This organization had two content heavy websites. As one tool in their toolkit to improve their sites, they needed an expert review of the site.

Process

The client came to me with specific items they wanted included in my review. These items focused around the information organization, the content quality, and search. The website was so information heavy and not highly interactive, I decided to review the information architecture, the navigation design, the search engine results page, and the page layout.

When doing an expert review, I normally use Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Heuristics for User Interface Design. However, these websites were so information heavy that heuristics such as recovering from errors, help and documentation, flexibility and efficiency of use weren’t appropriate for the evaluation. To start off the project, I needed to review the existing information architecture standards and see if there were any IA heuristics out there. Surprisingly, while there were websites with “IA Heuristics,” many of them were related to interaction design for applications. In the end, I created a new set of heuristics which included categories and items such as:

Content and Information Presentation

  • The home page orients the user to what the site is about
  • Interior pages are well-laid out, have appropriate content for the audience, and are clear about contents in the section

Organization

  • The information structure is optimized for the main user scenarios
  • Navigation choices are ordered in the most logical or task-oriented manner. The terms used for navigation are unambiguous and jargon-free.

In addition to the heuristics, I created a ratings scale for how well the websites adhered to the heuristics and the severity of the problem. For example, because there were no user scenarios, the information structure couldn’t be organized to these scenarios. The website received a low score for compliance and high score for severity.

With this rating, I created ratings for each grouping of heuristics and an overall score for each website. The organization would then be able to run the expert review again using the same ratings scale, create a score for each grouping, come up with an overall score, and see how much their website had improved. (Which they did the following year!)

Outcome

Expert reviews, while useful for applying best practices to a website, are fundamentally difficult. With one expert reviewing according to standards, this person sees some things and not others. Plus, these heuristics are more open to interpretation and less grounded in the users’ experience. When going over the presentations, there was a lot of discussion around “We already tried this, but found it didn’t work” and “We can’t do that because our legal team won’t give us content that meets those standards.”

(In contrast, when doing usability testing a user might say, “This content is too hard for me to read. It seems like it’s written by a lawyer and it’s not accessible to me.” Coming from a user, this statement is much more powerful and carries more weight.)

After doing all the reviews, I created presentations and presented them to approximately 10 team members at this organization. In the presentation, it was important to give some reasoning behind the heuristics and help the organization understand why their site lacked in some areas. In general, the review was well received, educational, and gave areas for improvement.

At the final presentation, one manager stated this expert review was part of a continually improvement process. In starting with this review, they would be able to pick off some low hanging fruit, improve the site, then do usability testing to gain even more insight.