likes, right? I tend to be very practical when it comes to gifts. I want to be sure it is going to be used and not just accepted with a polite smile and then tossed into the closet never to be seen again. I want to be sure it is appreciated, too.

When we first started working on this tech transformation we established that everything we built would be put through user testing. As you've heard from us before, user testing is a top priority! If we were going to invest all this time and effort into creating something new, we wanted the improvements to be meaningful for our users. Why? Because we care about our users!

Creating the Navigation Model: We knew that we needed our new navigation model to be based on the user's experience and behavior. So, we came up with a short list of categories for our top level navigation that we thought would be "user-friendly." This proved to be quite a challenge (more on that at another time), but after much discussion and consideration we came up with 8 top level categories:

  1. Your Job
  2. Your Home
  3. Your Health
  4. Your Money
  5. Your Education
  6. Your Family
  7. Your Business
  8. Your Rights and Freedoms

Testing the Model: Next, we needed to test these categories to make sure that our users would know where to look for the information they needed. As we've learned from many user studies, you generally only get a couple of seconds before the user loses patience and leaves your website if they are having a hard time finding the information they need. So, getting this top level navigation right is crucial.

Once we had our agreed-upon navigation categories, we needed to decide how to test users.

To help us figure out the how, we looked into 2 types of tests, Card Sorting and Tree Testing. Tree Testing requires a couple of subcategories for testers to navigate through different levels, so since we only had the top categories, we decided that Card Sorting would be most appropriate for this initial stage. In the future, once other subcategories are defined, we expect that we will return to tree testing as a resource.

Card Sorting: Card sorting is a quick and easy way to design information architecture, workflow, menu structure or website navigation paths. Card sorting helps to find out how people think your content should be organized and gets the user insights you need to make informed information architecture decisions. The idea was to ask testers to sort a group of 20 cards into our 8 general categories. The cards would contain common legal issues in plain language, for example:

  • I am in a bad marriage and I need a divorce. Where can I get help?
  • How do I get child support for my kids?
  • I can’t pay my credit cards, where can I get help?
  • My ex won’t let me see my children, what can I do?

There are several different card sorting and tree testing softwares out there, we decided to use Optimal Workshop, which worked out well.

Finding Our Testers: Our target audience was low-income Illinois residents, so we partnered with a Help Desk staffed by students from Chicago-Kent College of Law at the local court house to find users. Our resources are online, so it made sense to have people sit in a computer and go through the card sorting test. However, many of the individuals who came to the help center had limited english proficiency or did not feel comfortable using a computer, so we printed out the cards and categories in order to test those users.

Reviewing Our Results: We received some very enlightening feedback from this test.

  1. Your Family vs. Your Home have very different meanings to certain users.
  2. Your Business this category was also intepreted broadly. For example, one tester interpreted “Your Business”, as your personal issues or problems (and not where you would find information on incorporating or starting a small enterprise).
  3. Your Rights and Freedoms - Surprisingly, this turned into the catch-all category. For the purposes of testing we added a 9th category “I don’t know where to put this”, which many of us assumed would be the catch-all bucket. We were wrong.

Assuming user preferences and behaviors can be an easy trap to fall into, especially when we consider the amount of time it can take to conduct user testing; but it really is worth it in the end. Getting user feedback enables you to connect with the public and ultimately produce a better more effective product that will actually be “used and appreciated”! And that is the kind of gift that I can stand behind.