Taking the plunge and finally upgrading your website? Congrats! Now it’s time to put together a list of must-haves for the new site. Or, perhaps you already have but are worried it’s based solely on your own personal opinion. Not to say that you aren’t qualified to make these big decisions on behalf of all the potential visitors of the new site, but why not take the pressure off yourself and guarantee to deliver a product that best serves their needs? Based on our experiences leading discovery phases for clients, we’ve put together some recommendations on things to consider and how to involve these core users before undergoing a redesign process. There truly is no better way to build a feature list than by extending the conversation and asking them directly!
Before we talk about the type of feedback we are looking for, first let’s go over exactly who we need it from. We want to involve as many participants as possible from all user groups in order to gain a clear perspective on how they’ve interacted with the existing site to date, as well as how they ultimately want to engage with the new one. The better the mix of participants, the more well-rounded the report of findings will be. For example, we performed a thorough discovery phase prior to developing a site for Yakima Valley Public Library (stay tuned!) and the Public Library of Brookline. These community hubs attract patrons of all ages from children storytime to senior book clubs, which requires extra consideration when it comes to a new website design. The site’s usability and ease-of-use requirements need to take into account all ages and all technological skill sets.
Audiences can also vary in regard to the type of user. When interviewing members of Swampscott Public Schools, the priorities of the parents was drastically different in comparison to the students and even moreso for the administrators. These various audience ‘types’ all have specific needs that directly impact how you ultimately structure the navigation and workflow of your new website. Aside from the frontend users that visit the current site, it is also important to understand the perspective of those making the updates as well. The department heads in the City of Woburn had management requirements for exactly how to share and post information separate from the residents who were solely receiving the information when they accessed the site. Before getting to the nitty-gritty questions, be sure to ask the participants their relation to your organization or service so that down the road it will be easier to see any correlations between group types.
It is crucial during this collection of feedback to ask and listen to users on both sides of the spectrum, especially when it comes to differences in age, technological skills, audience type or even for those behind the scenes logging in and maintaining the site. Now think about the potential users on your site, can you create a segmented list of the various roles that should be considered in the process? Be sure to reach out to at least a few members of each group directly! The more the merrier as creative minds share their unique ideas and it is pretty much guaranteed that someone will come up with something you would never have otherwise.
Okay, so we have an idea of who we want to talk to… Now how do we do it? We typically start the discovery process through the form of a quick online survey. This can be created through a basic Google Form, Jotform, or even a form that is made directly on your current site. The purpose of this questionnaire should be tri-fold: to ask who they are, their current stance/opinions, and what they want on the new site.
Since we already covered some of the audience-related questions that should be asked in section one such as age, relationship etc., let’s move on to section two. This part of the survey may be deemed as the most important because you cannot make improvements to something without fully understanding where the current site stacks up. Ask the right questions but phrase them in a way that allows people to answer in an honest, unbiased way. Now is the time to open the floor for people to vent and although the criticism may not necessarily be things you want to hear, ultimately you need to. After reading the answers to this section you should have a clear perspective on each individual’s experience with the existing site: everywhere from devices they use, how often they visit, what they typically use it for, what they can or can’t find, rating it on a scale of 1-10 and a text block for general comments! For the users who are making the website updates, you should also include questions tailored to what the current management process is like. Check out how the Swampscott Public School‘s students responded when we asked about their old site:
After we have a sense for who the submissions are coming from and (hopefully) their honest opinion on the existing site, let’s end on a positive note and talk about the future. Section three should be dedicated to how to improve and deliver on a dream website not only for you and the organization but the users themselves. This can almost be divided into two separate parts in itself: design & functionality.
A design is certainly a key factor when it comes to a virtual representation so ask what styles and elements can help best illustrate your mission on the web (see the Yakima residents’ responses below). The Town of Hamilton wanted their new site to be an accurate reflection of their small town, connected community and leveraged this online survey to ask residents what the town means to them.
Design Questions to Get Your Users Thinking
- Are there must-haves for the new homepage?
- What are things that should be immediately accessible to you and to others?
- Is there a color scheme that you would better connect with?
- Are there other sites out there that can be used for design inspiration?
Once the design-focused questions are out of the way it is even more important to ask what functionality and features they want in this new site. We can put the same content in a new, shiny box but that’s really not a good use of time and resources. Be sure to include any industry or organization specific questions into the survey that are relative and imperative to completing goals you have for the site. For example, the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents used this opportunity to also gain insight as to how their members prefer to receive information from the organization and how-to communicate to each other.
Functionality Questions to Get Your Users Thinking
- What are limitations in the current platform for a frontend user and a backend user?
- What are things that would make your life easier if it could be done online?
- What can we add to the site to increase your usage?
- Are things you’ve seen on other sites you wish this new one had?
Once we generate all the questions we want to ask our participants and built them into a virtual survey, now it is time to get the word out! Whether it is posting a button on your existing site, sending an email to everyone on a client list, sharing it on social media, handing out flyers on site or doing all of the above. In order to get a number of submissions and the wide range of feedback that we are looking for, it is going to take some pushing to boost engagement.
Depending on the responsiveness, we typically run the discovery phases over a few months, including a few reminder emails here and there, to give people ample time. If you are looking for even more numbers, there is always the option to incentivize the process and have submitters entered into a raffle if they fill out the survey.
Some small things to note: no one likes a survey that will take 2 hours to complete or looks like it might at first glance so only ask questions you need the answers to! It also is a good idea to have an optional opt in for those who would be willing to test a prototype later or are open to having a follow-up, more in-depth conversation down the road. We go the extra mile during all of our discovery phases, as you also could, by personally reaching out to those who opt-in and scheduling a 15-30 minute phone interview to dive deeper into their submission and needs. Once this inquiring process has been done once, you can always re-engage them after the new site is launched and has been out in the world for a while.
This discovery phase will be beneficial to both you, your users, and ultimately the success of the new website. Be sure to thank all of those who participate and provide you with their invaluable feedback. By taking the time to widen the conversation it shows a sincere consideration for the user’s perspective and they will thank you for it once they see their ideas incorporated in the new design. Plus you will learn a ton along the way by simply asking the questions and having a willingness to listen, we promise!
Want to see an example of one of our full reports for one of these discoveries? Check out our Report of Findings for Swampscott Public Schools!
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