Alpha.gov.uk: an obsession with meeting user needs

The approach of the UK Government’s Alpha.gov.uk project is music to the ears of anyone truly concerned with Public Sector usability and user experience! Credit goes to the UK’s Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox for championing a user-centred approach to developing a single website in order to “revolutionise the UK Government’s online services”.

In his wrap up report on the project, Tom Loosemore (Deputy Director, Single Government Website, Cabinet Office) openly and honestly shares some of the contributions to the project’s feedback forum at the end of three months, recognising them as ‘reactions’ from a non-representative sample; as one such contributor states: “we’re not real users. We’re a self-selecting group”. Fantastic then, to learn that the Government Digital Service (GDS) conducted “structured, demographically-balanced user testing … albeit in the inevitably artificial context of a user testing lab” to complement their forum feedback.

We decided to conduct our own user experience testing and asked users (all UK residents), from the WhatUsersDo panel to explore the Alpha.gov.uk prototype whilst thinking aloud, giving their first impressions, and carrying out typical tasks, all in the (more) natural setting of their own home, at their own computers. We recorded their screens and voices as they completed the tasks. We share some insights below.

What’s it all about?

From the home page, the purpose of the site and its target audience was not initially obvious to the users we tested with. Somewhat misled by the prominent image, coupled with the lack of a ‘description’ or mission statement, some users believed the site was specifically about the 2012 British-hosted Olympic Games.

 

Lay of the land

In common with the GDS’ own findings, navigation and information architecture were the subjects of polite and constructive criticism from our users, with an acceptance that it is not yet ‘the real thing’.

The sheer volume of information and the way in which it is currently organised provoked comments such as “[people] might get bogged down”:

One user definitely agreed with two of the reported ‘Top 10 Problems’ that there was ‘no browse navigation’ and ‘too much below the fold’:

This user also hoped for design” from the user’s perspective”.

Clearly though, the GDS predicted this and have both navigation and information architecture in hand, drawing on findings from an earlier ‘citizen’s browsing behaviour’ study.

Most of the users we tested with liked the concept. They said they would recommend the site and are looking forward to its development – and having all their questions answered in one place.  Life Events such as marriage and the birth of a child would be an interesting and revealing test.  How easy will it be for citizens to deal with it all under one virtual roof?

During these austere times where every penny needs to be working harder than ever remote user experience testing proves itself as a cost-effective and agile method of getting to grips with users’ mental models, in turn facilitating good, user-centred design. Such in-depth research and analysis in the early stages is likely to reduce revisions further down the line, and produce a positive ROI. Whether that’s measured in increased online engagement or reduced (in-person) calls/visits or freeing up of front-line staff to serve those who can’t self-serve online.

Good luck team Alpha, we’re looking forward to seeing and reviewing the real thing soon.

One Response to “Alpha.gov.uk: an obsession with meeting user needs

  • I seldom leave a response, however I browsed some comments on Alpha.
    gov.uk: an obsession with meeting user needs « WhatUsersDo Usability
    and User Experience Insights. I do have a couple
    of questions for you if it’s allright. Is it simply me or do some of these remarks look like they are left by brain dead people? 😛 And, if you are writing at other sites, I’d like to follow you.
    Could you post a list of the complete urls of your social sites like your Facebook
    page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

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